The Social Challenge
Environmental Conservation and Economic Development
Less than 30 percent of the original ecosystems of the Colombian Andes still exist. The remaining habitat is critical for the welfare and economic development of the region´s population. In the still-existing patches of natural forests, up to 90 percent of the original biodiversity remains, providing invaluable ecosystem services, or benefits to humans, such as the water used in agriculture and industry and for urban populations. Continued degradation of these natural ecosystems could put at risk the region’s biodiversity and the ecosystem services on which human populations depend. Conserving and restoring these ecosystems is of utmost importance, especially considering mountain systems’ high vulnerability to climate change.
The Andean bear, native to Columbia and several other countries, serves as an important conservation surrogate, representing multiple species and environmental aspects of these Andean ecosystems. Given its dependence on large extensions of habitat with little or no human intervention, the bear’s status is an indicator of the entire ecosystem’s conditions. The bear has been considered vulnerable to extinction since 1986; its main threats include the reduction of its habitat, mainly due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier and infrastructure development, and killings due to human-bear conflicts, primarily a consequence of inadequate farm husbandry practices.
Conservamos la Vida
- Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC, the Regional Environmental Authority)
- Fundación Grupo Argos (FGA, represents private-sector infrastructure and energy companies Grupo Argos, Celsia, Empresa de Energía del Pacífico and Odinsa)
- Fundación Smurfit Kappa Colombia
- Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia (PNN, National Natural Parks of Colombia)
- Wildlife Conservation Society
The Idea and the Action
The Conservamos la Vida partnership, established in 2015, brings together technical, logistical and financial efforts toward the conservation of the Andean bear in the western Andean range of Colombia. It aims to conserve a viable population of the species in a landscape of well-connected and managed protected areas, surrounded by sustainable productive landscapes. To do so, the partnership promotes sustainable economic alternatives to improve the well-being of rural communities and decrease the pressure and potential conflict on nature, particularly Andean bears.
In 2016, Conservamos la Vida completed an important assessment on conservation status of the Andean bear in over 11,000 square kilometers of the western Colombian Andes. The partnership has used these findings to promote best practices among farmers and restore Andean forests in four of seven priority areas identified, where safe conditions allow participants to work.
The scale of the partnership is one-of-a-kind in Colombia and South America; species-oriented conservation programs are usually more limited in scope and geography, making it difficult to achieve results at meaningful ecological scales. Beyond being the first public-private partnership (P3) to specifically focus on conserving a species in Colombia, it is unique in seeking to improve both bear habitats and local livelihoods. Much conservation work is done without adequate attention to humans’ use of the landscape, focusing rather on species or landscape-level conservation gains; this partnership acknowledges the need to integrate these outcomes.
Over the past four years, the partnership has signed conservation agreements with 48 local cattle-ranch owners. It has improved farm management practices on ranches and coffee plantations, ultimately increasing local incomes by 18 percent. Meanwhile, it has recovered 126 hectares of degraded habitat and protected an additional 792 hectares of natural private areas through conservation agreements. Models predict these interventions will increase Andean bear presence in target localities by 20 percent. In total, this expanded area connected two continuous landscapes of around 500,000 hectares, well above the minimum estimated area to conserve an Andean bear population.
Given the success of Conservamos la Vida, this P3 model is already being scaled up nationally. Public-sector partner Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia (PNN) has adopted the operational model for its national Andean bear conservation strategy, bringing it to five landscapes in the three Andes ranges where bears are present. The Conservamos la Vida model is also being implemented in the central range of the Colombian Andes, where assessments are being conducted to determine priority intervention sites, and there are plans to develop similar partnerships for two additional populations in the eastern range.
The partnership is the first of its kind in Colombia, involving strongly committed stakeholders with a deep understanding of the territory.
The Faculty Insight
The collaboration of partners embodied in Conservamos la Vida is an excellent example of combining expertise and local knowledge to find solutions. Aligned by a symbolic species, the Andean bear, the partners have addressed issues of environmental conservation and sustainable economic development — critically important objectives of a developing country like Colombia. Achieving these goals is difficult in rural regions, particularly those with precarious challenges posed by continuing climate change. Additionally, the scale of the land areas involved can be a difficulty in effecting change that is sustainable over time for both the conservation and development objectives.
This public-private partnership has been carefully crafted to overcome parochial individual interests. It has also set in motion a decrease in social costs that would otherwise destroy value economically and environmentally in Colombia. Several strong, research-rich private-sector organizations have offered access to technologies that help landowners increase output and income; increased productivity and efficiency of farmland mean that more natural landscape can be preserved. The environmental NGOs contribute expertise, broad perspectives and capabilities in environmental conservation. The public-sector organization PNN offers in-depth expertise in the territories around national parks, within which the success of the Andean Bear can be enhanced.
Conservamos la Vida has been carefully created, nurtured and improved by developing strong communications and well-defined complementary roles among the various partners, generating clear contributions from all stakeholders. The metrics by which the partners measure their contributions are appropriate and ambitious, they have cultivated public and private sources of financing, and together they have nicely defined objectives for future growth and extension to other geographic areas. All these factors contribute to an admirable example of the power of well-conceived P3s harnessing leadership from both the private and public sectors for the good of a country.
The Darden School of Business’ Institute for Business in Society partners with Concordia and the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships to present the annual P3 Impact Award, which recognizes leading public-private partnerships that improve communities around the world. This year’s award will be presented at the Concordia Annual Summit 22–24 September 2019. The five finalists will be highlighted on Darden Ideas to Action on Fridays leading up to the event.