Empowering Sustainable Transitions: The Living Lab for People in Colombia

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By Martha Vanegas Cubillos y Luz Angela Rodriguez 

In the realm of innovation and sustainability, a groundbreaking approach is taking root: the Living Lab for People (LL4P) in Caquetá, Colombia. This visionary concept introduces a physically embedded innovation cluster within existing organizational structures, aiming to foster environmentally and economically sustainable alternatives, especially in vulnerable communities. 

A Paradigm Shift for Sustainable Territories 

The LL4P spreads its wings as a symbol of hope, particularly in the department of Caquetá in the Colombian Amazon. The region has significant carbon emissions from food systems, and the LL4P aims to find solutions rooted in local particularities, equity, and peacebuilding. It proposes a visionary “pact for a sustainable territory” as the conceptual framework, envisioning a harmonious coexistence between agriculture, food, environment, and health. 

Dimensions of Transition: Fostering Alternatives and Collective Empowerment 

The LL4P’s journey entails navigating four critical dimensions vital for transitioning territories towards healthier and more sustainable agri-food systems. Fostering alternatives becomes a cornerstone, urging initiatives like creating networks of local farmers and developing social organizations between producers and consumers. 

Geographical embeddedness is also crucial. The LL4P emphasizes the importance of initiatives being deeply rooted in the local context; steering transitions around the creative capacities of the people living in a territory. The narrative underscores the need for a new governance structure, reshaping roles within agri-food systems and reconstructing their articulation at various levels. 

Moreover, the LL4P advocates for supporting individual empowerment, turning transitions into a reflexive process where participants grasp the complexity of their situation, make choices, and reconfigure resources for their own action. This involves innovative approaches to facilitate experiential learning and foster citizen participation in governing their agri-food systems. 

From Concept to Reality: Setting Up the LL4P in Colombia 

Embarking on the establishment of the LL4P in Colombia involves a structured model inspired by the “Living Labs Harmonization Cube.” This multidimensional model integrates crucial elements across three development phases: setup, sustainability, and scalability. 

The LL4P initiative gathers knowledge about local conditions, intricately connecting food systems and climate change. Diverse methods, including participatory approaches, interviews, and mapping, yield comprehensive documents detailing land use change, mitigation initiatives, and agri-food systems. 

Sustainability: A Shared Vision for Resilient Territories 

Ensuring sustainability in the LL4P entails identifying a local host and creating a shared vision. The steps involved in this process include a visioning exercise to create a collective vision emphasizing resilience, low emissions, and an “agri-alimentary territory.” Capacity-building activities, including reconstructing local history and addressing environmental conflicts, contribute to LL4P’s mission. 

Agrosolidaria-Montañita emerges as a potential host, bringing extensive grassroots experience in sustainable family farming. The collaboration with the School of Rural and Environmental Studies solidifies a long-term commitment to sustainable transitions and peacebuilding, fostering a multi-level governance structure. 

Participatory Rural Innovation: Co-Creating Futures 

To address challenges and engage youth actively, the LL4P turns to participatory rural innovation. This approach emphasizes collaboration between various sectors to co-create innovation processes, promoting value chains that benefit both farmers and stakeholders. The LL4P’s success in the setup stage relies on securing funding through capacity-building for Agrosolidaria, improving its ability to manage external funding, and submitting proposals for research and interventions. 

Inclusive Strategies: Women and Youth in Sustainable Food Systems 

The landscape of social inclusion within food systems unfolds nuanced dynamics, particularly concerning women and youth. Despite resource access, women face limited decision-making in cash crop cycles. The LL4P’s participatory workshops unveil crucial strategies for women and youth inclusion, ranging from access to land and credit to strengthening decision-making capacities. 

Encouraging collective work, promoting knowledge exchange, and identifying funding opportunities become key tactics. The LL4P proposes collaboration with both women and men to redefine reproductive sphere roles, reduce women’s workload, and enhance their participation in decision-making regarding production systems. 

Conclusion: Nurturing Sustainable Futures 

As the LL4P takes its first steps in Colombia, it brings with it a new approach to developing sustainable territories. It strives to promote inclusivity and individual empowerment through a wide range of socio-technical innovations tailored to local contexts. The ultimate goal is to create a future where agriculture, environment, and communities can coexist in harmony. The LL4P is not just a living laboratory but a dynamic catalyst for creating sustainable and resilient futures in the Colombian Amazon and beyond. 


This blog has been written based on the report “Living-lab for people in the Colombian Amazon: a pact for a sustainable territory” prepared as part of the WP3 of the One CGIAR initiative Low-Emission Food System. See more information on the CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems. 


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