Colombia’s Initial Governance Response Program, the Elements of Effective Localization

Opening Colombia’s difficult terrain for a flourishing civil society.

The basic principles of democratic governance and a free-market economy remained elusive for decades in Colombia’s Meta Department, specifically in La Macarena. The region has been historically controlled by the longest running guerilla insurgency in Latin America namely the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the “FARC.” In La Macarena, entire communities either willingly or unwillingly became pawns in a dangerous game perpetrated by guerrilla groups which ruled entire communities through fear. Whole families became easy recruits for the cultivation of coca and production of cocaine as a means for survival.

To its credit, the Government of Colombia (GoC) undertook a major initiative to secure the communities of La Macarena from insurgents by providing them basic government services. This effort was launched following the 2006 discussions between the GoC and the US Government through USAID about developing a pilot program to establish government coordinated civilian-military interventions aimed at neutralizing the FARC’s hold on the region. Six municipalities were identified to test this program, known as the Initial Governance Response Program (IGRP), which emerged from these discussions.

Colombia is a nation historically wracked by violence, exacerbated by decades of narco-trafficking, internal and cross border conflicts that have exacted a significant cost on this country of 44 million people. With over 3 million internally displaced persons, tens of thousands more have further perished from these conflicts in Colombia’s Meta Department. Notwithstanding the impact of narco-trafficking, Colombia’s geographical location, with its Caribbean and Pacific coastline, rugged mountain ranges and vastly dense jungle, has contributed to lawlessness by leaving the country’s difficult terrain open for control by illegal armed groups like the FARC. It is little wonder then that La Macarena has become symbolically and strategically an important region for political restructure by the Colombian Government.

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) launched the IGRP beginning in February 2007. The program supports the Government of Colombia’s efforts to stabilize areas recently recovered from illegal armed groups. The strategy is simple. Respond to local needs to give the government greater visibility in the community. The program was carried out over 54 months from February 2007 until July 2011 by Creative, which served as OTI’s and the Government of Colombia’s implementing partner.

IGRP boosted the credibility of government and civilian institutions by providing the resources needed to increase the willingness and capacity of communities to cooperate and interact with their government. It also provided the GoC with a mechanism to respond to community-identified priorities. IGRP included five main components, among which the two largest components were Colombia Responde, which aimed at increasing and demonstrating GoC commitment and engagement in the communities, and Progreso, which complemented Colombia Responde by providing long term income generating activities and opportunities that focused on small community grants and government strengthening activities. Progreso, or the Program on Economic and Social Resources Generation, implemented rural economic development that brought the means to communities to earn their livelihood legally.

IGRP relied on its primary government partner, Acción Social’s Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), which is under the Office of the President to implement its program successfully. CCAI is responsible for coordinating the provision of government services in prioritized regions of the country recently retaken from illegal groups. In 2007, IGRP contributed to the creation and operation of the GoC’s Integrated Consolidation Plan for La Macarena (PCIM), which targeted the six La Macarena municipalities and provided the foundation of IGRP’s success. By late 2009, it became the preferred model for what translated into Colombia’s National Consolidation Plan.

IGRP_2-800x169 The IGRP’s modus operandi was to provide rapid and flexible solutions to socio-political stabilization needs. To do so, it sought out interventions that created synergistic partnerships with State and private actors, who worked collaboratively to plan and implement community projects. These partnerships changed radically the State-citizen dialogue and relationship through effective coordination that strengthened the credibility and legitimacy of the GoC in post-conflict areas. For example, Colombia Responde’s Community Assemblies and workshops allowed communities to identify priory needs and practice collective decision-making over grant resources while Progreso’s Municipal Coordination Tables continue to be a sustainable platform for decision-making and subsequent action by government, the private sector and producers in promoting entrepreneurial growth and stability.

There were several factors that contributed to IGRP’s success. The first was the leadership and dedication of the Government of Colombia. The second was the flexibility of USAID and OTI. The third was establishing security.

However, the fourth factor was probably the most important. Each of the six targeted municipalities had an IGRP Colombian community mobilizer, an individual from the region, who promoted, organized, and coordinated activities throughout the municipality. These staff were identified by the communities as part of the PCIM effort, and provided an invaluable personalized face of a benign state presence at the community level. Each municipality also had Progreso extensionists who were technical specialists in diverse rural enterprise and livelihoods development. The deployment of these individuals at the community level served a very critical dual purpose in that it put a Colombian face on the program and ensured that the program reflected local reality and dynamics.

Progeso launched as an 18-month pilot program in November 2007 was IGRP’s flagship component. It was designed as a rapid intervention model for rural enterprises that would produce profitable, licit activities for strengthening local institutions. As such, Progreso provided technical assistance to small and medium sized agricultural producers to help them transition from the underground economy to legal income-generating activities with a focus on production lines for sale at local markets. As quality control was introduced for the various production lines, sales strategies later included regional and national markets.

Progreso engaged the Center for Tropical Agriculture to provide specialized technical assistance on agricultural entrepreneurship, association building and rotating funds (a portion of the profits went into the funds to capitalize the association) on a continual basis and leveraging parallel municipal technical assistance to the beneficiaries. All projects were developed in consultation with existing local associations and groups, making it possible to develop long-term, high-impact activities in the short-term and to implement projects rapidly without having to carry out costly and lengthy studies in contrast to traditional alternative development programs. The program worked to promote and maintain the communities and to implement active participation by member organizations. This was facilitated by the two-pronged requirement for program activities to be developed as a team and for beneficiaries to provide a counterpart contribution to pair with in-kind support for the program.

With its focus on a rapid market-based (rather than production-based) intervention Progreso provided disenfranchised, isolated farmers the necessary tools to establish legal livelihoods while fostering and developing credible, legitimate State presence and citizen involvement within the underground economy of the Meta department. In so doing, it facilitated both supply and demand for public services to ensure permanent State presence. On the demand side, it supported the growth of producer organizations that need State services while on the supply side it built local capacity with which State services could interact.

This market-based approach meant that crops supported by the program were the same crops supported by the GoC through technical assistance, subsidy and credit programs. Each crop had direct technical assistance and support from a multiplicity of State and private actors, such as departmental Agriculture Secretariats, Provincial Centers for Agribusiness Management, Municipal Agricultural Technical Assistance Units, the Research and Extension Institute, the Colombian Corporation of Agricultural Research, Chambers of Commerce, Coffee and Cacao guilds and universities.

Progreso beneficiaries and their associations were thus assisted in the production of only one crop, a crop with which the farmer was familiar and had experience cultivating. Progreso’s demand-side grants to farmers were usually a discrete set of agricultural inputs designed in the short term to increase production or value, accompanied by ongoing technical assistance in cultivation, business skills development and social capital formation.

As a result of the diverse complementary interventions put in place by Progeso, the producer associations were able to form links and coordinate with the public and private institutional environment of the region by opening bank accounts, acquiring knowledge of State tenders, learning about and accessing credit, and making contact and networking with other associations.

120 producer associations (products included dairy, coffee, rubber, cacao, honey, chili peppers, cassava, plantain and sugarcane) were created and 25 existing ones were strengthened through the program. In addition, associations in a single productive line (such as dairy, cacao and rubber) formed ten 2nd tier organizations, representing a total of 65 producer associations. An example of a 2nd tier organization is the integration of eight dairy associations organized as one body to support and represent their industry-specific group for marketing, pricing, negotiations, and bulk purchases of inputs and dairy products.

As a San Jose community member pointed out: “The milk producers in the communities of San Jose and Bajo Curia in the municipality of San Juan de Arama are rural families whose income depends on small parcels. Their production had never been supported by the State or technical assistance. They did not have a way to commercialize their milk and sub products. (…) the implementation of this Progreso project has paved the way for a new and promising horizon for all producers in the area, who have developed an entrepreneurial vision for commercializing their product, as well as a futuristic agro industrial vision.”

Exceeding all expectations with these spectacular results, the Progeso pilot phase was extended by USAID/OTI until the end of the IGRP program. Of particular note was the fact that Progreso was a catalyst in mobilizing national, department, and local institutions, as well as the private sector and the Center for Tropical Agriculture in creating a framework for a comprehensive, holistic integrated approach to sustainable livelihoods.

Although initiated as a small program that attempted to operate in a hostile environment, the IGRP succeeded on all fronts and was repeatedly extended. By the Program’s end in July 2011, impressive security gains had been made, the Colombian Government on the local, regional, and national levels had reinvested in isolated and rural communities, coca cultivation was eradicated in program implementation zones, a licit economy was created, and community cohesion was rebuilt. The methodology developed by the Government of Colombia, USAID/OTI, and Creative Associates International under IGRP proved that a small investment could reap extraordinary, long term gains, a methodology that is being expanded throughout the country.

—Dick McCall and Cytandra Hoover

Sign Up

For our mailing list


Comments are closed.