Local environmental management: processes for participatory water governance

  • Bocarejo Suescun, Diana (PI)
  • Atehortúa Arredondo, Clara Inés (CoI)

Project: Research Project

Project Details


The world water crisis is articulated with a series of environmental, social, economic and political problems and challenges within which the course of water governance is included (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -OECD-, 2014; the Global Water Parternship -GWP-, 2003, among others). Water governance refers to the formulation, establishment and implementation of policies, legislation and institutions associated with water management, and the clarification of the roles and responsibilities of government, civil society and the private sector in relation to water resources and services (IWMI, 2016). The most recent models recognized within the framework of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) have called for the inclusion of multiple scales of analysis and intervention that take into account local relationships around river basin management. Since, many environmental conflicts have paradoxically been exacerbated by the very arrangements of water management due to mismanagement of resources, corruption, inadequate institutional arrangements and lack of credibility in institutions in part due to poor participation of local people (Cap-net etal., 2014; OECD, 2011).

Within the framework of these discussions, there is growing concern about defining decentralised alternatives that ensure the participation of local people in decision-making, implementation and monitoring or citizen oversight. This, under the premise of a greater articulation between daily practices, local knowledge about water, technical analyses and action plans of the various state institutions. In this sense, the discussion on the governance of contemporary water includes participation as a substantial axis. In Colombia, in spite of the regulations and the participation scenarios set forth in the 1991 Constitution, the consolidation of local environmental management strategies faces multiple challenges: lack of knowledge about daily environmental care practices, difficulties in recognizing these practices as forms of management, problems in articulating these strategies and state scenarios, threats from armed actors and regional economic interests, among others.

This is the case of those inhabitants of the Magdalena River whose occupations revolve around fishing and rowing, migration and the rudeness of floods and droughts, their relationship and struggle with infrastructure such as hydroelectric plants and dams, the rhythms of the harvests interwoven with the changes of the moon and the arrival of rain, and coexistence with the charms of the marshes and waterfalls. Both in the past and in the present, artisanal fishing has been an essential part of the daily relations of the river dwellers with the river, and from there we try to outline some proposals for water governance at the local level.

The river basin produces 80% of the country's GDP and is home to more than 77% of the country's population, and has been the main source of drinking water, even if it is not drinkable (The Nature Conservancy etal 2016). It is home to 213 species of fish, 50% endemic, and a long history of riparian communities that have shaped their lives through the rhythms of fishing. However, this history of fishing has been subordinated to other types of uses: energy production, agro-industrial exploitation, livestock and oil transportation. The country's major cities discharge their wastewater into the river, and in the lowlands, millions of people use the polluted water for their survival (many speak of being Colombia's "ciphon"). In addition, there are many other pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides, dioxins, oil spills, among others, which affect the river and, with it, the way people live their daily lives.

Within the framework of these upstream and downstream dynamics, analysts from various disciplines have emphasized the relevance of starting from a basin scale to analyze the impacts, movements and challenges of managing the river (Rodríguez 2015). But how to think about the local environmental management strategies that emerge from the diverse socio-environmental histories and dynamics of the river? In this project we seek to analyze some of these with the purpose of deepening, from a localized scale, the forms of environmental management. Only from localised analyses that explain the challenges of the rhythms and interruptions in water movements and changes in its composition (pollution, among others), will we be able to understand the aspirations and scope of management proposals at both local and basin scales. For this reason, this project focuses on the high, medium and low levels of the Magdalena River, which is the Momposina Depression; Opon, Llanito, Carare; Puerto Quinchana and La Jagua.

Among these cases is the Association of Fishermen and Fish Farmers of El Llanito (APALL), constituted since 1992 in Barrancabermeja, Santander. Its objective is to defend natural resources and the recovery of ecological environments by promoting the regulation of fishing in the El Llanito swamp and Sogamoso River. For this, they initiated a community self-management about the management and administration of the natural resources, trying to maintain a control in the use of the tools allowed to fish, and the places established for such activity.

On the other hand, in places such as Cimitarra there is the Fishermen and Farmers Association of the Cimitarra River and the Peasant Reserve Zone, which focus on building their own forms of organization for the defense of the territory, the consolidation of productive and social projects, with a sustainable approach. However, in places like Opon, the Opon Marsh Fishermen's Association has created strategies such as the prohibition of trammel nets to protect the marsh.

In another case, the regional federation of fishermen, farmers and environmentalists of the Momposina Depression (FERPAM) in the municipality of Cicuco and Mompox (Bolivar). The Federation is framed in the context of the entrance of oil companies like Ecopetrol, who brought with them environmental impacts and changes in lifestyles. Since they established the marshes as places for oil industry waste. Because of this, the federation FERPAM took the initiative to denounce the activities not suitable for the protection and conversation of the natural resources, but also to work communally for the care and recovery of the marshes in the region.

These types of local initiatives are being managed due to various environmental impacts, promoting local participation and forming alliances with entities such as CINEP through the Magdalena Medio Development and Peace Program (PDPMM) to work for ecological and social sustainability; in addition to building and consolidating local participation to face the complexity of their contexts crossed by oil, mines, hydroelectric plants, and pollution, among others. Other types of organizations such as Fundación Humedales and Fundación Natura are also presented, which have been carrying out research on fishing activity, the contamination of rivers and swamps, among other areas; with the objective of informing about the precarious situations that river dwellers and artisanal fishermen live in, but also managing strategies for the defense of resources, habitat restoration, conservation strategies, sustainable management of fishing, actions to confront deforestation, and others.

Methodologically, this project uses qualitative tools such as semi-structured interviews, social mapping, stakeholder mapping and archive review to analyze: i) daily environmental care practices, ii) family and community arrangements around environmental use and care, iii) and the articulation or disarticulation of these practices with state and other non-state institutions (economic sectors, non-governmental organizations, etc.). I include these three levels of analysis of local environmental management that in part of the literature have shown the juridical pluralism of environmental management. Such pluralism arises not only from the "absence of the state" and the isolation of certain management strategies but also as proposals that arise from interlegality. Interlegality is a notion extracted from Sousa Santos (1987, 288), who argued that "social-legal life is constituted by different legal spaces that operate simultaneously at different scales and from different interpretative points of view (...) as a result of the interaction and intersection between juridical persons". Sousa Santos' work has been used in recent years by socio-legal academics such as Mariana Valverde, Alfred Aman and Carol Greenhouse to focus on a rather controversial issue for thinking about environmental policy and justice: scale and jurisdiction. Valverde argues that "the various modes and rationalities of governance that coexist in each form of 'interlegality' are not necessarily linked to any particular scale; therefore, exploring the effects of jurisdiction takes us beyond scale" (Valverde 2009, 140)


>Articulación entre semilleros de investigación: Semilleros afluentes Semillero sobre estudios de explotación de recursos naturales. Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de Antioquia >Cursos nuevos: >>Módulos sobre gestión del agua local MUTIS URosario En este curso dirigido a organizaciones sociales y a funcionarios de instituciones públicas se explicarán los fundamentos de la gobernanza del agua explorando los enfoques a nivel internacional más reconocidos. Se analizarán las propuestas a nivel institucional y a nivel de la sociedad civil sobre el tema en Colombia y finalmente se expondrá la experiencia y se realizará una capacitación sobre la metodología propuesta como resultado de este proyecto de investigación. >>Curso gobernanza local y acceso a derechos colectivos: Es un curso para la lìnea de profundizaciòn en el pregrado en derecho y también se ofertarà en el pregrado de ciencia política de la universidad de antioquia. En el se presentaràn los conceptos`fundamentales sobre gobernanza local, derechos colectivos y la manera en que la primera es la vìa para afianzar los segundos. También se presentarà la necesidad de fortalecer la gobernanza en diferentes ámbitos territoriales y exigir la garantìa de los derechos colectivos para el desarrollo de los postulados del estado social de derecho. Además se presentarán los hallazgos de la investigación como uno de los casos para presentar los diversos modelos y mecanismos de participaciòn como condición necesaria para el desarrollo de la democracia. >>Taller de participación ambiental y gobernanza ambiental Taller para realizar en el municipio de Honda, Tolima para la formación de líderes locales en herramientas y rutas de gestión y participación ambiental. Se realizará en conjunto con la docente Lina Muñoz de la Facultad de Jurisprudencia y esperamos vincular algún otro colega del Grupo Mutis. >Metodología: Consolidación de una metodología y matriz de actores móvil y heterogénea: uno de los productos de formación que se espera es lograr la consolidación de una metodología que permita mostrar las especificidades y las complejidades de manera móvil y heterogénea. Lo que se espera es poder plasmar la complejidad de los actores, la heterogeneidad en los tiempos y prácticas, además de los cambios que atraviesan. En ese sentido, se pretende plantear un tipo de metodología para comprender y analizar las distintas formas de gobernanza y gestión ambiental, que incluya los matices y particularidades, pero que se pueda usar de manera general. >Trabajos de grado y articulación de jóvenes investigadores: Articulación Jóven Investigador: Mateo Vásquez (contrapartida): quien apoyará el análisis de brechas y retos de consolidación de procesos o iniciativas de gestión, desde el estudio de la planeación e implementación de políticas públicas de manejo ambiental, en algunos de los puntos priorizados previamente Articulación Jóven Investigador: Fernanda Preciado, quien trabajará en i) el trabajo de archivo y fuentes secundarias y ii) trabajo de campo sobre las diferentes estrategias de gestión local. Trabajo de campo e inicio de análisis sobre los procesos de gestión y trabajo colectivo de los ribereños para tesis de maestría en Derecho y Gestión Ambiental (Natalia Giraldo)
Effective start/end date3/1/201/15/22

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Main Funding Source

  • Competitive Funds
  • Small Amount


  • Bogotá D.C.


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