Community based adaptation to climate change in Colombia

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A shorter version of this lesson has been featured on the booklet produced by the MDG-F Environment and Climate Change window "Seeds of Knowledge - Contributing to Climate Change Solutions". - Read more about the booklet or download it in English / Spanish / French / Arabic.



The programme began with the recognition of socio-environmental community based adaptation initiatives that were developed in the Cauca County in the South West of Colombia.

The Cauca was selected by the Joint Programme to implement the pilot initiatives designed to help the community adapt to climate change. It has a large indigenous population equivalent to 21% of country population.

The community based adaptation strategy orients its efforts towards the most vulnerable population; the peasants and indigenous community and focuses its activities to reduce their vulnerability and increase the responsiveness in the decision making process. The strategy aims to promote knowledge exchange, dialogue, active participation in the decision making process and to promote the learning by making methodology. The Joint Programme supported the strategy that facilitated spaces for knowledge-exchange; opportunities for peasant and indigenous communities to engage in dialogue. These spaces allowed them to reflect on and to develop adaptation strategies to climate change.

The programme also decided to develop a strategy that can change the community and local authorities’ status from “beneficiaries" to” partners.” This led to open participatory channels that allowed indigenous and peasant organizations to be part of the spine of the programme.

We learned that when working with indigenous towns it is important to respect their traditional knowledge; their organizations; their government and their autonomy. It is also important to exchange knowledge on equal terms to reach solid agreements. Respect for beliefs and practices helps the overall goal of developing social legitimacy and governance structures in the work plans for each program. It is also important to be flexible and to adjust the management of procedures to local realities.

Local partners help facilitate the integration of information on the impact of climate change with the development of local knowledge. They also create pathways that promote resilience and adaptation to climate change. The dialogue of knowledge to dispels lack of knowledge. This means a consistent and ongoing exchange of knowledge. This can lead to cultural negotiation and the generation of new knowledge and social transformation.

The capacity building and incorporation of the processes with the different pacts has assured the sustainability of the adaptation initiatives for climate change. The Joint Programme linked activities with the “Pact of peace and coexistence between Indians and peasants in the upper basin of the Cauca River", "The Reserves Network" and the "Covenant for the Rights of Mother Nature." These interlinkages were very important.

We believe that our experience can be replicated globally especially in areas in which the presence of the governmental institutions are weak and the cultural development led by local populations is strong. In places where the presence of indigenous is strong, a bottom up approach is necessary. Overall, these criteria are the keys to building trust: to increase participation and to reach agreements in the pilot area.

Purpose of the activity

The purpose of the program can be summarized as follows: "Strengthening national capacities; regional and local knowledge relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the conservation, management and restoration of ecosystems to ensure the maintenance of environmental goods and services".

The aim is to support communities by generating the appropriate social setting for dialogue and develop joint work plans according to life plans and community plans.

Original issue addressed by the activity

In the Cauca Region, there has been a loss of precipitation of 0.2 to 0.3% per annum and a temperature increase of 0.1-0.2 ° C / per decade. These have direct consequences on the moors, biodiversity, glaciers and are increasing desertification. The impacts are characterized by shortages of drinking water; food security vulnerability; loss of ancestral knowledge; migration of productive areas to conservation areas; and the increase of health diseases.

Strategy / approach chosen to address the issue

The strategy aimed to increase community participation in the decision-making process. The strategy included the creation of inter-cultural teams integrated by indigenous knowledgeable leaders, peasants, United Nations technicians and IDEAM, the leading government institution.

Methodological approaches were developed with emphasis on the methodology "learning by doing."

Implementation of the strategy / chosen approach

The participation of the communities in the decision-making process arises from the consultative process. The programme decided to develop a strategy that can change the community and local authorities’ status from “beneficiaries" to” partners.”

This led to open participatory channels that allowed indigenous and peasant organizations to be part of the spine of the programme. The peasant and indigenous organizations become part of both the program steering committee and of the technical team in the field. The intercultural committee drafted the terms of reference for the selection of local technical teams.

The councils and peasant organizations proposed their candidates according with the terms of reference developed. The evaluation was done through a joint selection panel that evaluated the candidates. This process ensured transparency, legitimacy and quality of participation during the process of reaching agreements with local organizations.

This process was recognized and supported by the traditional authorities of the communities. The horizontal dialogue with communities and partner organizations was legitimized; it recognized their status and incorporated flexible processes and procedures that were more sustainable for them.

The implementation focuses on four elements:

  1. To develop a bottom-up participatory process that leads to its acceptance by the communities and to incorporate the priorities identified by local authorities and communities.
  2. To identify specific links between climate-change and poverty reduction in vulnerable rural communities and to recognize the synergies between them.
  3. To identify and then improve on bad practices.

To build on existing capacities at the local level.


At first the actions implemented to approach the indigenous and peasant organizations was challenging. The political and organizational context of the communities required a co-ordinated and consistent interagency intervention, with mutual understanding, horizontal dialogue and the articulation of needs and interests.

The main challenge was to move from the consultative participatory approach, to the decision making approach. A key step to overcome this challenge was to open spaces of participation in the decision-making entities such as the steering committee, organizational structure and field team. The actions were taken through the implementation of joint agreements with the program team. The methodologies; the action strategy; and the resource allocation for the various adaptation measures, were supported by self-monitoring mechanisms and shared within the program team.

The community empowerment was achieved through the development of mechanisms in line with the local organizations; the Association of Councils in the area; and in accordance with the guidelines of the Indigenous Regional Committee for the Cauca.


The Joint Programme provided the agencies and the national leaders involved with the opportunity to work in a territory of strategic value to the country, which is mainly inhabited by indigenous communities. The neutrality of the UN system agencies in the area and the technical character of IDEAM, the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies as the national lead agency, helped facilitate the dialogue with the indigenous authorities and the communities.

Results and Impacts

  1. The capacity of the indigenous government and peasant associations to address existing vulnerabilities to climate change and improve their current response capacity strengthened.
  2. The Convention on Mother Nature Rights has redefined the cultural value of sacred sites. It also works for the conservation of the Kokonuko community and a hill, Pusná.
  3. A lot of messages and information on climate change adaptation was disseminated.
  4. The programme defined inclusive and appropriate methodologies responding to the local culture.
  5. The programme reached agreements with communities and local authorities.
  6. The joint analytical workshops on climate change adaptation provided a space for analyzing results and developing strategies.
  7. The reflection on the MDGs from the perspective of the indigenous people concluded with a project for the MDG which includes a cultural perspective of indigenous peoples.


The Joint Programme is now a national reference for community based adaptations.

Next Steps

  1. The governmental agencies, the peasants and indigenous organizations should find ways to further implement adaptation measures; monitor and evaluate them. This has not been systematically established yet.
  2. To share the experience within the UN System and government agencies. An emphasis on intercultural approach that recognizes and respects indigenous traditional knowledge.
  3. To strengthen the relationship of indigenous authorities with technical institutions and policy makers
  4. To implement specific directives from the perspective of indigenous peoples.

Potential replication / application

The adaptation strategy recognizes cultural differences and respects the organizational forms and social processes already in place.

This experience can be replicated globally especially in areas in which the presence of the governmental institutions are weak and the cultural development led by local populations is strong. For example in Colombia, this methodology is applicable in rural areas and high mountain communities.

In places where the presence of indigenous is strong a bottom up approach is necessary. The process has to begin with the program design; the definition of the action strategy; the establishment of work teams; and move on to the systematization of the lessons learned and the development of sustainable plans and therefore the inclusion in their life plans.

The strategies must recognize:

  • The role of traditional authorities and political organizations;
  • The level of autonomy of the territory; the laws; and practices of self-governance;
  • The cultural context to build the process from the locals and by the locals;
  • The gaps in knowledge;
  • Local interests and the needs for human development.

These are the starting points for building trust, finding points of affinity and identity between the actors and generating sustainable transformation processes.

Information products

“Knowledge Exchange for Climate Change Adaptation: The experience of implementing food security and conservation measures for climate change adaptation in the Cauca River“ available at

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