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Defending our territory: the biocultural community protocol of Alto San Juan, Colombia (PLA 65)

The Alto San Juan biocultural community protocol (BCP) in Colombia seeks to ensure that the collective territorial rights of Afro-Pacific communities (ASOCASAN) in the region are not violated by illegal mining and forestry, and that cultural practices and the development model that help to conserve biodiversity are recognised and respected by others. It also sets out guidelines for dialogue with external actors wishing to implement development projects and research on the territory. The ancestral territory of afro-descendant communities is recognised by law but not in practice, and the BCP aims to ensure that these customary rights are recognised in municipal planning processes and national policies. The protocol was developed through a participatory process involving workshops and field interviews facilitated by the Pacific Institute of Environmental Research, with methodology approved by the ASOCASAN council.

The article shows how a key challenge was to get the local government to recognise the legitimacy of the protocol, since it is a new tool. Involving local authorities in the development of community protocols is important for this recognition, and also to ensure follow-up projects once the protocol has been developed.

This article appears in Participatory Learning and Action 65 on Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent.

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