“When a group of people identify a resource and say ‘We want to manage and steward this resource collectively for the benefit of all,’ that's how commons gets created, it is not just a resource. It is a resource plus the social community that manages it and the rules, values, and practice that are used”. - David Bollier

By Professor Mariela García Vargas 

Colombian colleagues have successfully delivered a Diploma Course on Biocultural Heritage. Jointly created by the Cinara Institute (Faculty of Engineering) and History Department (Faculty of Humanities) of the Universidad del Valle, the course focused on the Upper Cauca River Basin and was attended by a number of different stakeholders located within the basin territory, including institutional representatives, students from Uni Valle, and Riverside Community Councils. Hub colleagues welcomed representatives from Palenke El Hormiguero, Bocas del Palo, Chagres and Tinajas; the Indigenous Cabildo Chambuxe Yuluxe, Pueblo Nuevo, Jamundí; the Upper Cauca River Fishermen Community; and the Community Based Organizations: the Tierra Caliente Foundation, Arte y Parte, and the Foundation for the Protection, Conservation and Surveillance of the Natural Resources of Southern Valle, Funeco Robles.

The Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub convened us around a United Nations mandate: water security. The term “security” has a polysemic meaning; it refers both to the absence of risk/vulnerability and to care/protection, confidence in oneself, in something or in someone. At the international level security has been promoted by the State, fundamentally aimed at defending (especially by means of arms) the interests of countries against foreign attacks or aggression. Since 1994, with the Human Development Report introducing the concept of human security, efforts have been made to construct a positive concept of security by linking it to development (i.e., food security, water security, energy security). However, by linking security to a hegemonic vision of development, the care aspect implicit in this term has been weakened.

The model of development, proposed under the leadership of the West, considers nature as an exclusive domain of human beings, who have the right to alter the course of rivers, or destroy forests, or dry up wetlands, all to pursue a vision of economic growth. This model predominates the plundering of common goods and the return to nature of high-polluting loads. During the pandemic it became especially evident that one of the major concerns of political leaders was to communicate to their fellow citizens that despite the situation, an X positive percentage of economic growth was registered. Additionally, an inventory of research on water security shows that it mainly focuses on access to water for human beings.

In Colombia, the collaboratory’s focus has been on the Cauca River, a water body that was declared as a "subject of rights" by the High Court of Medellin in 2019, and in 2023 as a victim of the Colombian Armed Conflict by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. This legal status, together with the high level of ecological degradation visible around the river, especially in its passage through Cali, requires urgent collective action to gain a better understanding of its situation and to motivate citizen commitment to its restoration and conservation. Understanding the limitations of the concept of water security to promote a process that leads to the care of the river, we resort to the concept of heritage.

The concept of heritage, closely linked to cultural identity and territory, is a core element in addressing individual and collective reflection on the biocultural legacy we receive. It allows us to question ourselves about the current importance of the natural and cultural common goods of our region and to project preservation and sustainability strategies that will allow us to bestow them to future generations. The Upper Cauca River Basin (UCRB) has a great ecosystemic value and an important cultural diversity present in the many municipalities, townships, and villages located in the area. Historically, the Cauca River has been an essential non-human actor for the production and reproduction of life, both human and that of plants, animals, and microbial species. The Diploma Course was a learning space that stimulated the reflection of communities, institutional officials, and the academic community to promote the designation, valuation, conservation, restoration, and protection of this heritage. 

The Diploma was aimed at strengthening participants' capacities to be aware of the biological and cultural importance of the river, so that from their respective backgrounds they can each contribute to enhancing processes of recognition, appreciation, enjoyment, and preservation of the historical, cultural, social, geological, hydrogeological, paleontological, landscape, and archaeological richness of this biogeographical area. The Hub team also aims to promote forms of use and social appropriations that are less violent, extractive, and predatory of this common good. In other words, we consider that thinking of the river as a part of our biocultural heritage is the first step in the construction of socio-ecological justice for this ecosystem and its human and non-human inhabitants, bearing in mind that socioecological justice is the principle that should guide water governance for sustainability.

The final work of the participants allowed progress in the inventory of the gastronomic heritage of particular areas and the artisanal fishing of the Sonso Lagoon; the design of interpretive routes in the wetlands and water trails in the tributaries of the Cauca River; and the rescue of the local knowledge of traditional farmers and its importance for the conservation of biodiversity and wetlands in the area. In addition, a proposal was developed for the establishment of a Community Museum in the Palenke El Hormiguero Community Council. However, the greatest outcome of the Diploma Course is the recognition of the cultural richness of the riverside communities and their contributions to biodiversity conservation, and the interest of all participants in expanding the network to continue working together to defend the biocultural heritage of the Cauca River.

The curricular design of the course is the result of a joint work between the Cinara Institute (Faculty of Engineering) and the Department of History (Faculty of Humanities) of the Universidad del Valle, within the framework of the Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub. The Diploma Course was coordinated by Professor Mariela Garcia (Cinara Institute) and Professor Aceneth Perafan (Department of History). Colleagues linked to the Faculty of Education; the Territory, Construction and Space Research Center; CITCE; the Herbarium (CUVC Luis Sigifredo Espinal-Tascón), and the Department of Geography of the Universidad del Valle have been fundamental to the realisation and delivery of this course. 

Other contributors to this course include the Fundación Centro para la Investigación en Sistemas Sostenibles de Producción Agropecuaria (CIPAV); the Asociación para el Estudio y Conservación de las Aves Acuáticas en Colombia (Calidris); the Fundación para la investigación y el Desarrollo Sostenible (FCDS); FUNINDES; the Neotropical Fishes Research Group); the Museo del Oro Calima del Banco de la República; La Merced Archaeological Museum; La Tertulia Museum of Modern Art; La Merced Museum of Colonial and Religious Art; and the Lucy Tejada Museum of Pereira. 

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