Doctoral Studies Support Program (DSSP): Environmental peace-building and development in Colombia


Doctoral Studies Support Program, Colombia, ZEF, DAAD, SDGs


Colombia, Nicaragua, Germany


Territorial rights and resource access are key topics for understanding long-standing political and social conflicts in the world. In Latin America these are furthered by many interconnected factors: divergent world views on land and territory and the competing interests that stem from them (land and nature as livelihood with symbolic meaning vs. land and its resources as commodity), multiple legal systems (legal pluralism) with regards to land and territory, and equally divergent strategies and legitimizations in accessing land often accompanied by armed conflicts and the violation of human rights. These factors are largely responsible for the emergence and intensification of the unsustainable resource use and the exploitation of natural resources, for example through an increase of extractive activities such as mining, agro-industries and monocultures with seriously destructive consequences for the environment.

Colombia is one case in point and emblematic for a country in which territorial rights, land use and the extraction of natural resources have been deeply entrenched with diverse forms of violence, reproducing structural inequalities and conflicts . The long lasting armed conflict between different guerrilla groups such as the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, today Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común), ELN (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional), among others, and the various Colombian governments which started in the mid 1960s shows the linkages between the armed conflict and historically derived inequalities of access to land and territorial distribution . In Colombia, this relation has led to the exploitation and destruction of the environment, the expropriation of land (land grabbing) and the ongoing displacement of the rural population . Currently Colombia faces a unique historical challenge with the ‘post-conflict’ (posacuerdo), because the peace agreement with FARC and the peace negotiations with ELN seem to place an end to the armed conflict. But the challenge lies in the implementation of strategies for a ‘sustainable peace’, which need to address the unequal distribution of land, the social demands for the implementation of territorial rights and the sustainable use rather than the arbitrary exploitation of ecosystems and natural resources. Nonetheless, the relations between the environment and the armed conflict in Colombia is manifold and let the diverse ecosystems and the natural resources appear as the cause, the victim (deforestation, fumigation), or the beneficiary (through the protection and conservation of contested sites with high biodiversity)  of these ongoing conflicts. At the same time, the environment and the way territory is distributed and used stands at the center of any long lasting solution to the complex nature of the conflict. In fact, Colombia is one of the earth’s five mega-diversity centers which makes the country the world‘s core biodiversity region  and therefore a hotspot for its commodification.

Whether the commercialization of natural resources can be managed in a sustainable way depends not least on the legal and institutional set-up and the way the affected population is involved in decision making on strategies to use the common goods and develop the country. The different relations between the environment and the conflict in Colombia, the role land and access to natural resources play for the peace building process and how the environment can be protected in the long run while simultaneously balancing the different exploitation interests still need an interdisciplinary scientific exploration . Both the dimension of the destruction of the environment and the development of solutions to use and protect the environment and all the people therein (implementing an institutional set-up for land use planning, developing forms of alternative agricultural production, ecological-organic farming, tourism, etc.) need further analysis in order to fully understand human-nature relationships and the feedback mechanisms of the socio-ecological systems. The future of peace in Colombia highly depends on sustainable and locally adapted solutions for land use and access to resources, to which highly qualified scientists can substantially contribute to.
Against this backdrop, the proposed doctoral studies support program on „Environmental peace building and development in Colombia“ of the University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF), and the Universidad Nacional, Bogotá, Instituto de Estudios Ambientales (IDEA), will look at the nexus of natural resources, governance and conflict using innovative and integrative concepts, methods and instruments to explore interdependencies. The joint production of knowledge based on interdisciplinary exposure and integrative measures is the more important in a country in which the recently signed peace appraisal will be put to test by the way the society finds solutions for pressing issues related to conflictive extractive activities, environmental protection and not least the participation and inclusion of the population in decision making processes to reduce environmental conflicts.

Main objectives are

  1. Introducing interdisciplinary, integrative and innovative scientific approaches, concepts and methods on environmental relations, natural resources and conflict.
  2. Developing a research agenda addressing the SDGs.
  3. Internationalizing science and foster comparative analysis of research sites / regions with transnational and regional partners.
  4. Exploring and critically reflecting the role of higher education for the SDGs.
  • Development of an Interdisciplinary doctoral program addressing the SDGs
  • Creation of a research agenda addressing the SDGs
Main Cooperation Partners
  • Institute for Environmental Studies (IDEA) in Bogotá
  • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua-Managua
  • Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC)
  • UN-System Staff College (Knowledge Center for Sustainable Development)
Main Funding Partners


Duration of the Project

until December 2020


at ZEF:

in Colombia:

  • Carmenza Castiblanco (IDEA)
  • Tomás León (IDEA)
  • María del Rosario Rojas (IDEA)
  • Javier Toro (IDEA)
  • Laura Calderón (IDEA)


Eva Youkhana

Prof. Dr. Eva Youkhana