Innovative strategies for fair and sustainable use of biological resources in Colombia

Colombians have endured a long armed conflict. Today, Colombian society is redefining itself in many areas of life. The country’s abundant biological resources offer great potential for development. The German-Colombian collaborative project ColombiaCONNECT aims to establish a network that investigates and promotes the fair and sustainable use of different biological resources.

Pineapple field in the Andes

This pineapple field in the Andes is part of one of the ColombiaCONNECT best practice projects

Yesica García

The many years of armed conflicted have left an indelible mark on Colombian society. Due to the lack of prospects in many areas, especially for disadvantaged groups, many people are migrating from rural to urban areas. Colombia has the second largest population in South America after Brazil, and this population is already largely concentrated in the cities.

In recent decades, extreme rainfall, droughts, dynamic economic growth and military conflicts have caused major environmental degradation in Colombia. However, Colombia remains a country with some of the greatest biodiversity in the world and a wealth of biological resources.

ColombiaCONNECT aims to establish structures to promote the sustainable and fair use of Colombia’s natural resources. It combines the fields of bioeconomy and sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and climate impact science as well as peace and conflict research.

Initiating and supporting best practice projects

Under the ColombiaCONNECT initiative, four interdepartmental best practice projects were launched – three in Colombia and one in Germany. All demonstration projects in Colombia involve the local population. The aim is to provide the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities with access to new sources of income and support them during the development of the projects.

The first project focuses on developing sustainable aquacultures in traditional fishing villages along the Caribbean coast. It is targeted at women to help them generate their own income. The fish feed used for this project is black soldier fly larvae, which are bred using food and vegetable waste. This creates a local circular economy.

Traditional fishing village on the Gulf of Urabá

Traditional fishing village on the Gulf of Urabá where a local women’s cooperative gets support in developing sustainable aquacultures.

Thomas Wilke

The second project deals with the cultivation of alternative crops in the Colombian Central Andes. The goal of this project is to provide former coca farmers from indigenous communities with new income sources. The crops are cultivated as mixed crops. Interesting fruit which is suitable for exports includes pineapple and passion fruits such as maracuja or sweet granadilla, which is still less well-known in Europe. The project provides support and scientific guidance in product marketing, including the calculation and optimization of transport emissions.

The third project focuses on turning a rainforest area close to the Pacific coast into an ecotourism area. Former huntsmen from the local area are trained to become guides. Furthermore, a citizen science approach is used to collect, preserve and make the knowledge of local indigenous communities accessible, for example with regard to medicinal plants. Another plan involves recording individual areas of the rainforest with 360-degree cameras, thus enabling interested people from around the world to take interactive 3D tours through the rainforest – an opportunity accessible to everyone without the need to travel.

The fourth project is a sustainable shrimp farm in the German city of Giessen. The researchers investigate how to feed and keep shrimps to prevent diseases from occurring in the first place. Feeding the shrimps with black soldier fly larvae avoids a possible introduction of pathogens otherwise caused by using conventional fish meal. The plant serves as a model for shrimp farms that can be operated in countries such as Colombia. The project results are also relevant for the development of aquacultures in fishing villages along the Caribbean coast under the first ColombiaCONNECT project. 

Experience and knowledge transfer to various stakeholders

Regular interdepartmental workshops are organized under ColombiaCONNECT to exchange knowledge and experience. Interested investors from Colombia and Germany are also invited to some of the workshops to get to know the best practice projects and further develop them in various ways.

At the end of the project, the project partners will jointly publish their results to provide interested businesses as well as policy-makers and scientists with a basis for planning future (collaborative) projects in Colombia.

Both top-down and bottom-up approaches are high priority under ColombiaCONNECT. The researchers are therefore committed to raising awareness of the project in multiple ways to involve the locals.

Establishing a crowd platform

The project participants have developed a crowd platform and an app which are used in combination to involve the local population. People can use these tools to communicate with each other and the researchers and also to work together to gather, record and make knowledge accessible to everyone.

The ColombiaCONNECT crowd platform is based on a geographical information system (GIS) linked to data base elements. This allows for the location-specific storage and processing of information. The project participants can use the app to access the information stored and take direct action by gathering information on the ground, taking and uploading photos and communicating via video chats.

Tablets are made available to the locals if they do not yet have their own devices to access the platform. Given that mobile phone coverage in Colombia can be poor, it is important that certain features of both the app and the platform can be used offline.

This is intended to prevent the loss of traditional knowledge, in particular of the indigenous communities. For example, these communities can use the crowd platform to share photos of medicinal plants and their knowledge of them. The platform could also be used to document overexploitation. The researchers curate the platform and can anonymize information if needed to protect all stakeholders and their contributions.