Beyond protected areas: recognition of OECMs in Colombia

Laura Peña / Playa Rica community
Published: 30 August 2021
Last edited: 08 October 2021
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Colombia has implemented diverse conservation strategies. Some of these strategies have a legal basis, while others may be brought together as de facto conservation areas.


In this context, four workshops were held within Colombian regions, and 27 cases were evaluated as 'potential OECMs' (June 1019 to August 2021). The implementing team developed a questionnaire to gather the required and essential information of each case and assessed if they comply with the OECM definition and the four main criteria. Subsequently, 8 of the 27 cases were selected for further work (strengthening plans) to enhance the elements they need to meet the OECM definition and criteria.


Furthermore, a national procedure was co-designed and approved by the Ministry of Environment to enable the reporting of OECMs to the World Database on OECMs. 


South America
Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Coastal and marine spatial management
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Ecosystem services
Food security
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Indigenous people
Land management
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Social conflict and civil unrest
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations


Colombia | Pacific coast, Amazon, Caribbean, Andean region


The main challenges are that OECM will need to be acknowledged and included as part of planning or policy, and that the National procedure to report Colombian OECMs to WCMC works adequately.


8 community organizations and local governments in several Colombian regions that have set aside areas of their territories. 120 people have acquired capacity to apply OECM criteria and conduct the OECM national verification. 

How do the building blocks interact?

The two building blocks interact completly. In order to report to WCMC database, it is necesary to identify the potencial OECM area, to apply the criteria. We adapted a participative methodology that defined a series of questions for each criterion and its components according to the Colombian context, that make possible to analyze the consistency of the area with the OECM criteria. According to this verificatión, it is possible to report to WCMC.


The implementation of the OECM definition and criteria through the project is a practical exercise that has led, in each case, to a reflective analysis about the area’s management by the local stakeholders, in this case conducted at the regional workshops. As it was carried out on a case-by-case basis, in-depth analysis of issues and sharing of experiences with other participants with similar challenges has been shown to enrich their vision and perspectives and to generate even more ownership of their areas.


At national and regional levels, OECMs are included in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and Colombia has developed a Climate Adaptation National Plan. This project has enabled engagement with and capacity development about OECMs of regional environmental authorities, the Ministry of Environment and other governmental and non-governmental conservation and climate change stakeholders. 


As Colombia is one of the first Latin American countries to implement the OECM criteria, we now have the capacity and opportunity to share experiences with other countries with similar socioeconomic contexts and contribute to the global discussions that is enriching in situ conservation perspectives.


Marcela Santamaría / Resnatur

Beneficiary 1. Association of United Women of San Isidro (Amusi)


Since 2014, the Association of United Women of San Isidro (Amusi) protects and manages the six properties that constitute the Salto Topacio conservation-production area, which has 30 ha of dry forest and important water sources. The area is immersed in a matrix of agroforestry crops (76 ha). Through the cultivation of yams, the association seeks to vindicate the rights of women to work, so that they can make their own decisions, in a context of violence and displacement accentuated at the beginning of this century. The validation of the criteria clearly showed the issues that require strengthening. In this case, the protection of the water resource is urgent, since it is essential for the well-being of the San Isidro community. The prioritized actions were directed towards good practices in the management of water and ecosystems, and the strengthening of governance for a more participatory and inclusive management.


Beneficiary 2. the Andakí Municipal Natural Park


The Andakí Municipal Park (MNP) is in the municipality of Belén de los Andaquíes in the Colombian Amazon region, which has been conserving strategic areas for over 20 years in order to maintain their biodiversity. This conservation process actively involves local actors and has included the creation of nine municipal natural parks, including the Andakí MNP. The Andakí MNP covers an area of 26.7 km2 and was recognised by the local government based on its biodiversity, its ecosystem services and its important contributions to municipal development, as well as its role in maintaining sites of historical and cultural significance.


Andakí MNP was considered as a potential OECM because in Colombia local governments are not able to declare or manage protected areas. However, more than 140 local governments carry out ecological heritage and conservation actions to guarantee the supply of ecosystem services as part of their territories’ sustainable development, and one type of local government action has been the creation and management of municipal conservation areas. Although these areas are not recognised in the National System of Protected Areas of Colombia, they have a strong social function and in some cases are incorporated into land-use planning processes. 

Contributed by

msantamaria_40250's picture

Marcela Santamaria Gómez Colombian Network of Civil Society Nature Reserves, Fundación Natura Colombia, Instituto Alexander Von Humboldt, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability , UICN Sur