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


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


Colombia, Germany


This bilateral doctoral studies support program on „Environmental peace building and development in Colombia“ of ZEF at the University of Bonn and the Universidad Nacional, Bogotá, Instituto de Estudios Ambientales (IDEA), will look at the nexus of natural resources, governance and conflict in Colombia. We will use innovative and integrative concepts, methods and instruments to explore interdependencies. The joint German-Colombian 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.

Rights and access to natural resources
Territorial rights and access to natural resources are key elements to understand long-standing political and social conflicts in the world. In Latin America, their role is enhanced by many interconnected factors such as divergent world views on land and territory and consequential competing interests. This includes for example concepts of land and nature as livelihood with symbolic meaning vs. the notion of land and its resources as a commodity. Such factors are largely responsible for the increasing and unsustainable use of resources and exploitation of natural resources. This can be in the form of more extractive activities such as mining, agro-industries and monocultures with a destructive impact on the environment.

Colombia’s case of conflict
Colombia is a show case of a country in which territorial rights, land use and the extraction of natural resources have been deeply entrenched with diverse forms of violence. The long-lasting armed conflicts starting in the mid1960s between different guerrilla groups such as the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, today Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común) and ELN (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional) on the one hand and the consecutive Colombian governments on the other show the linkages between armed conflict and historically derived inequalities in terms of access to land and territorial distribution. In Colombia, this relation has not only led to the exploitation and destruction of the environment but also to the expropriation of land and displacement of rural population. In fact, Colombia is one of the earth’s five mega-biodiversity centers which makes the country the world‘s core biodiversity region and therefore a hotspot for its commodification.

“Post-conflict” opportunity
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 end the armed conflict. But the challenge lies in implementing strategies for a ‘sustainable peace’, which would need to address the unequal distribution of land, the legal pluralistic notions of land, respective claims for territorial rights and the sustainable use of ecosystems and natural resources rather than exploiting them arbitrarily. Nonetheless, the relations between the environment and the armed conflict in Colombia are manifold. Thus, the diverse ecosystems and natural resources may 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 is at the core of any long lasting solution to the complex conflict.

Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary project approach
This project needs and chose an interdisciplinary approach to deal with the complex setting. 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. Whether the commercialization of natural resources can be managed in a sustainable way depends to a large extent 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 future of peace in Colombia highly depends on sustainable, locally adapted and integrated solutions for land use and access to resources, to which highly qualified scientists can substantially contribute.


  • 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, Colombia
  • Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC)
  • University for Development Studies (UDS) in Ghana
  • UN System Staff College (UNSSC) - Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development
Main Funding Partners


Duration of the Project

until December 2025

Project Homepage

at ZEF:

in Colombia at IDEA:

  • Tomás León Sicard (project leader)
  • Laura Calderón (research assistant)
  • Maria-Fernanda Ronancio Mateus (student assistant)
  • Juan Manuel Rengifo (data management)
  • Henry Zarate Ceballos (server management)
  • Nicolás Pérez (data management)


Eva Youkhana

Dr. habil. Eva Youkhana


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