My research explores different strategies and practices used by local peasant groups for sustainable agricultural production and environmental protection in the Sumapaz highland region of Colombia. It is crucial to generate a deep understanding of the territorial affirmative processes, as those that consider the linkages between the land with the social and political elements, in this case particular to peasants’ groups inhabiting the highlands.
My research explores different practices and strategies used by local peasant groups in the Sumapaz highland region of Colombia, directed to maintain their territories, preserve the natural environment and advance their recognition processes. Highland areas, commonly known in South and Central America as páramos, are those located between 3,000 and 4,800 meters above sea level, and they are key ecosystems for water regulation and supply. The Sumapaz páramo alone provides drinkable water for nearly 4 million people in the capital, Bogotá, and surrounding municipalities. Yet Colombia has suffered a six-decade armed conflict associated with extensive land grabs and displacement that has deeply affected rural communities. More recently, environmental protection laws are aiming at limiting peasants’ mobility and access to land and resources in the highlands as policymakers perceive their presence to be detrimental to the environment. I am interested in looking at what I called territorial affirmation practices, which is a set of land production and conservation practices directed to maintain peasants’ territories, preserve the natural environment and advance on their community processes. I am also looking at the role of the local rural organization in supporting these initiatives through the community establishment of certain areas for small-scale local farming called Peasant Land Reserves (PLR). Therefore, it is crucial to generate a deep understanding of the territorial affirmative processes, as those that consider the linkages between the land with the social and political elements, in this case, particular to peasants’ groups inhabiting the highlands. It is equally important to understand and value peasant’s knowledge and their potential for the establishment of autonomous processes for land protection and sustainable production in páramo regions.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Being a Public Scholar means an opportunity to construct a respectful and meaningful relationship with the community and partner organization. My hope is that by being a Public Scholar I could contribute to open doors for dialogue between communities, policy makers and academia; and as a result, to make the work of rural communities in the Global South more visible.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
The Public Scholars Initiative allows for an interdisciplinary experience, while bringing the PhD process into a new level of encouragement for thinking beyond academia. PSI directly engage academic work with the public, generating a more accountable and open dialogue between the PhD students, the university, other scholar, the community and the research process. This dynamic dialogue will definitely refine and booster our doctoral work.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
The interdisciplinary nature of my research and the gained experience in community work and participatory action research, will allow me to envision different career paths for future research and practice. The experience and outcomes of this research project have the potential of being used in other regions of the globe, serving not only for academic advance but as an invaluable experience for prospect future working opportunities with other communities, research centers, governmental and non-governmental organizations.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
In consultation with prospect participants and partner organization, my proposed activities: focus groups, meetings and interviews, will encourage participatory research practices. This process will improve collaborative engagement, fieldwork planning and intended results. Results and tangibles outcomes will be presented to the community and partner organization, The Peasant Association of Sumapaz (ASOSUMAPAZ), which will provide me with an opportunity for strengthening the relationship in a collaborative approach. This continue dialogue will allow members of the community and partner organization to better understand and recognize the value of the PhD research, as well as the social contribution of academic research to advance their local projects and initiatives.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I have always been curious and passionate about learning. A critical thinking process and my personal inquiring took me to a path of wanting to have a deeper understanding of rural communities and their relationship to the land. Over the past few years, I have worked on the development of sustainable agricultural projects with different rural groups in four Latin American countries; together with research in Colombia, my home country, this will allow me to contribute to generate dialogues and positively work with rural populations.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
UBC offers a strong interdisciplinary program where I have met and engaged in dialogue with an incredible cohort of academics from all sorts of disciplines, backgrounds and research approaches. The continuous support and guidance from my supervisors have made a positive impact on my academic experience. Dr. Pilar Riaño-Alcalá has extensively worked on the issues of Memory and Justice in Colombia, with an emphasis on communities affected by war; while Dr. Vanessa Andreotti’s is the Canada Research Chair in Race, Inequalities and Global Change and has worked on issues of global justice and social cartographies, directly engaging marginalized groups in Latin America. UBC Point Grey Campus has a great variety of facilities for research, reading, presentations, and meetings with peers and professors.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The ISGP program has allowed me to take a multiplicity of courses from different faculties and departments, in accordance with my research interests, rather than with a set prescribed curriculum. Therefore, I have had the opportunity to meet a cohort of grad students and professors that have contributed to challenge my research and approaches.
For you, what was the best surprise about graduate life, about UBC or life in Vancouver?
Having lived in Vancouver for more than 15 years, I never got the chance to visit the UBC campus. The best surprise at UBC is that I found many spaces to visit and reflect that, as a student, you didn't know they even existed. These spaces include the UBC Farm, the Nitobe Memorial Garden, The First Nations Longhouse and library, the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, The Botanical Garden and so on.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I am looking forward to completing my field work and then find the best way to put those stories, data, narratives and findings in writing and in a way that they truly represent those communities and partners that we own so much and have allowed me to listen and represent their stories.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
It will be putting research into practice in a way that it will advance knowledge and, at the same time, honor those communities of people that stand behind me in and outside academia.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
My program and supervisors have been a hub that constantly challenges and reassures my academic endeavors and ideas. There is a real commitment from the ISGP program’s director and staff to support and listen to our concerns and suggestions. At the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program I have met amazing academics and professors that have really mentored and allowed me to grow and thrive as a student and researcher.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
I think the most important one is to be persistent in your research endeavors, whatever they are. As I mentioned before the whole PhD process is challenging and there are many ups and downs, from frantically waiting for a professor’s response or a scholarship, to a comprehensive exam or a thesis dissertation approval. However, it is up to you, and just you, to continue striving and proving that you got this!!! Be both, humble and persistent.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I always enjoy walking outside, mostly during spring and fall. In addition, I play soccer and guitar.
Do you have any tips for students from your home country coming to Canada / to UBC Grad School?
Being part of ISGP, and a grad student, in general, is at times a lonely, hardworking and demanding process. My advice will be to take some time to reflect on your research, to talk to peers and other people in your field; but most importantly, to take time for yourself, for your mental health and to enjoy the process the most you can.
Being a Public Scholar means an opportunity to construct a respectful and meaningful relationship with the community and partner organization. My hope is that by being a Public Scholar I could contribute to open doors for dialogue between communities, policy makers and academia.