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.

Research Description

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. Highland regions, those located between 3,000 and 4,800 meters over sea level, and commonly known as páramos in South and Central America, are key ecosystems for water regulation and supply. The Sumapaz 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 that deeply affected rural communities, while the government continues to implement policies that mainly favour large agricultural enclaves, generating a further threat for peasants dwelling in this sensitive ecosystem. More recently, the introduction of environmental protection laws, specific for the highlands, limits peasants’ mobility and access to land and resources as policy makers perceive their presence to be detrimental to the environment. 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.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

My hope is that this research will provide evidence to inform policy that is inclusive of local community-based alternatives for ecological restoration and conservation agricultural practices. Building a partnership means placing at the center the community and partner organization, avoiding common colonial research practices of knowledge extraction. This research is particularly significant given the current stage of distributive conflict over land and resources, while peasant communities continue to struggle to defend their land and environment. The partner organization will benefit by gaining skills and tools for developing future workshops, as well as a written report that will be given and disseminated within the community with some valuable information that they could use to advance different projects. The local community will directly benefit from identifying, discussing and supporting suitable local conservation practices specific to highland regions.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My passion for learning and personal inquiring took me to a path of deeper understanding over 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. A research in Colombia, my home country, 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?

I chose UBC because it offered a strong interdisciplinary department where I have met and engaged in dialogue with an incredible cohort of academics. Certainly, this would not have not been possible without the continuous support and guidance of my supervisor Dr. Pilar Riaño-Alcalá and my co-supervisor Dr. Vanessa Andreotti. Dr. Riaño-Alcalá has extensively work on the issues of Memory and Justice in Colombia, with an emphasis on communities affected by war; while Dr. 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 has a beautiful campus and a great variety of facilities for research, encounters and presentations that ultimately transforms the PhD process into a meaningful and rewarding experience.

 

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.