Translated by Siobhan Wakely & Rosanna Radford within the initiative PerMondo. Sponsored by Mondo Agit, which offers voluntary translations from Spanish into English. Translation proofread by Bradley Rice & Benjamin Bartz.


Within the framework of the United Nations Conference regarding the Environment and Development, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Canada announced an initiative to convert, under certain specific conditions, the debt of the Official Development Aid in Latin America into funds of local currency, in order to fund environmental and sustainable development projects. In this way, and with the commitment of the Colombian government to put into place a decentralized and environmental administration, in August 1993 the two governments signed an Agreement for the implementation in Colombia of the Conversion Initiative known as the Official Debt of Aid (ODA).

Accordingly, the Colombian government established that for the implementation of the Agreement between the governments, the corporation ECOFONDO would be appointed as the organizational body of environmentalist organizations in Colombia, and would be the entity that administered everything regarding the financing of the projects. This is how, in December 1993, the Convention between the government of the Republic of Colombia and the corporation ECOFONDO was signed.

The convention established that priority should be given to the projects whose purpose was to promote the development of sustainable living arrangements for the poorest sectors of society living in environments of severe degradation, with special emphasis on indigenous groups and other ethnic minorities. Furthermore, the following priority actions were defined as needing support:

  • Contamination control, especially in places where the population was affected by this situation.

  • Management of water basins, conservation of land and biodiversity.

  • Sustainable forest management activities.

  • Development of policies promoting the management of sustainable natural resources and the development of related management strategies.

  • Applied scientific investigation, related to environmental problems.

  • Ecologically sound practices of recovery and production.

  • The Convention had a duration of ten years. (1993-2003).

Coverage: National Territory


With the closure of the SPECIAL ACCOUNT ODA/CANADA, in 2004 ECOFONDO carried out a process of systematization of the results and impacts of the projects financed through this mechanism.

The object of the Systematization was expressed in the process’ key question: What are the results and impacts of the projects co-financed by ECOFONDO with resources from the Special Account ODA-Canada, between 1994 and 2003, as regards the improvement of environmental conditions and social equity in the Colombian regions? This led to the Universe of Systematization consisting of all of the projects co-financed in the period, which was 172.

The analysis was performed within the framework of the three Thematic Axes from which ECOFONDO has developed its support processes for Participative Environmental Management:

  • Environmental management in rural areas and sustainable management of biodiversity.

  • Environmental management in agroecosystems.

  • Urban environmental management.


There are 41 projects in this thematic axis.

The Beneficiary Population of said projects, including the total of organizations which were institutionally strengthened as a result of the projects’ execution, was distributed in the following way:

Families: 9,797.  Women: 16,897.  Men: 23,130.  Adolescents: 1,807.  Children: 8,455.

Organizations strengthened: 497

Results in figures

  • 119,568 hectares with Conservation Models and Management Plans.

  • 639,348 established trees of native species.

  • 64,846 hectares with environmental regulation plans formulated.

  • 40,912 hectares with Environmental Plans elaborated under the strategy of Nature Reserves of Civil Society.

  • With regard to the establishment of Nature Reserves of Civil Society, a total area of 29,637.50 hectares has been reported, located thus: 25,593 hectares in the Municipality of Cabrera (Cundinamarca); 3,924.50 hectares in the Ñambí River and Lake La Cocha; 120 hectares in Lisama.

  • 35,000 hectares with work in Environmental Zoning, including cartography, of the middle basin of the Sumapaz River.

  • In the Biogeographic of Chocó, a total of 12,716 hectares conforming to environmental specifications and zoning and the Regulatory Plan of Indigenous Safeguarding of the Alto San Juan area; and 11,218 hectares in the Indigenous Safeguarding of Ipkikuntiwala with plans of environmental regulation.

  • With regard to Conservation Areas established around water basins, sub-basins and/or micro-basins, the following figures are  reported: 6,085.1 hectares in the sub-basin of the Digua River, the basin of the Garrapatas River, the middle and upper basins of the Pance River and the Quebrada Seca micro-basin of the Municipality of Corinto (Cauca); 1,030 hectares surroundingthe basins of the Ñambí, Guapi, Timbiquí, Saija and Napi Rivers and Lake La Cocha; 174.5 hectares in the upper and lower micro-basins of La Vizcaína and Las Golondrinas.

  • The recovery and conservation of cold climate forest species was advanced, producing 20,640 saplings of: Myrtle (Myrciapopayanensis), Chagualo (Clusiaalata), Encenillo (Weinmanniapubescens), Canelo de páramo (Drymisgranadensis), Silvosilvo (Hedosyosmumbonplandianum), Dragon Tree (Crotonsmithianus), Matayvaarborescens.

  • The insulation actions to propitiate natural revegetation, of repopulation and/or reforestation with native species, promoted the recovery of vegetation cover in the cloud forest, very wet low montane forest, tropical rainforest, tropical dry forest, Andean forest, wet tropical forest and high Andean forest.

  • 450 species of native plants were identified, some of which were classified as vulnerable, by means of a taxonomic inventory.

Conservation models launched

Conservation was addressed on two levels throughout the execution of the projects of this thematic axis:

  • Conservation and recovery of species of wild flora, and

  • Conservation areas.

In the second case, in two forms:

  • Areas of Nature Reserves of Civil Society, a method that integrated processes of strict conservation with production directly associated with conservation, in order to generate alternatives to agricultural and livestock production integrated with the conservation of the ecosystems that sustain them. On this basis, practices and techniques were incorporated in the establishment of natural reserves such as: basic sanitation, agroforestry and forest grazing models, the production and use of organic fertilizers, management plans for endemic or vulnerable species of flora and fauna, and the enrichment of biological plots and corridors.

  • Conservation Areas constructedin accordance with environmental and cultural regulation of the territory, and surrounding bodies of water.

Lessons learned

"Local communities are the central element in any initiative regarding the conservation of biodiversity."

In this way, without additional claims, one can confirm that this experience of ECOFONDO shattered the myth of the supposed antagonism, in community practice, between conservation and development, the latter being understood as the improvement of material living conditions.

The increasingly serious consideration of the community component, together with the reassessment of the institutional logic of ECOFONDO in order to understand and promote the significance of cultural tradition and the social dynamic of local communities, contributed particularly and significantly to the promotion of environmental management from the perspective of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities, whose ethnic and territorial organizations had played, and are called to play, an important role in this approach to environmental management. Throughout the experience, in the execution of the projects, it led to the materialization of biodiversity conservation processes integrated within the defense and preservation of the cultural diversity of indigenous communities, afro-descendent and local; communities which, historically, have been agents in the protection of the environmental quality of their territories.

The ethnic and territorial organizations spotlight, similarly, as part of this experience, the possibility of truly exercising social and cultural control of their territories, through processes of self-regulation, such as community regulation of the use of natural resources, ecosystems and specific subsystems within their ancestral production systems.

On the other hand, transcending project foci with a tendency to prioritize biophysical elementswas detrimental to the improvement of the material living conditions of men and women of the beneficiary populations; this led to strengthening the foundations of the focus on participative environmental management, promoted by ECOFONDO since its creation. That is to say, it brought integrity to the concept, promoting a mutual, interdependent and synergic relationship between environmental planning, action in the physical environment and organizational community processes.


There are 72 projects in this thematic axis.

The Beneficiary Population of said projects, including the total of organizations that were institutionally strengthened as a result of the projects’ execution, was distributed in the following way:

Families: 13,744.  Women: 21,082.  Men: 24,722.  Adolescents: 1,813.  Children: 23,162.  Organizations strengthened: 330.

Results in figures

The prevailing trend in this group of projects was the formation of processes of environmental conservation at different scales: soils, bodies of water, forest cover; to the reconversion of models of conventional production systems towards Agro-Ecological Models, according to the following principles:

  • The conservation of natural resources.

  • The adaptation of crops and biocenotic components associated with the environment.

  • The achievementand maintenance of a productivity level which was relatively high, but sustainable from an ecological, cultural and economic perspective.

  • A reduction in the use of energy and resources.

  • The recycling of nutrients.

  • The maintenance of a high biological and genetic diversity.

  • The maximization of the landscape’s multi-use capacity.

  • The conservation of renewable resources: soil, water, forests.

  • The pursuit of self-sufficiency in food.

  • The maintenance of efficient and sustainable productivity levels.

From this point of view, the following results were obtained:

  • 74,436 beneficiaries.

  • It is important to point out that the qualifying participation of women depends on the different areas of the country. It was in Antioquia-Viejo Caldas, Chicamocha, Sabana Grande and El Caribe that there was the greatest shift towards gender equality in terms of participation, although from various perspectives. While in Antioquia-Viejo Valdas, Sabana Grande and El Caribe specific projects and actions were proposed by women, in Chichamocha their participationin the execution of projects was very important but without the formation of specific groups of women; however, they directly undertook distinct roles in production processes, as they do in their families.

  • A total of 4,389.4 hectares were environmentally planned (the basin of the Servitá River, the upper and sub-basins of the Tejo River, and local gorges of the municipalities of Mogotes, Puente Nacional and Barbosa (Santander)).

  • In 3,148.78 hectares native vegetation cover was propitiated by means of insulation, as well as vegetation repopulation and/or reforestation in strategic ecosystems: Andean forest, high Andean forest, sub-Andean forest, premontane wet forest, montane forest, low montane forest, wet tropical rainforest, dry tropical rainforest, moorland and low moorland. In general, the projects centered on reforestation, yet when done with native species, they presented limitations and difficulties in their successful development. Both the establishment and maintenance are more costly and there are problems related to the survival percentage, which sharpened during the summer months. As a matter of fact, the projects which propitiated native vegetation cover through insulation measures showed greater potential impact in propitiating natural revegetation. This strategy has greater advantages in terms of costs, the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of water resources.

  • In 3,260.46 hectares action was taken in the reconversion of models of conventional production systems towards multiple agro-ecological models and models which link indigenous worldviews with agro-ecological principles.

  • Some Agroecosystem projects were executed in the strict context of educational processes and generated curriculums for different levels of education.

  • 3,882.4 hectares were environmentally planned and organized in the Servitá River Basin: 1,010 hectares with partial plans for regulation; 1,476.4 hectares with environmental zoning; and 1,396 with planning for productive zones.

  • 60 hectares with management plans in the upper basin of the Tejo River.

  • 293 hectares of the sub-basin of the Tejo River: 201 hectares with plans for environmental regulation and 92 hectares with plans for environmental management.

  • 4 hectares of the Semisa gorge (municipalities of Puente Nacional and Barbosa) with environmental zoning.


There are 35 projects in this thematic axis.

The Beneficiary Population of said projects, including the total of organizations which were institutionally strengthened as a result of the projects’ execution, was distributed in the following way:

Families: 49,355.  Women: 152,536.  Men: 144,443.  Adolescents: 151,324.  Children: 205,407.  Organizations strengthened: 129


  • The execution of the projects of the Urban Environmental Management thematic axis were supported by participative methodologies, such as: Participative Action Research and Learn-by-Doing Processes; Plan of Editorial and Communication Processes, in a way articulated by specific methodologies to approach the social component and the implicit technical features; risk zones; environmental conflicts; management of solid waste, including the transformation, technological innovations and environmental improvement of production processes, planning of routes and micro-routes of collection, the conformation of business models with popular sectors and environmental protection.

  • In the Regional Unit of Chichamocha, the execution of a project on the part of the Cultural Invitation Foundation, located in the area of Communication, elaborated a methodological proposal around the Conservatory as an instrument of exchange and construction of knowledge, and explication and management of internal and inter-organizational conflicts. The project executed by FUNDAMA, in its turn, was based on processes typicalof media production, from an alternative perspective and in networking.

  • In the Northeastern Regional Unit, methodological proposals connected to the generation of comprehensive management systems of solid waste were addressed efficiently.

  • In the Regional Unit of Sabana Grande and El Caribe, the Zoological Foundation of Baranquilla, FUNDAZOO, supported the execution of the project in pedagogical planning and educational demonstrations about the taxonomic classification of species of wild fauna, their phenotypic characteristics and their habitats; all of which, in addition to the planning of interactive workshops about ecological topics, strengthened their Environmental Education Center, as a setting in which to introduce visitors in general to the zoo and specific school groups in particular.

  • In the Regional Unit of Antioquia-Viejo Caldas, some specific methodological proposals were made, like those of the Foundation FORHUM, for intervention in Risk Zones, and the Penca de Sábila Ecological and Cultural Corporation, with a methodological proposal for the understanding, identification and management of urban environmental conflicts, drawing on case studies in the Metropolitan Area of Medellín and the Valley of Aburrá.

  • Other cases in this Regional Unit had to do with participative designs for Environmental Education linked to formal education processes (the Ecological Group of the National College of Jesús María Ocampo); participative processes in risk management and humanitarian aid, including psychosocial attention and work with vulnerable groups, children and old age (the Green Heritage Foundation, the Las Mellizas Reserve Ecological Foundation); and diagnostic exercises and participative planning of local environmental agendas (the Cloud Forest Environmentalist Foundation, in co-implementation with the Spiral Foundation, in Armenia and Pereira respectively).

  • Two (2) projects, executed by the Cloud Forest Environmentalist Foundation (in conjunction with the Spiral Foundation) and the Penca de Sábila Ecological and Cultural Corporation addressed the planning and environmental regulation in Antioquia-Viejo Caldas.

  • In Bogotá-Cundinamarca, the Regional Unit that showed the greatest conceptual, methodological and operative development in urban environmental management within the scope of ECOFONDO, the work carried outsuccessivelyby the La Conejera Wetland Foundation was notable in this ecosystem, whose problems were efficiently diagnosed as a base for zoning and comprehensive management plans;these have had a great impact on the containment of illegal urbanization practices and on public policy regarding wetlands on a district and national level. Similarly, the view of the Foundation FIDHAP was an important advance in terms of planning and regulation, with a proposal surrounding the Tunjuelito River as a benchmark in public policy, in view of the development for the southern conglomerate of Bogotá.

  • The ENDA-Latin America project introduced a conceptualized focus, Solidarity Recycling, in which the impacts of the intervention are not so much on behalf of the completeness of a management system per se, but, above all, dignify the appointed recyclers as environmental agents with which sources establish supportive relationships of waste delivery. Thus, public recycling was implemented in residential, public, commercial and educational environments, as a (supportive) possibility of mutual benefit for the source and the recycler. In the same way, ENDA produced relevant analysis with regard to waste management in the Capital District, especially regarding the Waste Management Master Plan, and introduced the recycling families of two associations (Suba and Prado Veraniego) to processes of the peaceful resolution of conflicts, public oversight and analysis of their public recycling processes.

  • CORDESCO (Bucaramanga) and the Fuerza Horizonte Association of Recyclers (Pasto) were the first projects, in the area of the Special Account ODA-Canada, which made advancements towards the structure of a model for comprehensive management of solid waste. In both cases, taking as a starting point trade recycling and its relationship with the places of final disposal, work was undertaken in the articulation of the different steps in the chain of production. CORDESCO advanced relevant diagnostics of the sources, as a basis for organizing the system. Fuerza Horizonte stressed the organizational process of the recyclers and, in fact, its impact has generated a business initiative for public recycling: The Business Cooperative of Recyclers of Nariño, COEMPRENDER, which connects preoperative and cooperative local groups of Pasto recyclers.

  • The CINSET project was novel in its approach, making incursions directly into the production processes of microbusinesses as regards the conversion of plastic waste, with a high technical component, in an area characterized by this activity in Bogotá, El Tintal.

  • The project executed by ASPROMA presented a valuable methodological plan for the education andmonitoring of waste classification in homes, for micro- and macro-routing, and for the different stages of the recycling chain, including transformation and final disposal.



It is evident that“Tracks to Construct a Country”originates from the execution of the projects, because both the conditions required and the most appropriate interlocutors for said construction are made clear, and viable and definite alternatives are specified in practice, located in particular territories and constructed by specific organizations.

The projects embody the certainty that it is possible to construct peace, but that there are prerequisites; among others, the generation of concrete alternatives to production and, in general, of the quality of life for local, indigenous, afro-descendent and farming communities. This includes the need to guarantee them access to land with ecosystems and strategic resources for food and agriculture; to construct horizontal relationships between the State, NGOs, educational institutions and organizations and grassroots communities, and guarantee real mechanics of participation, which facilitate social control and reverse the economic, social and political exclusion of those social sectors.

Regarding their contributions to peace, the collective analysis carried out with the executing organizations, in the context of the Regional Workshops of the Recognition of Data and Forecast of Regional Environmental Management, as part of the Process of Systematization, concludes that the projects contribute effectively to the construction of conditions favorable to peace in the communities and regions, because they generate local development alternatives that, in turn, consist of alternatives to armed conflict, inasmuch as they target the improvement of quality of life and the sustainability of natural resources, and contribute to the generation of agro-food and agro-productive proposals for farming families. “Sowing, because hunger leads to violence”, according to a statement made in the workshop of Antioquia-Viejo Caldas. They promote the communities’ empowerment in defining their own development and democratic security based on their social fabric, because as a result of the projects, values and attitudes are promoted for the construction of PEACE.

The projects’ contributions to the generation of local development alternatives:

  • They generate and support rural development proposals, with community participation and decision making.

  • They demonstrate that peace should be sought in harmony with the country’s ecosystems. While it is true that basic needs must be fulfilled, this search should be based on sustainable systems that reconcile production with ecosystems and with autonomous organizational processes.

  • They prompt improvement of quality of life and the sustainability of natural resources.

  • They contribute to the generation of agro-food and agricultural production proposals for farming families: Sowing, because hunger generates violence.

  • The projects’ actions contribute to strengthening the food security in the region: “With food we are less vulnerable.”

  • The Models of Sustainable Production Systems that are promoted by the projects contribute to peace in the area.

  • In each space where an ecological process has been developed (reforestation, demonstration plots, stoves, etc.), it has been shown that there are alternatives that offer a different national model.

  • The agro-ecological proposal shows that it is economically viable, generates profit and alternatives, and fulfills basic needs.

  • They promote technology appropriate for farming ecology.

  • They are economic alternatives with regard to income and the galvanization of the family and farming economy.

  • They consist of alternatives to illicit crops.

  • The projects “open eyes”, they alert, they make people aware; they increase the levels of the population’s critical awareness before offers of development coming from the state or from the private sector which are not framed by environmental criteria.

  • They have contributed to the construction of democracy and equality.

  • The improvement of the population’s standards of living. Not only with respect to material conditions, but also with respect to the skills of people and organizations, through organizational and educational processes.

  • They contribute to the construction of alternatives for women in areas of farming economy.

  • The projects and the processes generated by them have the effect of reducing the movement of people and families from city plots. They contribute in decreasing the migration of young people.

  • They inspire the construction of local and regional alternatives (educational, formational, technological, economic and political) of lasting worth and enjoyment in the territories.

  • They promote the planting of roots and ownership of land. They contribute in guaranteeing the permanency of land.

  • They display the conditions required to construct development alternatives: dialogue, organic decentralization in decision making, environmental sustainability.

  • The advanced projects are actions of peace because they promote food security, the generation of knowledge, the conservation of resources, the regulation of territory and the adoption of environmentalist culture. Inasmuch as circles of people who work with principles of respect, transparency and commitment to general interest are strengthened, we will be able to count on catalysts of a climate of trust without which Colombian society is not going to reach peace in terms of social and environmental justice.

  • They make clear a proposal for change from an environmental perspective, understood in its fundamental sense.

  • They have contributed to the implementation of life plans for ethnic groups.

  • They have contributed towards the practice of Autonomy and Self-Regulation with regard to territorial management.

The projects’ contributions in the promotion of values and attitudes for the construction of PEACE:

  • They encourage values of equality in the home, in villages, the municipality and the country.

  • They offer hope for life and settlement on the land.

  • They promote foci surrounding the appreciation of farming culture and its living conditions.

  • They promote a society favorable to the construction of cities and territories according to equality and sustainability.

  • They promote unity in work and mutual support, and strengthen attitudes of commitment of professionals and institutes in the processes of environmental management.

  • They contribute to reclaiming the role of communities and empowering them through knowledge.

  • They help in approaching family, social and environmental conflicts; in recognizing that women are victims of different sorts of violence, and that they also exert violence on themselves and on other men and women.

  • They have encouraged participation and tolerance.

  • They reinforce elements of justice, equality, solidarity and sustainability in the communities.

  • They promote the search for equality and, conversely, for the conditions which generate violence.

  • They encourage reflection on experience, so that discussion may be consistent with everyday practice.

  • They promote respect among women and men.

  • They promote the recognition and respect of the executors in their social context.

The projects’ contributions with regard to the organizational and participatory processes:

  • They promote participation and influence in forums of cooperation with collective proposals.

  • They promote associative grassroots proposals and to these contribute political content.

  • They contribute to the construction and consolidation of forums for the reflection, participation and decisions of the country and the territories we dream of.

  • They have encouraged family integration in Community Meetings and indigenous safeguarding, experiencing harmony and exchange of interethnic products and experiences.

  • They have contributed favorably to the construction of peace and personal and community growth, for the reclamation of individual and collective rights.

  • The permanent presence of NGO project executors and support professionals in the communities contributes to increasing levels of community self-esteem and confidence in local processes facing situations of conflict.

  • ​​They promote the empowerment of the communities in defining their own development and democratic security based on their social fabric.

  • They contribute in strengthening the communities’ cultural identities.

  • They drive educational processes constructed with people and groups.

  • They contribute to the construction of the social fabric through organizational processes.





Organizaciones Miembro: