Public participation approaches in shaping Colombian food policies

  • From
    CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems
  • Published on
    08.05.24

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By Elena García Conejero and Marco Nilgen

While our planned research in Colombia aims to contribute to a more thorough understanding of the dynamics within citizens’ juries, a key component at the foundation of our project is, of course, to understand the country’s history of implementing bottom-up public participation processes, particularly in the context of food-system policies. In the wake of constitutional reforms, and the ongoing decentralization journey that Colombia has embarked on in 1991, the landscape of public engagement in food-system-related policies has witnessed a significant evolution. While the country’s constitutional framework provides fundamental mechanisms that offer citizens direct involvement in electing national, regional, and local representatives, the scope of public participation extends beyond the ballot box, encompassing community-driven processes where citizens identify needs, formulate projects, and actively engage in improving their living conditions. Accordingly, recent developments have witnessed a surge in innovative strategies of citizenry engagement that range from the utilization of popular initiatives and referendums to community assemblies and participatory policy formulations. Through a synthesis of academic literature and contemporary case studies, this blogpost provides a brief overview of public participation strategies in the realm of Colombian food system policies that have emerged in recent years, while helping readers understand how citizen contribution has become a cornerstone in shaping inclusive, responsive, and contextually relevant food policies.

“Savouring Democracy: Exploring the Notion of Public Participation and Food Citizenship in Colombian Food Policies”

The concept of “public participation” underlines the intentional actions of individuals and groups in pursuit of specific goals and diverse interests within a social context imbued with power relations. In the realm of Colombian food politics, this conceptualization – reformulated as “food citizenship” – can be thought of as a lens through which the multifaceted strategies of public engagement can be analyzed, and through which two distinct categories of participatory agents emerge: Organizational representatives (such as Local Administrative Boards, and Municipal Councils) and user associations, and individual citizens who actively engage in public forums, educational meetings, and public hearings. Following this premise, Ramirez (2015) delineates the dichotomy between direct citizen involvement and organizational representation, emphasizing the varied mechanisms employed for citizen participation, both institutional and non-institutional. This dichotomy is further expounded upon by the acknowledgment that citizens participating directly in public forums play a crucial role in demanding accountability from policymakers, ensuring transparency in decision-making, and actively intervening in political decision-making arenas. This perspective complements, rather than contradicts, the existing political representation system, adding layers of accountability and efficacy. Specifically, the different levels of citizen involvement ranging from information dissemination to consultation, deliberation, negotiation, decision-making, and process management, mirror the complexity of public participation in Colombian food politics.

At the same time, the shifting political landscape in Latin America, marked by the decline of the Keynesian or social welfare state in favor of neoliberal economic systems (Rofman, 2007), has significantly influenced the dynamics of public participation in Colombia. This transformation has propelled diverse actors and social movements to mobilize, demanding targeted public policies and fostering an increased role for citizens in the construction, implementation, and evaluation of these policies. In the specific context of food system politics, these changes signify a departure from the passive role of citizens to active contributors, shaping the trajectory of policies related to food and nutrition security.

See the rest of the article here.

See more information on the CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems here.

Photo credit: Juan Pablo Marín / CIAT

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