Páramos are endemic ecosystems in the northern part of the Andes, found only in the high mountains of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Costa Rica. They are strategic due to their floral and faunal diversity and because of the ecosystem services they provide, including carbon sequestration in the soil and water regulation that benefits almost 70% of the inhabitants of Colombia.
Páramos face many threats, including mining, huge infrastructure projects, expansion of the agricultural frontier and global climate change. Climate change is characterized by an increase in the average temperature and a change in the precipitation regime; these shifts pose a hazard to water storage and its regulation in the páramos, and consequently to the lifestyle of the communities. These changes require adaptation measures as well as an acknowledgement that is impossible to avoid them.
Based on an understanding that conservation measures should be developed within a framework of land and environmental governance, the “Communities of the Páramos” project in Colombia sought to provide elements of adaptive processes. The goal of these processes was to strengthen the páramos as ecosystems and as socio-ecological systems, and therefore to promote decision making — with the full participation of all stakeholders — that is based on their relation to the páramo.
In Colombia the project included a course on páramos and climate change. The stakeholders included groups of campesino women, representatives of associations, presidents of local territorial organizations, teachers in rural schools, officials of local governments, officials of the Water Company of Bogotá, university students linked to the region, and national parks officials.
Throughout the course, participants developed a citizens’ agenda that reflected their various voices and represented their diverse perspectives. As a first step they defined some principles, such as shared responsibility in the care of the páramos, participation in policy and management of the páramos, recognition of traditional knowledge and the presence of local communities in the páramos, and reciprocity and solidarity in the conservation of the páramos.
The agenda includes developing collective positions on the need for conservation and effective use of the páramo and its resources, and makes a range of specific proposals to this end. It contains proposals regarding local participation in conservation; actions to improve health care in relation to the context of high mountains; education for appreciation, conservation and sustainable use of the páramos; research for sustainability, care and decision-making; governance of the páramos; production geared to sustainability and protection of food systems; and financial mechanisms for the management of the páramos by local people. In addition, participants formulated some proposals, such as the need to develop monitoring of the páramos, conservation and sustainable use, and exploring the possibilities offered by green markets.