The Doctoral Studies Support Program (DSSP) on “Environmental peace building and development in Colombia” was launched in December 2017 with the signing of the Cooperation Agreement between the Center of Development Research (Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung – ZEF) at the University of Bonn and the Institute of Environmental Studies (Instituto de Estudios Ambientales – IDEA) at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. The DSSP is financed by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD), within the framework of the “Sustainable Development Goals Graduate Schools” program, which aims at consolidating cooperation relationships between German higher education institutions and academic peers from countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, in order to make progresses in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations.

The working topics of both the ZEF and the IDEA are similar and complementary, and this allowed the establishment of this Agreement and the definition of common goals. The projects developed by the departments of Political and Cultural Change, Economic and Technological Change and Ecology and Natural Resources Management at the ZEF coincide with the research programs of the IDEA (Agrarian Environmental Studies, Economy and Environment, Ecology and Environment and Environmental Impact Studies).

Particularly, the DSSP focuses on the general topic “Environment, Peace Building and Development in Colombia”. The aim is studying the complex nexus between the ecosystem basis in different territories of this country and several cultural features of the Colombian population, including economic, social, political, symbolic and technological perspectives in the framework of the ‘post-agreement’. The interdisciplinary German-Colombian production of knowledge based on the acknowledgment of local wisdom will provide some ideas within the current context, in which the recent signing of the Peace Agreement puts into question the way society searches for solutions to the historical environmental pressures related to extractivism and aims at strengthening environmental protection, participation and inclusion of the population in decision-making for environmental conflicts.

Territorial Rights and Access to Natural Goods

Territorial rights and the access to natural goods resources are key topics to understand long-term political and social conflicts worldwide. In the particular case of Latin America, those conflicts emerge from several interconnected factors, such as divergent points of view on land and territory and the subsequent conflicts of interest. Under this perspective, the conceptions of earth and nature as synonyms of welfare with a symbolic meaning are opposed to those that define these elements as a mere merchandise. This opposition of conceptions are to a great extent the root of the increasing unsustainable use and exploitation of natural resources, i.e. the rise of extractive activities such as mining, agro-industry and monocropping with strong impacts, including the degradation of ecosystem and cultural environments.

The “Post-Agreement” as an Opportunity

Colombia is currently facing a unique historical challenge with the so-called “Post-Conflict” (Post-Agreement) because the Peace Agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Army of the People (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) and the negotiations with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) seem to lead towards the end of the armed conflict, at least in what refers to the armed groups of the guerrilla insurgency, because in the country there are still violent sectors linked to narcotics trafficking and territorial disputes. However, the main challenge is the implementation of strategies for a “sustainable peace”, which has to address issues as the unequal land distribution, the varied legal visions on land and the social demands for the materialization of territorial rights and sustainability, as well as other aspects related to the neoliberal development model and the historical processes of inequality and social injustice. This is why the relationships between environment and armed conflict in Colombia are manifold and complex. This country is considered as mega-biodiverse, and this high variety of ecosystems may simultaneously play several roles: as cause (of the disputes around the appropriation of natural resources), as victim (of deforestation, fumigation, etc.), or as a –solution of these conflicts. At the same time, the environment and the ways in which the territory is distributed and used are the center of any lasting solution for this extremely complex conflict.

Inter- and Transdisciplinary Approach

The DSSP has an interdisciplinary approach in order to deal with a complex environment. Issues such as the different links between environment and conflict in Colombia; the role of land and the access to natural resources in the peace building process; and the co-existence of environmental protection and the different exploitation interests, still demand a scientific and inter-disciplinary exploration. The use of ecosystems and also the design of solutions of their protection (institutional structure to plan land use, development of alternative agriculture or ecological-organic agriculture, tourism) require thorough analyses to understand the relationships between nature and the feedback mechanisms of socioecological systems. The environmental management depends greatly on the legal and institutional frameworks and on the way in which all involved stakeholders take part in decision-making regarding strategies to use common goods, and propose own alternatives for development or buen vivir (good living). The future of peace in Colombia depends on sustainable, adapted and local solutions for land use and access to resources. The interdisciplinary research has the tools to make substantial contributions to this respect.