Embracing a year of restoration in the Colombian Andes: Advocacy, community engagement and scientific collaboration

All photos courtesy of David Santiago Rocha Cárdenas. 

As I sit down to write this final blog update, I’m filled with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment for the journey I’ve embarked on as a Restoration Steward over the past year.

My experience with the program has transcended the act of ecosystem restoration. It has been a journey guided by a desire to catalyze a movement, raise awareness and drive meaningful change. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far and excited for the journey ahead as we work towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

Banner for the ‘Turberas para el futuro’ project with its motto in Spanish: restoring the earth, preserving the future. 

As I reflect on this past year, I am struck by the profound impact our collective efforts have had on advancing the ‘Turberas para el Futuro’ project and the broader conservation landscape in Colombia. What began as a mission to restore high mountain peatlands has evolved into a multifaceted endeavor centered on advocacy, community engagement and scientific collaboration.

From the inception of my tenure on the program, I’ve been deeply immersed in efforts to restore high mountain peatlands in the Colombian Andes. The initial localized scope of my project quickly evolved into something much greater: a movement to conserve and restore vital ecosystems in my country.

Throughout this journey, we’ve encountered numerous challenges, from logistical hurdles to navigating complex stakeholder dynamics. However, each obstacle presented an opportunity for growth and learning. The mentorship provided through the program has been invaluable, offering guidance and support during moments of uncertainty.

One of the most significant lessons we learned throughout this journey is the importance of integrating restoration efforts into national policies and frameworks. While locally-led and small-scale projects play a crucial role, ecosystem restoration greatly benefits from robust legislation and government initiatives. These efforts help secure essential funding and support, allowing projects to flourish.

Well-established policy frameworks would be particularly important for peatlands. They are often overlooked and undervalued despite playing a critical role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. By advocating for the inclusion of peatland restoration in national policies, we can elevate their importance and secure long-term support for conservation efforts.

One of the most significant lessons I have learned throughout this journey is the importance of empowering local communities as the true leaders of conservation projects.  Instead of treating communities as passive recipients of conservation initiatives, at Turberas para el Futuro, we empower them to take ownership of the restoration process. 

Community-led restoration not only fosters a sense of pride and ownership but also ensures the sustainability of conservation efforts in the long run.

At the heart of our work lies the fundamental belief that science is made for and with communities. With this in mind, we have embraced a paradigm shift in our approach to scientific research.

Rather than viewing communities as subjects of study, our project is driven by a desire to mainstream citizen science, recognizing local community members as active participants of the research process and co-creators of knowledge.

Engaging communities in scientific research not only enhances the quality and relevance of our findings but also fosters mutual trust and respect.

By leveraging the collective wisdom and knowledge of local residents, we can develop innovative solutions to complex environmental challenges. Together, we are rewriting the narrative of conservation, one community at a time.

Looking ahead, our commitment to advocacy, community engagement, and scientific collaboration remains unwavering. We will continue to champion the importance of peatland restoration, empower communities to lead the way and forge partnerships that drive meaningful change. Together, we can build a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come. 

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve as a Restoration Steward and to be part of a movement that is reshaping the conservation landscape in Colombia. As we embark on the next chapter of our journey, I am filled with optimism and determination to create a world where nature thrives and communities prosper. 

Being acknowledged by various organizations fuels our passion and motivates us to keep striving for a better world. As a sign of this recognition, I’m thrilled to announce that our project has been chosen as one of the 25 life-saving ideas in the Bavaria’s Ideas that Save program.

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been part of this incredible journey, from Don Jose Calderon, who opened the doors to the project, to Mrs. Mireya Cruz for allowing us to carry out the project on her farm.

Special thanks to our volunteers Mariana Ospina and Manuel Olmos for their unwavering support and commitment.

Together, we will continue to make a difference and build a more sustainable future.

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