Colombia and The World Bank’s Territorial Development Policy Financing: Whose land is it, anyway?

On June 17, Colombia elected Ivan Duque as its next president.  As reported by the Los Angeles Times(and elsewhere), “he will lead a country sharply divided over the terms of a peace deal with rebels signed in 2016 that ended a long-running war. Although the economy is gaining strength, Colombia remains socially and economically unequal, making it vulnerable to conflicts.”

One of the main sources of inequality in Colombia has been in the ability to gain secure title to land, especially for traditional and ethnic communities. With this longstanding issue in mind, Bank Information Center (BIC) in collaboration with Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (AAS), based in Bogotá, began research in 2017 for the report, The World Bank and Colombia’s Territorial Development Policy Financing: Whose land is it, anyway?

The report looks at risks and potential impacts of a World Bank policy-based loan to Colombia for territorial development that fails– at least on paper– to address the collective land rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. This calls into question whether the World Bank and Government of Colombia have proper measures in place to ensure that ethnic communities’ land rights are prioritized vis-à-vis the private land markets.

In late 2016, weeks after the signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) , the World Bank approved a new US$800 million loan to Colombia through its Development Policy Finance (DPF) mechanism for territorial development. The loan was made to support a key element of the peace agreement: the country’s commitment to deal with longstanding issues around territorial planning.

From 2005 to 2017, Colombia received 22 World Bank DPF loans totaling $9.2 billion. The World Bank uses DPF loans to support policy and institutional reforms intended to achieve development aims set out in a strategy document crafted jointly by the Bank and the country government (read more about Country Partnership Frameworks here). Unlike investment loans, DPF loans go into a country’s general budget.

Although ethnic estimates vary widely, according to the 2005 census, the Afro-Colombian population accounted for 10.5% percent of the national population and the indigenous population, for 3.4% percent. ‘’ It was concerning, then, that the Territorial Development DPF documents do not address or mention any potential impacts on indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities or mitigation measures to ensure that their outstanding titling requests are honored and ancestral land rights under the Constitution protected.

It was in this context that BIC and AAS undertook research to produce this report, which examines the potential impacts of some of the institutional reforms promoted by the Territorial Development DPF on the collective land rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

What did we find? Concerning Development Policy Finance, impacts of the policy reforms occur after the money is fully disbursed— yet impacts depend on how reforms are implemented.  So the World Bank can’t ensure reforms achieve their goals.  Moreover, the Bank’s operational policy (OP 8.60) fails to ensure adequate mitigation of social and environmental impacts, especially those resulting “downstream, i.e. as a consequence of the implementation of DPL-mandated laws or policies.  Nor has the Bank assessed who was consulted, how, and about what.

As for the Colombian Territorial DPF, it did not establish mechanisms or provide information to ensure ethnic communities’ proper participation in the new institutional arrangements that it supported.  It also lacked measures to ensure inter-institutional organization and coordination in the Government of Colombia (GoC).  This exacerbates transparency and accountability issues.  At the same time, DPF-initiated changes failed to include strong institutional mechanisms to address the predictable conflict between the protection of ethnic lands and the promotion of private land markets.  And this is exacerbated by a lack of consistent official data on land titling requests and the number of official resguardos (Indigenous reserves) and collective territories officially recognized.

The bottom line: Ethnic communities—among Colombia’s most vulnerable—haven’t experienced improvements regarding collective land titling process and securing land tenure.

While addressing collective territories is critical, it is actually one illustration of a broader problem, the need for secure titles to land for all vulnerable and often impoverished groups, such as peasants who have individual plots, particularly women.  Another is that much of the expansion of the extractive economic model that this DPF facilitates is most likely to occur in the Altillanura, Colombia’s rich, biodiverse savannah, the gateway to the Amazon on which the Amazonian biome depends.   

So what’s the solution?

For the World Bank, this provides a good example of the need to revise and strengthen DPF governing policies by harmonizing and aligning them with the new WB safeguard policy framework. This would include robust environmental and social assessments for DPF; improved DPF transparency, disclosure, and consultations; and ex-ante DPF assessment of potential risks and impacts—in the current case, impacts of land use change, including to forests.  The Bank similarly needs to recognize the significant risks of land conflict in the Colombia Multipurpose Cadaster Project, currently in the pipeline.  This can be addressed in part by designing that project to increase funding to address the limitations in GoC institutions and capacity to implement community rights, both for indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

For the Government of Colombia, our recommendations reflect discussions that representatives of Ethnic Communities and civil society organizations had during a workshop in Bogotá in February 2018. While the Government will be led by a new Administration beginning in August, the actions needed to address the land title issues faced by Ethnic communities remain the same: strengthen institutions to ensure prompt and fair resolution of ethnic issues in the territorial agencies (ANT and ART); provide for participation of ethnic peoples in the visioning processes for territorial governance; collect information on the indigenous reserves and Afro-Colombian territories already granted or requested/ in process; integrate these into the cadastral system; recognize and apply collective land tenure; support ethnic communities with technical assistance to foster local participation in environmental management, especially for Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities who inhabit much of the country’s forested areas; and related steps to strengthen collective titling.

It’s a long and challenging agenda.  But it needs to be tackled, no matter who is President.  We hope the World Bank, and the Government, recognize these needs, and take up the challenge.

Download the report: