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Local organization and territorial governance in forest management: Reflections from the Andean Forests Program

Good governance was a key element in generating a social and political context favourable to the sustainable management of Andean forest landscapes. This article explains how the Andean Forests Program supported this.
Multiple Authors
Network of Young Leaders of the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino in Pichincha, Ecuador

The following article presents insights and learning from the SDC-funded Andean Forest Programme.


The Andean Forests Program (PBA) was implemented between 2014 and 2021 with a focus on the Andean region and involving Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The intervention was carried out through three main lines of work: generating knowledge, validate good practices for the conservation, restoration and management of Andean forests, and consolidate enabling conditions for its replication and escalation. At the local level, it focused its intervention on three learning sites at the subnational level: the department of Antioquia (Colombia), the Northwest of Pichincha (Ecuador) and the Apurímac region (Peru). As a key element to generate a social and political context favourable to the sustainable management of Andean forests landscapes, the PBA supported the strengthening and consolidation of the local organization and good governance in these sites.

This article describes the key activities, lessons learned and outcomes of the Andean Forests Program (PBA) with regards to local organization and territorial governance in forest management. Many more details of the activities and outcomes can be found in the documents provided under Further Resources (all in Spanish).

Experiences and impacts of the Andean Forests Program

Strengthening the community-based organization

In the Apurímac site, the local organization of peasant communities defines how the population identifies, organizes and relates to its natural environment. For this reason, the PBA focused on contributing to the strengthening of the planning and management instruments of Ccerabamba, Huironay/Pacchani, San Ignacio de Kiuñalla, Atumpata, Micaela Bastidas and Llañucancha communities in the district of Huanipaca, province of Abancay, through facilitating the participatory elaboration of statutes and communal life plans considering technical elements about their environment and natural resources. Following this work, these communities have been working from different aspects to manage their territories, with the technical support of CEDES Apurímac, a local organization that facilitates the articulation between the communities and the different levels of subnational government.

In this experience, the Kiuñalla community stands out for the high level of organization and planning that they have developed for their forests’ management. Currently, for example, it has specialized committees for conservation and water resources, as well as brigades against forest fires, which have been trained to carry out this task. In addition, they have developed a Restoration Plan in a participatory manner, under which they have implemented a 101-hectare pilot project associated with water resources management. This experience has been systematized in the documents “Contributions to the sustainability of the initiative to restore native forests in the Peasant Community of Kiuñalla” and “Restoring for water: The case of the community of Kiuñalla, in the southern Andes of Peru”.

The local actors involved in the experience comment on different advantages of having strengthened community governance, such as having more efficiently distributed responsibilities among local authorities, the integration of more people in decision-making and action for forest management, the adoption of communal control measures to avoid the loss of forests, and the collective search for sustainability for long-term initiatives.

“… Previously there was a lot of forest burning, but since the PBA started, we have organized ourselves to avoid cutting down and burning, the committee got involved precisely in that and fines were established for deforesting…” (Crisólogo Palomino, president of the Kiuñalla community).

Based on this restoration experience, the Kiuñalla community is part of the Regenera platform, a private initiative through which companies offset their carbon footprint through forest conservation. Additionally, the National Forest and Wildlife Service – SERFOR, with the PBA support, is developing a broader restoration project in the community to be financed with public funds.

Empowerment of local organizations

In the Pichincha site, there is a diversity of local organizations and groups linked to the governance and sustainable management of the territory known as the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino (MCA), such as the Imaymana Foundation, the Extended Committee of the Andean Bear Corridor, the Network of Young people from Chocó Andino, the School Forest Network of the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino and the Yunguilla Microenterprise Corporation, which maintain a dynamic of dialogue and collaborative work for land use planning, promotion of sustainable land management practices, restoration, biodiversity and watercourses monitoring, environmental activism, among others (Torres and Peralvo, 2019; Benítez, in prep.). The PBA contributed to the governance of the site by strengthening the capacities of these organizations to manage their natural environment, their capacity for self-management, for the establishment of alliances, leverage of resources and political incidence in territorial processes.

“… We have had allies along the way… this (the experiences with the PBA) help to generate more counterparts… channel or leverage other projects… an (organizational) curriculum is made, one generates an agreement for a time and it ends, but relationships remain and that is what is interesting, at any time we are there to support and recommend each other…” (Germán Collazos, Yunguilla Microenterprise Corporation)

The experience of the Network of Young Leaders of the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino (RJCA) stands out. The collective, which was born within the framework of the PBA actions and currently operates independently, is composed of men and women in numerical and role parity. The RJCA brings together young people from five localities in the territory, with different professions, interests and specialities, promoting initiatives under the sustainability approach. Its members are constantly trained in aspects such as socio-environmental communication, ecology, landscape management, integrated watershed management, sustainable land management and bio-enterprises. Currently, the RJCA is in charge of the management and dissemination of environmental and cultural information, and they formally participate in landscape-scale processes such as the management of the Biosphere Reserve (Torres and Peralvo, 2019; Benítez, in prep.).

The consolidation of territorial governance instances

In the three learning sites, the PBA has provided technical advice for the consolidation of territorial governance platforms. At the Apurímac site, the PBA provided continuous support to the consolidation of the Apurímac Regional Environmental Commission (CAR), an environmental governance body that operates in synergy with the Regional Government, in which the main institutions of the region converge (Kometter, 2018), assuming roles and functions under agreements and consensus. The PBA supported, for example, the development of instruments such as the Multi-Year Plan, the Forest Fire Prevention Plan and the Regional Strategy for Landscape Restoration in Apurímac. As a result, inter-institutional articulation has been possible in initiatives such as training and capacity-building events, afforestation and reforestation campaigns, and forest fire prevention campaigns, among others. In 2021, the CAR formally began the process of declaring the Model Forest in Apurímac, for its adherence to the Latin American Network of Model Forests, as a long-term strategy for the consolidation of environmental governance, exchange and cooperation with other territories of Latin America.

In the Pichincha site, the PBA supported the strengthening of the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino (MCA), a governance body that articulates the local governments of the six parishes that make it up, under the mandate of consolidating the Northwest Quito territory as productive, sustainable and biodiverse (Torres and Peralvo, 2019). The Program contributed to putting approaches such as sustainable land management and priorities such as Andean forests conservation and restoration on the MCA’s work agenda, through technical advice from its local partners. Thus, in recent years, the MCA has promoted processes such as the participatory development of the Special Plan for Land Use and Occupation (in the approval process), the declaration of the Chocó Model Forest, the organization of the Chocó Andino Festival (a gathering of environmental and cultural nature), the incidence for the restriction of mining activities in the territory, the management of the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve, among others. Recently, the MCA has updated its digital tools for knowledge management and information technologies, as a strategy to consolidate and sustain these initiatives.

In Antioquia, the PBA supported the technical committee of the Pact for the Forests of Antioquia in the consolidation of its sustainability strategies. This instance is an alliance of wills for Antioquia’s forests conservation, bringing together individuals, state entities, non-governmental organizations, the media, academia, private companies, international organizations, production unions, among others. Thanks to the technical and financial support of the PBA and the institutions that are part of the Pact, numerous knowledge management initiatives have been developed in this space in recent years, one of the main ones being the creation and operation of the Antioquia Forest Observatory (OBA), dedicated to the synthesis and generation of information on the state of the department’s ecosystems, for citizen mobilization and correct decision-making on environmental management, and hosted in the Botanical Garden of Medellín, who provides all the technical support for its operation. Since 2021, the Government of Antioquia is a member of the Pact, marking an important milestone in the consolidation of this instance, due to the recognition of the departmental authority and the visibility of the information generated by the OBA in this instance of decision-making policy.

Final reflections

The experiences of the PBA in its learning sites have made it possible to identify positive links between the strengthening of the local organization and territorial governance processes with the management of Andean forests and ecosystems. In the three learning sites, technical advice, the facilitation of management instruments, capacity building, the strengthening of social capital, the creation of alliances and the financing of strategic knowledge management actions have had positive effects on the decision-making process at the local and territorial level, with a consequent boost to initiatives for the management, conservation and restoration of Andean forests and ecosystems.

These experiences have not been without challenges. The main ones have been identified as the negative effect of changes in authorities on the continuity of initiatives, the weak capacity of local actors to manage financing after the completion of cooperation projects, and the negative impact on the will of the population when there is a poor satisfaction of their basic needs.

“… What must be taken into account is that these processes need replacements, one may be working great with a president, a mayor, but the community presidents are changed every two years, the mayors every four years and that has to be handled…” (Augusto Ramírez, CEDES).

However, both specialists and key stakeholders of the PBA highlight the importance of organization and governance as a base element to guarantee sustained progress towards achieving sustainability goals.

“… It is always a challenge and in politics, nothing is guaranteed, but the “cool” thing is that we have had a process which we have tried hard to link in the social fabric … we can go back to the beginning, for example, to strengthen synergies of adaptation and mitigation, but none of that works without a due process of governance at multiple scales…” (Manuel Peralvo, PBA specialist).

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