Nature of Peace

Research at the intersection of nature & peace

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Making a stand for memory and place

Credit: Juan Samper, 2021

In this blog post, Lund University Master student Juan Samper briefly summarises his thesis research in the Putumayo region of Colombia. The thesis is publicly available (link below).

Written by Juan Antonio Samper and Torsten Krause, Lund University

Five years into the present peacebuilding cycle in Colombia, violence is increasing again across the country, but particularly in rural areas that were also previously affected by the armed conflict. In the Putumayo department, conflicts between the state, armed groups and local communities persist. For decades the Putumayo has been the scene of social conflict between armed groups seeking control over strategic portions of land for narcotrafficking and military advantage. Since the peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian Government was signed in 2016, the violence between different armed groups, including FARC dissidents, and the Colombian armed forces as resurged, but increasingly as a socio-ecological conflict, centered around access to and control over land and natural resources.

One of the most horrific new manifestations of this wave of violence is the steep increase in threats, attacks and assassinations of social leaders who defend human and indigenous rights, and in many cases also the environment. In the Putumayo alone, more than 67 social leaders have been murdered since the peace agreement was signed in 2016. Many more have been victims of other types of aggressions or receive death threats continuously, forcing leaders to live in hiding or to flee to more secure localities. The reason behind these threats vary. Social leaders fight for the recognition and protection of their communities’ collective rights and ways of life, and they oppose armed groups and report their presence and activities to the authorities. Social leaders also support projects and processes connected to the peace agreement like the rural reform and substitution programs for illicit crops, mainly coca. In their own words, social leaders defend the territorities they are culturally and often spiritually connected to.

But who is a social leader? What is the defense of the territory? How do social leaders defend the territory? And what are the implications of the violence against social leaders for the defense of the territory? These are the questions that I set out to investigate in this ethnography supported by the Nature of Peace project.

I found that the key characteristics that determines who a social leader is, is the recognition of their roles by their social bases, the people they fight for and who they come to respresent. As for the defense of the territory, I found that it is a form of collective action that unites the place-based struggles of communities who share histories of marginalization and dispossession, who aim at improving their material conditions such as fighting poverty, accessing land and protecting the environment and human rights.

The role of social leaders in the defense of the territory is significant. They craft narratives and unite struggles while recognizing the differences and, particularly relevant in the pluricultural Putumayo, the tensions within the different ethnicities and social groups who inhabit these territories. Furthermore, they mediate between their communities and external actors (for instance the regional or national government), expose the interests and (in)actions of the latter, actively push for land redistribution and titling processes, and denounce violations of human rights and environmental degradation in their territories.

In the conclusion of my thesis, I argue that the implications of the violence against social leaders can be interpreted as the production of oblivion and detachment. These quintessential forms of political violence imply the invisibility and historical irrelevance that many communities have been subjugated to by imposed forms of development and armed conflict. Therefore, to protect social leaders is to protect collective memory and the attachment that communities in the Putumayo, and all around Colombia, have to their territories. The implications of this systematic silencing of social leaders in Colombia begs further investigating whose interests does the production of oblivious and detached communities serve, the extent to which transformative pathways to peace, democracy and sustainability are foreclosed with the silencing of social leaders, and the forms of resistance in defense of the territory that emerge in response.

Interested in reading the entire thesis? Click here (link to Lund University Library).

August 9, 2021

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Nature and Peace in Northern Uganda: using satellite data to assess environmental change in conflict and post-conflict areas

From the Kalongo, Northern Uganda. Source:

Micael Runnström & Maria Andrea Nardi

Nature is a key concept in our ongoing research, but we need to define it if we want to evaluate possible drivers of environmental conflict within the peace process. If nature is defined as green resources, for instance, it is possible to assess how vulnerable peace might be, against environmental changes occurring on the ground by using satellite data. Satellite data can then be used, in combination with fieldwork and interviews, to monitor and map changes in green environments in a post-conflict period.

As satellite data can be classified into land cover categories (e.g., forested area), it is possible to compare two land cover classifications representing different stages in time, and map changes that have occurred on the ground. To map changes in a whole country at high detailed resolution is however a tedious and difficult task that requires good understanding about the landscape, field ground truth, and also knowledge in how to prepare and process satellite data.

An alternative way is to use a calibrated and prepared satellite data time series of a product, e.g. a vegetation index (VI). A VI is constructed by measuring the difference in reflected solar energy between different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, especially focusing on the red wavelength band (~0.65 µm) and the near infrared band (~0.75 – ~1.5 µm). A time-series dataset of VI can then be used to calculate trends through time.

One VI widely used is the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) which is an indicator of vegetation greenness of biomes. The NDVI is providing a physical status of leaf area index (LAI), fraction of vegetation cover, and fraction of absorbed radiation for the photosynthesis. These parameters provide a possibility to assess density, production and health of the vegetation (see here).

To monitor environmental changes in northern Uganda during and after the armed conflict around 2008, a time series of MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer satellite sensor) NDVI data at 1000*1000m pixel resolution between 2002 and 2018 was used to evaluate changes in vegetation properties. The annual phenology was analysed to discover the vegetation cycle inferred by NDVI values and rainfall pattern of Uganda.

In Uganda there are two main rainy seasons (March – May and September – November). NDVI images, acquired in June-July each year, provides an annual footprint of the vegetation peak that can be used to calculate the linear trend of the vegetation activity through the time series in each 1 km2 pixel.

By calculating the linear trend direction for two different periods it is possible to evaluate how vegetation have developed during the armed conflict period (2002 – 2008) (figure 1), compared to the post-conflict period (2008 – 2018) (figure 2). A negative trend of NDVI indicates that vegetation activity was declining (negative equation – red colours) and a positive trend indicates that the photosynthetic activity, and thus vegetation LAI or density was increasing (green colours). Yellow colours indicate that the trend line equation is close to zero meaning that vegetation activity was stable throughout the period.

Figure 1. North Uganda, sub-regions. NDVI trends in the conflict period (2002 – 2008)

Figure 2. North Uganda, sub-regions. NDVI trends in the post-conflict period (2008 – 2018)

NDVI trends can now be further analysed to derive statistics for different administrative regions and land use systems (e.g. national parks, forest reserves), in order to evaluate gain or loss of vegetation activity, inferred by NDVI.
We will expand on this in the coming post! Thanks for your comments and sharing our preliminary work, supported by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS – Grant 2018-00453).

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Peace in the peaks? Reinforced Inequalities in the Colombian Andes during the Post-conflict

Las Hermosas - Colombia. Photo taken by Laura Betancur-Alarcón, 2019.

A new research article published in Frontiers in Environmental Science written by LUMES alumni Laura Betancur-Alarcón and LUCSUS researcher Torsten Krause portraits how the transition towards peace in Colombia is marked by changing land-uses and a new type of environmental conflicts between farmers and environmental authorities in the mountains of southwest Colombia.

“Do you see that fence behind my house? Two years ago, it was not there, but further up. In that space, I used to graze my cows. But when the guerrilla left and the landowners came back, they fenced the whole plot”

In this quote a peasant narrates why, with the withdrawal of the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (FARC) from her village, one large landowner came back to his land in order to build several fences so that he could impose the boundaries of his plot. However, the return of the landowners restricted access to water and land for those peasants who do not have legal land titles in the region (which in rural Colombia is very common).

This particular testimony exemplifies how new dynamics in land and water access in the Las Hermosas region, a high Andean forest area in southwest Colombia, emerge after the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian state was signed in 2016. But what does the peace agreement and these new dynamics mean for those small peasants who do not have legal land titles? What are the conflict legacies that change in this post- agreement phase and which are the social consequences of recent ecological redistributions?

In the article, the authors describe the local dynamics shedding light on the transition between the rules previously imposed by the FARC and the State’s agencies attempts to re-introduce formal land and water governance mechanisms today, after the FARC has left the region as a result of the peace agreement.

The article highlights how peasants without land ownership experience less access to water and land after the FARC’s retreat due to the return of landowners, the legal arrangements about ownership of the land, the procedures for obtaining legal water concessions and the governmental decisions on water resource conservation. These tensions reinforce the historically unequal resource and land distribution that characterize Colombia and which.

As part of the Nature of Peace research project, the ethnographic study contributes to the ongoing discussion about water governance in post conflict settings by presenting evidence about the Colombian highlands, home to important mountain ecosystems that provide water to a large population and industry.

“The long-lasting influence the FARC had in these regions cannot be ignored when understanding the change in access to and use of lands when the state returns and enforces its laws in areas that were inaccessible for several decades because of the armed conflict”, says Laura Betancur.

This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS – Grant 2018-00453) and the fieldwork for this research was funded by the International Swedish Center for Local Democracy (ICLD). The full article can be found here.

October 29, 2020

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Environmental degradation, human rights and unsustainable peace in Northern Uganda

Credit: Charles Nambassi, in Pixabay

Maria Andrea Nardi

The armed conflict between 1986 and 2007 in Northern Uganda had profound impacts on human rights and on the degradation of the natural environment. Unfortunately, peacetime did not revert this. On the contrary, the consolidation of extractive supply chains is bringing environmental deterioration to another scale while social conflicts are emerging among ethnic groups, local communities, families, and authorities around land access and tenure.

In 2007, while the peace talks were going on, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made a number of recommendations to Uganda’s national authorities and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, including: “to ensure the integration of human rights and justice as key elements for sustainable peace” (1).

After the war, it has been claimed, the  Government of Uganda has made significant progress “to improve respect for human rights and the enjoyment of these rights by all individuals under its jurisdiction” (2) and to advance the “rule of law and democracy including ratification of key international and regional human rights instruments” (3).

Unfortunately, current environmental transformations in Northern Uganda are hindering that progress. Even though the rebels – the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) – are no longer active in the country, peace in the region is yet to be guaranteed.

Disputes over access to (and exploitation of) land and natural resources, as well as the resulting environmental degradation, are playing a key role in the future of peace in the eight sub-regions that make up the North region of the country.

In June 2020, I had a conversation with Patrick Okullo – journalist and environmental advocate based in Gulu, Acholi sub-region– and learned that during and after the war, environmental concerns were rising in the local agenda for peace. Unfortunately, this was not translated into an environmental peacebuilding policy. Journalists, NGO’s communities, and local authorities among others, are strongly advocating for environmental justice and human rights protection, for a sustainable peace in Northern Uganda.

In the following two sections, I share some of the key concerns we discussed with Patrick and complement with other sources such as those from local journalists and academic experts. In the final section, as a way of conclusion, I establish linkages between the protection of the natural environment and the protection, promotion, and fulfilment of human rights in the context of Uganda.

The emergence of ‘new’ natures and supply chains during war

For a period of about twenty years, Uganda witnessed its most prolonged armed conflict between a rebel army (LRA) and the national security forces – the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). Even though different sources contest the final number, in 2004 it was estimated that 1.4 million persons were pushed from their homes into internal displaced people’s camps (IDP camps) (4) in order to facilitate UPDF’s surveillance and securitize the most conflictive districts: those of Acholi sub-region (former districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader).

Patrick Okullo recalls that during the armed conflict, the Ugandan security forces arrived in the North to reach the LRA rebels seeking to deter their violence towards civilians and stabilise the situation. This was done by the construction of roads crossing forests and savannahs. In the process of implementing these strategies, natural resources were discovered by these actors coming from other regions of Uganda. Logging and trading of valuable tree species, such as the Africana Afzelia started then, when the security forces accessed unexplored forests. At the same time, they had access to natural resources in “abandoned” rural areas, as Patrick recalls:

“…in the process, when people were in the camps, when in [1996] they left their homes and  were confined in the camps, the security forces, the LRA and the UPDF they had access to these areas, they would exploit whatever they could in terms of natural resources, this contributed to degradation”.

Environmental and forest degradation started during war, with the emerging trend of logging of valuable species for trading, small-scale charcoal production and tree cutting for other purposes (such as building) for household consumption.

The high number of people living in camps resulted in an uneven spatial distribution of natural resources exploitation in the Northern sub-regions, highly concentrated in the camps and around them, as those living there “resorted to cutting of trees, for charcoal burning, for fuelling, for cooking. This also contributed to high level of degradation”, according to Patrick (see also 5).

In 2005, the USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society sponsored a comprehensive study on the impact of the armed conflict on the environment and natural resources management in Northern Uganda (6). Based on mixed-methods and the use of remote sensing technology to study vegetation cover in the country, the report affirms that:

“In north eastern Uganda there has been a net loss of woodland (…). Around urban centres loss of woody cover was particularly high, although for Gulu and Kitgum this was confined to the immediate vicinity of the town and around IDP camps. Around Lira  there has been widespread loss of woody cover, which may be partly a result of the conflict (people migrating south) but also due to expanding human population and conversion of natural habitat to farmland” (6: 9-10). [*]

The paradox is, nevertheless, that the armed conflict worked also as a driver for environmental protection. The study shows that vegetation was also restored in some of those territories where the LRA rebels were based, or with no easy access. This might be explaining the higher level of environmental conservation: “[t]here is a large belt of increased woody cover west and north of Kitgum where the LRA has been most active and as a result it is clear that there has been some recovery of natural habitat as a result of the conflict” (6: 9).

The causes of vegetation change need to be further explored on the ground. The internal armed conflict has been a clear driver of vegetation change, but other factors might be explaining this, such as climate change or population growth (expansion of urban settings and/or farming land).

The report argues, however, that “it is clear that the movement of large numbers of people to IDP camps has allowed vegetation to recover in areas they have vacated and has led to degradation of vegetation around the camps and urban centres where they have settled” (6: 10). This explains the uneven geographical distribution of environmental degradation and conservation.

New conflicts and environmental deterioration during peacetime

Environmental degradation did not decrease after the armed conflict and during peacebuilding. On the contrary, it intensified. Savannahs and forests restored, turned into a source of rich timber to be exploited during peacetime. TNH (2012) observes that this is particularly the case because those regions previously supplying Kampala were totally depleted (7).

From 2007, once the violence against civilians deescalated and people started leaving the camps, Northern Uganda became the scene of the expansion of charcoal production and high-value timber extraction for distant markets such as those in Kampala, Kenya or China.

According to the Ministry of Water and Environment from Uganda (2016), during the period 2010-2015, an estimated number of 250,000 hectares of forest were lost. In the same period, forest estate outside protected areas reduced from 61% in 2005 to 38% in 2015 (8).

The resettlement process brought people back to their land, but with much need to complement their meagre incomes, as farming and husbandry take time to give a produce. Livestock had been wiped out from the region as a result of the war (9) so people had to restart their livelihoods. This partly explains the resulting land use change and ecological degradation that we are witnessing now.

Charcoal production and high-value timber species

During the post conflict and peacebuilding period, new and powerful actors arrived in the North and scaled up natural resource extraction and trade (10), not only for valuable timber logging but also for charcoal production.

This ‘industrial’ or large-scale charcoal production incorporated small-scale farmers and other rural dwellers into an international supply chain, highly extractive and dependent on natural resources, further marginalising local communities from their natural resources and livelihoods and/or inserting them at the bottom of emerging international supply chains.

Patrick Okullo explains that the levels of degradation and conflict intensified between 2015 and 2019: “hundreds of trucks would pass day and night from the Acholi sub-region and part of West Nile down South to Kampala”.

He further clarifies that trees such as shea nut or African Afzelia play an important role in the cultural life of Acholi people, who suffer in their territory much of the impacts of the armed conflict. This is why local chiefs, and other cultural institutions are worried to see how these trees are decreasing in number, as people will not only miss food and shelter, but cleansing rituals that are very important for the life in community, peace building and conflict resolution. Cultural leaders understood that failure to protect precious trees would affect in the future local peoples’ culture as these species have a key role in the reproduction of social life.

Access to land

New conflicts emerged during the post-conflict between local leaders, communities, clans, ethnic groups and families due to contested land ownership, district borders, soil degradation, land use change, over exploitation or access to local forests, among other issues related to the natural environment (11; 12).

Patrick Okullo recalls that “after the war the owners of those lands where camps were established were appealing to the government to support them, to compensate them, because the camps were established in their lands, and the natural resources were highly destroyed”.

The fragile land tenure and unstable land access pushed people to cut down trees as they were unsure for how long they would have access to natural resources. This has further accelerated the degradation process, according to different sources (10).

In this context, the arrival of investments for oil exploration and exploitation, and agribusiness –such as sugar cane or cattle ranching- has exacerbated conflicts between those supporting one or another livelihood and/or land use (13, 14, 15). Wildlife conservation in natural parks and reserves has also brought conflicts between local dwellers and authorities (16).

Role of the local district authorities

Local district authorities realised the need to address these urgent matters and understood – Patrick shares – that if tree cutting continues, acute weather changes would occur, affecting the soil humidity or quality and abundance of water and in the long term this will affect agriculture production, cattle raising, and other important livelihoods directly dependent on natural resources and ecosystem services (such as fisheries).

This explains that local district authorities for the entire Acholi sub-region came together and passed a bill in 2016 to control charcoal trade and the movement of timber from one place to another (17). This ordinance seeks to regulate the transportation of timber making it illegal to move it around without the corresponding documents from the authorities.

According to Patrick, “now that the authorities have been enforcing new control mechanisms, tree cutting is decreasing and less timber is leaving the region”. It seems at least, that illegal charcoal trade might be decreasing (18) though this is contested (19). In addition, “they are currently drafting a charcoal policy to address alternative sources of energy for households”, Patrick tells me.

Human rights and the environment: building sustainable peace

It has been argued by many that the armed conflict in Northern Uganda began as a consequence of the historical economic and political marginalisation of the region from the rest of the country (20). The armed conflict brought violence to people and to their natural environment, the violation of all kinds of human rights.  

Even though the armed conflict is over, peacetime unfortunately is not completely free of violence. Nowadays, violence against people continues in an indirect way: against their nature, their natural environment. It might not be exactly the same actors perpetuating it, but there is no doubt that the role of the Ugandan security forces is still relevant. As Branch & Martinello (2018: 242) put it “charcoal production, and its particular destructiveness, should be understood as a continuation of the violence of the 1986–2006 war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government” as “[m]ilitarized, forceful displacements of communities by the state, whether for minerals, game reserves, parks, infrastructure, agri-business, or personal accumulation, are often enforced through military violence” (p. 248) (10).

Ecological degradation and environmental deterioration during the armed conflict was the result of the activity of few actors (e.g. army officials, camps dwellers) and it was very much localised (e.g. around the camps) (6). The geographical scale of environmental deterioration during peacetime has changed: it has increased. The network of stakeholders became more complex, bringing together diverse actors within and outside the Northern region (7, 10, 19).

It can be argued that peace succeeded in inserting the region in national and international markets – as provider of natural resources – and bringing certain levels of economic growth and development. Nevertheless, this is not experienced equally by most of the population who see their natural environment depleted and receive little benefit from this ‘development’.

These complexities and the emerging inequalities pose the challenge of coordinating political efforts to revert the situation and implement policies and strategies to promote human rights, environmental restoration, and sustainable development.

Uganda finds inspiration in international, regional and national standards and instruments to promote peace, environmental protection and human rights. There is, for instance, a resolution by the African Commission from 2012 calling for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Natural Resources Governance (21) urging member states among other issues to “[e]nsure that respect for human rights in all matters of natural resources exploration, extraction, toxic waste management, development, management and governance, in international cooperation, investment agreements and trade regulation prevails”.

The country – it is claimed – has made progress in domesticating human rights standards and incorporating environmental concerns in its legislative frameworks.  The Constitution of Uganda in article 39 provides that every citizen has the right to a clean and healthy environment; and since 2019, the Ugandans have a national law to protect the natural environment and regulate how it should be used: the National Environment Act. In fact, there are many acts, policies and plans at the central level dealing with the promotion of sustainable use of the natural environment and nature protection, such as those dealing with biodiversity, wildlife, forestry, tree planting, water, wetlands or land.

Local and central authorities also play a key role in the protection of human rights and the environment, with the creation of bills and policies, such as the drafting of the Acholi Sustainable Charcoal Production and Marketing Bill from 2019 (22).

In this context, I argue that the ‘problem’ is not the lack of environmental or human rights recognition or legislative frameworks, but the way these are implemented (or silenced). I am referring not only to environmental interventions, but also to human rights ones.

Human rights interventions I have in mind are those that go hand in hand with environmental protection and ecological restoration. The natural environment cannot be left aside in planning, designing, implementing, monitoring, or evaluating human rights strategies. Such strategies should work towards political empowerment, sustainable development, and peace for all, and particularly for those more in need. They should be attentive of not (re)producing conflicts.

Branch (2011: 9) points out that “human rights intervention may inadvertently provide the tools for emancipatory politics, politics possibly based upon concepts of human rights that imply and depend on individual and collective social and political agency” (23).  I believe that the role of journalists and civil society in denouncing environmental injustices and/or human rights violations are central in promoting a real implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the existing international and national laws and policies. Members of diverse organisations of the civil society with support from (and despite of) the international community are nowadays active in denouncing the ongoing environmental deterioration (24) and human rights abuses in Uganda.

The question remains then for the different authorities in Uganda and for Ugandan peoples to collectively discuss and decide how they wish the Northern region to be integrated to the rest of the country and the global economy, how to promote alternative sources of energy, and how to restore degraded natural environments, while promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights for all.



I would like to thank Patrick Okullo for his time to chat and enlighten me about his work and worries from those living in Acholi and other sub-regions in the North of Uganda. I extend my gratitude to my colleagues Kasiva Mulli, Yvonne Oyieke and Alice Kasznar for their feedback to draft versions of this blog-post.


[*] Lira is a town in Lango sub-region, which has also been affected by the armed conflict as IDP camps were located there.



(1) HRC (2007) “Report on the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda”, Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights Addendum. Human Rights Council. A/HRC/4/49/Add.2. Available online here.

(2) OHCHR (2013) “Report on the Activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Situation in Uganda”, Nov. 2011 to Sept. 2013. Available online here.

(3) HRC (2016) National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21. Uganda. Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Human Rights Council. Available online here.

(4) UN (2004) “Specific groups and individuals. Mass exoduses and displaced persons”, Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Deng, Francis. Mission to Uganda. Economic and Social Council, United Nations. Commission on Human Rights. E/CN.4/2004/77/Add.1. Available online here.

(5) Oroma, Gladys (2008) “The forgotten ‘victim’ of the northern Uganda war”, news article in Daily Monitor Only (Uganda) June 4. Available online here.

(6) Nampindo, Simon; Picton-Phillipps, Guy & Plumptre, Andrew (2005) The impact of conflict in Northern Uganda on the environment and natural resource management, USAID and Wildlife Conservation Society. Available online here.

(7) TNH (2012a) “Charcoal boom a bust for forests”, news article in The New Humanitarian (formerly IRIN News). 7 February. Available online here.

(8) Ministry of Water and Environment (2016) “State of Uganda’s Forestry”. The Republic of Uganda. Available online here.

(9) Owiny, Tobbias Jolly (2020) “LRA war victims beat odds to succeed in dairy farming”, news article in Daily Monitor. 18 August. Available online here.

(10) Branch, Adam & Martiniello, Giuliano (2018) “Charcoal Power: The Political Violence of Non-Fossil Fuel in Uganda”, in Geoforum, 97: 242-252. Online here.

(11) TNH (2012b) “Land disputes threaten northern peace”, news article in The New Humanitarian (formerly IRIN News). 19 April. Available online here.

(12) Otim, Denis Barnabas (2012a) “Uganda: Local land dispute threatens violence”, blogpost in Peace Insight. 27 December. Available online here.

(13) Otim, Denis Barnabas (2012b) Is it oil, land or investment triggering increasing land dispute in Lakang village of Amuru district? Situation report. Refugee Law Project, School of Law, Makerere University and Advisory Consortium on Conflict Senstivitiy (ACCS). Available online here.

(14) Otim, Denis Barnabas (2012c) “Dealing with land conflicts in Amuru, Uganda”, blogpost in Peace Insight. 13 Noviembre. Available online here.

(15) Otim, Denis Barnabas (2013) “Uganda: Investors must involve the locals in acquiring land for investment”, blogpost in Peace Insight. 04 March. Available online here.

(16) Taylor, Liam (2019b) “’This is our land’: Uncertain future for Ugandans facing eviction from wildlife reserve”, news article in Thomson Reuters Foundation. 23 July. Available online here

(17) Kitara, Jackson (2018) “Environment committees to fight charcoal burning”, news article in New Vision. 20 July. Available online here.

(18) Muhumuz, Rodney (2019) “Africa’s charcoal trade is decimating fragile forest cover”, news article in The Associated Press (AP). September 25. Available online here.

(19) Owiny, Tobbias Jolly (2019) “Why illegal logging, charcoal burning persists in the north”, news article in Daily Monitor. 3 November. Previously available online here.

(20) Doom, Ruddy & Vlassenroot, Koen (1999) “Kony’s Message: A New Koine? The Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda”, in African Affairs 98 (390): 5-36. Available online here.

(21) ACHPR (2012) Resolution on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Natural Resources Governance, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Available online here.

(22) Labeja, Peter (2019) “Acholi Region Drafts Charcoal Policy”, news article in Uganda Radio Net (URN). 20 February. Available online here.

(23) Brach, Adam (2011) Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Available online here.

(24) Taylor, Liam (2019a) “’Cutting everything in sight’: Ugandans vow to curb rampant deforestation”, news article in Thomson Reuters Foundation. 12 March. Available online here.

October 16, 2020

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Colombia’s environment in the post-conflict transition – New set-backs by the global pandemic

Farm landscape in the Putumayo department, Colombia. Photo taken by Torsten Krause, December 2019

By Torsten Krause*, Ana Maria Vargas Falla**, Britta Sjöstedt*, Sandra Valencia***, Fariborz Zelli*[1]

A glimpse of hope quickly vanishing

In 2016, Colombia officially emerged from one of the world’s longest internal armed conflicts when the government, under former President Juan Manual Santos, signed a peace agreement with the country’s largest and most influential guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, also known as FARC.

Four years have passed since, and while some of Colombia’s departments have been able to enjoy a relatively tranquil time with the retraction of the FARC and the cessation of hostilities and violence, other departments and rural areas, have moved even further away from peace. For decades the FARC had exercised a de-facto state authority with rules and regulation in the territories previously under its control. However, since October 2016, when the FARC retracted from these territories as part of the demobilization process, the void has often been filled by a diverse range of new armed groups including criminal gangs. These gangs, referred to by local authorities as BACRIM,[2] have been trying to seize control of lucrative informal markets including the coca and gold trades. In addition, the power vacuum was filled by other leftist guerilla groups that have been fighting the Colombian state for decades. These include, foremost, the National Liberation Army (ELN)[3], but also former FARC guerilla fighters who rejected or abandoned the re-integration process and formed FARC dissident groups.

Thus far, the outcome of these developments is a complex mixture of violent armed groups, all of which profit financially from the general chaos of the power vacuum. While some of them, such as the ELN, claim to pursue larger political objectives, what all of these groups have in common is their main modus operandi, that implies a dangerous cocktail of illegal practices, violence and intimidation of local populations, including peasants, social leaders, international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as large multinational corporations.

Farm run by former FARC guerilla members, Municipality of Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo department, December 2019. Photo taken by Torsten Krause

The consequences reverberate through rural Colombia once again in the form of forced displacements of thousands of families in the departments of Antioquia, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, and Santander. Hundreds of civilians have been murdered, including numerous social and indigenous leaders that had demanded access to land and resources, had defended the rights of indigenous peoples, had tried to defend communities from illegal mining and drug trade, had been involved in coca eradication initiatives, or had protected the environment from polluting mining practices and illegal logging[4]. This continuous conflict has earned Colombia the inglorious 2nd and 3rd places, respectively, among the countries with the highest number of assassinations of human right defenders and social and environmental leaders in the past four years (Witness 2017, 2019, UN 2020).

A new victim: The environment

Thus, while it might seem from an outsider’s perspective that the Colombian armed conflict has come to an end, the life of many people in rural areas is in reality marked by ruthless violence and intimidations that have come to haunt areas of the countryside once more. What is new this time is that the targets of harm include not just human beings, such as farmers, social leaders and indigenous people, but also the natural environment. Ever since the cease fire between the FARC and Colombian state in 2014 and the signing of the peace agreement in 2016, deforestation in Colombia has soared and there is a strong overlap between areas that record high levels of violence since the peace agreement and those that exhibit illegal conversion of forests to agricultural land uses, cattle pastures and coca plantations (Prem et al. 2018, Negret et al. 2019, Clerici et al. 2020, Murillo Sandoval et al. 2020). In particular the Amazon frontier departments of Colombia are experiencing a sharp rise in deforestation (see Fig.1) (Clerici et al. 2020).

Deforestation rates in Colombia, the Amazon region and individual Amazonian departments. The dashed line in 2014 indicates the year when the indefinite ceasefire between the FARC and the Colombian government was agreed. Source: Global Forest Watch 2020.

To make matters worse and more complicated, environmental and social organizations are becoming a target of intimidation and violence too. A recent pamphlet that was circulated, supposedly by a FARC dissident group, sends a warning to anybody who collaborates with organizations working on environmental projects in the Amazons and other regions. The pamphlet explicitly mentions international organizations (namely, the Organization of American States – OAS and USAID), national programs to fight deforestation (Visión Amazonía), research institutions (the Colombian Institute for Amazonic Scientific Research – SINCHI), regional environmental authorities (in particular, the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the North and Oriental Amazon – CDA; and Corpoamazonia) as well as the Colombian National Park Authority (Infoamazonia, April 16, 2020).[5] In the past months, national park rangers have been increasingly targeted by armed groups, some have been assassinated, and they had to abandon their posts in many of the national parks in the Andean-Amazon region, unable to control intrusion and deforestation.

In recent months alone, deforestation has considerably soared again, and is particularly severe in the Tinigua and La Macarena national parks in the Meta department, as well as in the Nukak indigenous reservation in the Guaviare department (FIP, 2020).[6] There are several explanations for this development, but it is first and foremost attributable to processes of land grabbing, mainly by large landowners, who seek to use the current void and absence of state control to expand their land holdings by cutting down large stretches of forests (Van Dexter and Visseren-Hamakers 2019, Murillo Sandoval et al. 2020). By putting cattle on these newly deforested areas they hope to be able to claim these lands in the future. Put differently, the peace agreement and FARC’s demobilization raise expectations and opportunities of big land owners to eventually obtain legal land titles. Unfortunately, thus, the peace process must be considered an unintended driver of land grabbing and illegal land markets (Murillo Sandoval et al. 2020).

Apart from the serious long-term environmental consequences that deforestation leads to, it also brings to light the underlying issue that fueled the armed conflict in Colombia in the first place, namely the highly unequal access to, and control of, land in Colombia. A small share of landowners possesses the majority of agricultural lands in the country. This unequal distribution was, ironically, perpetuated by armed groups during the conflict due to the violent displacements of small-scale farmers, and it has now further increased in the aftermath of the peace agreement (Guereña 2017).

Recent patches of deforestation in the Guaviare department. Photo taken by Torsten Krause, June 2017.
The Amazon frontier region in the Guaviare department with encroaching agricultural activities. Photo taken by Torsten Krause, June 2017.

The rise in coca plantations over the past 10 years is another environmentally harmful development that complicates Colombia’s transition to peace (Fig. 2). During the armed conflict the production and trade of cocaine was a major income generating activity for different factions. The FARC, ELN and paramilitaries used it to finance their operations, buy weapons, pay their soldiers and make a lot of money. The high profitability of the globally demanded product, the established system from cultivation, production to export as well as the acquired know-how in Colombia, all facilitate the continuation of the lucrative cocaine trade. The current trade includes some of the actors from before the peace agreement, but also new ones that seek to control the business, most notably notorious Mexican cartels, such as the Gulf, Sinaloa and New Jalisco cartels.

Furthermore, Colombia has also experienced an increase in the mining of minerals, such as gold and coltan (Ballvé 2012, Guevara et al. 2016). By some estimates, approximately 85% of precious ore mining in Colombia, in its majority gold, is illegal.[7] Armed groups are often involved in these mining and trade operations. The use of mercury in the extraction process is resulting in devastating health and environmental consequences for local populations, rivers and forests. A rise in homicides and massacres associated with illegal gold mining has also been reported (Guevara et al. 2016).

Extent of coca cultivation in Colombia. Source: U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)

A new set-back by Covid-19

The aforementioned setbacks to the post-conflict transition, and the negative social and environmental impacts in particular, are further exacerbated and reinforced by the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the current coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). In addition to its detrimental health impacts, the Covid-19 pandemic has developed into a powerful social and political force by occupying and channeling key public discourses and political attention. With these multi-dimensional implications, we argue that the current pandemic poses a major threat for the Colombian peace transition and for the natural environment in several ways.

First, the crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus and the ensuing strict stay-at-home quarantine, declared nation-wide by President Duque from March 24 this year, has diverted considerable attention and response capacities away from the tensions in rural and frontier areas (FIP, 2020, p. 16). This reinforces the already existing governance gaps in these areas at a time when both local vulnerable communities and the environment are in even higher demand of protection.

With regard to vulnerable groups, the violence in Colombia’s rural areas has continued despite the quarantine, and there have been numerous registers of assassinations of social and indigenous leaders during the lockdown.[8] The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP – Fundación Ideas para la Paz in Spanish) argues that social and indigenous leaders can be more vulnerable during the quarantine as their routines and locations become more predictable. In its recent report on armed conflict dynamics during the pandemic FIP provided evidence showing that attacks on oil pipelines have intensified over the first four months of 2020, while deforestation and illegal mining practices are persisting.

These worrying developments notwithstanding, there are a few signs of improvement. For one, the overall number of attacks carried out by armed groups has declined in April. This may be explained by the ELN’s declaration of cease fire with a view to the corona crisis (FIP, 2020, p. 8).  Likewise, the number of violent deaths has been steadily decreasing since early 2019 in municipalities that are implementing specific initiatives based on the peace agreement. These include the Development Programs with Territorial Focus (PDET in Spanish) and the National Program for the Integral Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS in Spanish) (ibid., p. 13). Nonetheless, a few areas have not followed this positive trend though and instead witnessed and increase in the death toll. This goes for Santa Marta in the Magdalena department, Tarazá and Segovia in Antioquia, and most notably in El Tambo in Cauca (22 violent deaths between January and April 2020, compared to 8 during the same period in 2019) (ibid., p. 15).

With respect to the environment, armed groups, settlers (colonos) and landgrabbers have been further moving into forested areas, causing massive deforestation during the coronavirus crisis, while environmental organizations, both public and private ones, can do even less due to the quarantine-related mobility restrictions (FIP, 2020). The example of Brazil gives a bleak outlook of what more is about to happen in Colombian Amazon regions. In Colombia’s biggest neighbor, deforestation in the Amazon region has soared considerably in the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, also due to the reduced enforcement power of the national environmental agencies.

In addition to these direct social and ecological consequences of pandemic, we expect stark indirect negative impacts, fueled by global economic downturn. The associated fall in demand for oil has already resulted in a slump of oil prices, which, in turn, has entailed a substantial increase of the price for gold. This provides an incentive to further expand gold mining activities and will likely exacerbate violence and its severe negative social and environmental repercussions (Guevara et al. 2016, Rodríguez and Galvis 2016).

As one example of such a dynamic, the Wiwa indigenous group, located in the Guajira department in the north of the country, reported that, during the pandemic, illegal mining of gold in their ancestral territory has intensified. Studies conducted in the area prior to the pandemic had already revealed high concentrations of heavy metals in rivers and fish attributable to mining activities.[9] These activities are carried out by outsiders who carry weapons and are often linked to armed groups. Besides the immediate concerns for security and environment,[10] the Wiwa community is worried about a heightened risk of SARS-Cov2-infection by the illegal miners (FIP, 2020).

A challenging road ahead

Colombia’s transition to peace is heading towards a difficult path and the Covid-19 pandemic is most likely more than a minor roadblock. Due its major social and environmental consequences, it may undermine the small positive efforts taken towards a sustainable peace so far.

Where does this lead us? On the one hand, and in spite of these developments and dynamics, many people in Colombia do still believe in the peace process. The FARC party, composed of demobilized leaders, frequently reinstates its commitment to the process. Efforts continue to integrate FARC ex-combatants into civilian life. Some of these efforts include agricultural projects, training programs and conservation initiatives (e.g. Ambientes para la Paz – Environments for Peace program[11]). In addition, even if peace talks have not succeeded with the ELN, some of its members are starting to demobilize[12].

On the other hand, the Colombian government struggles to build lasting and sustainable peace. Already before the current pandemic, the government had been in a balancing act. It had to keep up its discourse to build lasting peace and to satisfy the demands of international forest conservation activists and project donors (Krause, 2020). On the other hand, pressure has been mounting from within the government and the private sector to gear up the extraction of natural resources in the form of mining, infrastructure and industrial agriculture (DNP 2018). Such activities, however, are more akin to traditional models of economic growth.

There is no doubt that Colombia’s social and environmental problems are considerably shaped by global market demands for agricultural produce, oil, minerals and coca. This notwithstanding, there are fundamental domestic reasons, starting with governmental policies that directly and indirectly incentivize environmental degradation. The strong inequalities in land access and ownership that have been underlying the decade-long armed conflict have still not been tackled sufficiently. Instead, the severe enforcement gaps to address land grabbing and illegal mining de facto turn a blind eye to local corruption, violence and assassinations. As long as these contradictions and shortcomings are not openly discussed and acted upon in a comprehensive manner, the armed conflict over resources and land will be perpetuated – and with it the severe social and environmental crisis in Colombia.


Ballvé, T. 2012. Everyday State Formation: Territory, Decentralization, and the Narco Landgrab in Colombia. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 30:603-622.

Clerici, N., D. Armenteras, P. Kareiva, R. Botero, J. P. Ramírez-Delgado, G. Forero-Medina, J. Ochoa, C. Pedraza, L. Schneider, C. Lora, C. Gómez, M. Linares, C. Hirashiki, and D. Biggs. 2020. Deforestation in Colombian protected areas increased during post-conflict periods. Scientific Reports 10:4971.

DNP. 2018. Bases del Plan Nacional de Desarollo 2018-2022. Page 945 in D. N. d. Planeación, editor. Government of Colombia, Bogotá.

FIP. 2020. Dinámicas de la Confrontación Armada y su Impacto Humanitario y Ambiental: Tendencias en la Pandemia – Enero a Abril 2020. Fundación Ideas para la Paz, Bogotá.

Guereña, A. 2017. A Snapshot of Inequality – What the Latest Agricultural Census Reveals About Land Distribution in Colombia. Oxfam.

Guevara, E. L., N. Duarte, and E. Salcedo-Albarán. 2016. Introduction to Trafficking of Gold and Coltan in Colombia. Vortex Foundation, Bogotá.

Krause, T., Reducing deforestation in Colombia while building peace and pursuing business as usual extractivism? Journal of Political Ecology, 2020. 27(1): p. 17.

Murillo Sandoval, P. J., K. Van Dexter, J. Van Den Hoek, D. Wrathall, and R. Kennedy, E. . 2020. The end of gunpoint conservation: Forest disturbance after the Colombian peace agreement. Environmental Research Letters.

Negret, P. J., L. Sonter, J. E. M. Watson, H. P. Possingham, K. R. Jones, C. Suarez, J. M. Ochoa-Quintero, and M. Maron. 2019. Emerging evidence that armed conflict and coca cultivation influence deforestation patterns. Biological Conservation:108176.

Prem, M., S. Saavedra, and J. F. Vargas. 2018. End-Of-Conflict Deforestation: Evidence from Colombia’s Peace Agreement. Universidad de Rosario, Bogotá.

Rodríguez, C. A., and S. R. Galvis. 2016. El oro, la contaminación y los seres del agua. Visiones locales de los impactos ambientales de la minería en el mundo acuático de la Amazonia colombiana., Tropenbos Internacional Colombia.

UN. 2020. Colombia: ‘Staggering number’ of human rights defenders killed in 2019. United Nations, n/a.

Van Dexter, K., and I. Visseren-Hamakers. 2019. Forests in the time of peace. Journal of Land Use Science:1-16.

Witness, G. 2017. Environmental Activists. Global Witness, London.

Witness, G. 2019. Enemies of the state? How governments and business silence land and environmental defenders.

[1] Affiliation: *Lund University, ** Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy, *** Chalmers University of Technology.

[2] In its nomenclature of 2016, the Ministry of Defense (through the Directiva permanente 15 de 2016)officially distinguished Criminal Bands (Bandas Criminales – BACRIM) from Organized Armed Groups (Grupos Armados Organizados – GAO)and Organized Crime Groups (Grupo Delictivo Organizado GDO).

[3] There have been several attempts to hold peace negotiations between the Colombian Government and the ELN. In October 2016, both parties announced the initiation of peace talks, which officially started in February 2017 in Quito, Ecuador. However, the talks faced several obstacles including the ELN refusing to release kidnapped hostages. The negotiations were cancelled by President Ivan Duque after ELN attacked a military school in Bogotá killing 21 people and injuring 68 in January 2019.

[4] According to January 2020 data from the Colombia Ombudsman Office, an estimate of 555 social leaders were assassinated since 2016 (

[5] See:

[6] See:

[7] See:

[8] See:





May 31, 2020

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New research project: At the nexus between peace and nature in Uganda and Colombia

We will evaluate the changes in livelihoods and their impacts on the natural enviroment after the end of the armed conflict.Credit: Brian Harries, licensed under CC BY 2.0

From the Amazon forest and the Andean mountains in Colombia to the vast plains and valleys in northern Uganda, The Nature of Peace research group will explore the connection between the peace processes and the ongoing environmental changes and their social and human rights implications in these two post-conflict societies.

For the next three years, our interdisciplinary research team – with members from Lund University, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and the University of Gothenburg –  will investigate how peace peacebuilding impacts the natural environment and how, in turn, environmental concerns are integrated into stabilization policies of these two countries.

The cases of Colombia and Uganda bring key insights about the connections between the natural environment and the post-conflict policies. Credit: Laura Betancur A. and Nina R. licensed under CC BY 2.0

Both cases bring relevant insight into the environmental peacebuilding research agenda. On the one hand, Colombia and Uganda have similar trends regarding low environmental awareness and dominance of resource-exploiting preferences and discourses. On the other hand, they provide geographical diversity with their embeddedness in two world regions, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, respectively. Additionally, we expect novel and timely insights considering the recent post-conflict phase in Colombia since 2016; and more longstanding outcomes from the peace processes in Uganda, where the stabilization period has taken place since 2007. 

For both countries, we mainly inquire to which extent there are concerns of environmental protection integrated or neglected in the post-conflict peacebuilding process? To gain a deeper understanding, we aim to identify the major drivers and conditions underlying this integration or neglection.

Consequently, we will also investigate the impacts of these considerations on the natural environment, livelihoods of local communities, vulnerable groups and on political conditions that also influence peace itself. With this knowledge, we expect to compile helpful lessons for societies that have similar situations in the present or the future.

Initially, we have selected specific protected areas and their buffer zones for our fieldwork in Colombia and Uganda. In 2020, four researchers (two scholars per country) will conduct interviews and focus groups with key social groups and institutions, narrative and transect walks in different areas, and workshops with community members.  

We expect novel and timely insights considering the recent post-conflict phase in Colombia since 2016; and more longstanding outcomes from the peace processes in Uganda.

The Nature of Peace Project

Along with fieldwork, we will develop a spatial analysis to understand land-use changes in the areas under studied; and will also conduct legal and policy analyses. During these years, we will collaborate with researchers, universities and international cooperation agencies in Colombia and Uganda.

The photo shows deforested areas in the Colombian Amazon. Since the signing of the peace agreement, the deforestation rate has doubled in the country. We will analyze these changes in land-use changes in our research. Credit: Ideam, Colombia.

With this exciting research journey, we expect to provide comprehensive theoretical frameworks and systematic comparative empirical analyses for the intersection between post-conflict peacebuilding and the environment and the communities depending on it.

At the same time, we seek to contribute to prevent further negative consequences for the natural environment and current and future generations once protracted violent conflicts come to an end.

Our research team


Fariborz Zelli (Project leader)

Sandra Valencia (Colombia case)

Torsten Krause (Colombia case)

Maria Andrea Nardi (Uganda case)

Joshka Wessels (Adviser)

Britta Sjöstedt (Law and policy analysis/Colombia case)

Micael Runnström (GIS Analysis/Uganda case)

Alejandro Fuentes (Law and policy analysis)

Research assistants

Laura Betancur (2019-2020)
Alice Kasznar Feghali (2019-2020)

November 25, 2019

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Three provocative ideas in the first Environmental Peacebuilding Conference

Gold miners
Screenshot from the photo essay by Nancy Lee Peluso about gold miners in Indonesia. Peluso participated from the Environmental Peacebuilding Conference at Irvine, California.

Under the umbrella of “environmental peacebuilding”, a growing community of researchers and practitioners are framing their efforts in relating the natural environment and the peacebuilding agenda in several countries around the world. As I described in a previous post, last week, this community got together in the First Environmental Peacebuilding Conference in Irvine, California (US). Among all the presentations and case studies, three outstanding interventions called my attention to reflect on my own research work. Here, I want to share interesting insights to look ahead in the field: 

The three researchers called the attention for critical views in the field of Environmental Peacebuilding.From left to right: Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao, Teresa Lappe-Osthege, and Nancy Lee Peluso..

Looking backward to understand the future. During the second session on Thursday (October 24) about ‘Early Linkages in Environment, Conflict, and Peace’, someone in the audience asked about the future of research in the environmental peacebuilding field. Far from typical answers on technology applications or climate change scenarios, Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao, a Global Challenges Fellow at the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID), claimed that one need of the field is to ‘look backward’ to understand colonial tensions and those are embedded in the socio-ecological conflicts. Her mention of the colonial aspect shed light on the “elephant” in the room and made me reflect: How much are we addressing colonial and post-colonial influences in the analysis we do on our cases? How, in the development practices, are we solving previous colonialist sources of conflict to promote a better balance between conservation and social justice?

Contesting our views on “peace” and “conflict” dynamics in the territories. On Friday, the political ecology professor Nancy Lee Peluso, from the University of California Berkley, gave an interesting presentation on ‘Landscapes of violence and peace’ with focus on her work in small-scale gold mining in Indonesia. Peluso presented how miners viewed their activity as a ‘peaceful moment’ in contrast to other perspectives emphasizing the violence in the same transformed territories. She called attention to understand how some “types” of violence are more accepted than others, for instance, the political violence affecting this region. Likewise, she invited the audience to focus on labor transformations to understand the political economy of the territories and the roots of conflicts.  Peluso opened a valuable discussion to revise our pre-fixed normative conceptualizations on peace and conflict and how value judgments can prevent us from a more comprehensive view of the local territorial dynamics.

During her presentation, Peluso shared her photo essay about the lives of ‘gold farmers’ in Indonesia.

Is environmental peacebuilding covering up neoliberal approaches? On Thursday (October 24), Teresa Lappe-Osthege, research associate on the Biosec project, made a very interesting presentation about how the concept of environmental peacebuilding can be used to cover up neoliberal peace approaches. Her presentation, focusing on EU peacebuilding policies in Kosovo, showed that perspectives on sustainability remained stagnant in views about security and development, without addressing existing socio-ecological injustices in the country. Teresa highlighted the relevance of a more critical reflection on the practices and narratives we are allowing to be framed under the umbrella of environmental peacebuilding.

November 25, 2019

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Our project at the First Environmental Peacebuilding Conference in California

Environmental Peacebuilding Conference
Maria Andrea Nardi presented the general findings of the first phase of The Nature of Peace research project. Credit: Torsten Krause.

Last week, the First Environmental Peacebuilding Conference in Irvine, California (US) brought together almost 250 researchers, practitioners, and decision-makers dealing with human-nature interactions in conflict-affected settings. It was a very intense and enlightening three-day conference (October 23- 25) for exchanging ideas and projects in around 8 training sessions and 40 panel sessions.

Our project, the Nature of Peace, an interdisciplinary research initiative on the links between the natural environment and peace in post-conflict societies, contributed during the sessions to broaden the debate on the state of the art of the field and the analysis on Colombia’s cases.

The association gathers different researchers and practicioners from around 40 countries. Credit: @EnvPeacebuild

The first to present was Andrea Nardi, researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, who explained the main findings of a systematic literature review conducted to understand the intersection of nature, peace, and post-conflict. Nardi pointed out that existing literature do not distinguish the different levels of vulnerability of specific groups, like women or indigenous communities, in the post-conflict transitions and the changes brought by it in regards the access to natural resources or the exposure to environmental pollution.

She also emphasized the need to revise the ontological perceptions about nature in the field of environmental peacebuilding, since the dominant framing of nature as a source to be exploited is still the most frequent conceptualization present in the papers. The study she presented was supported by the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies at Lund University between September 2017 and April 2018.

Colombia’s analysis at Irvine

On Thursday (October 24), Torsten Krause, Britta Sjöstedt and Laura Betancur participated in the panel session “Changing Environment: Exploring the Links and Consequences of the Peace Agreement in Colombia’s Natural Environment”, moderated by Helena Durán, environmental justice researcher from Dejusticia, a think tank based in Bogotá, Colombia. 

Laura’s presentation focused in the highlands landscape in Colombia. In contrast, Krause´s was mainly about the impacts of the postconflict phase in the Amazon rainforest. Credit: The Nature of Peace

Krause, Associate Senior Lecturer from Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, gave a critical explanation on how the current and pressing deforestation dynamic in the Amazon forest is caused by the contradictory practices framed under the double discourses of the Colombian government, which formally expresses its intention to protect the forest while still promoting mining and cattle ranching activities in the region.

Also focusing on the Amazon, Sjöstedt, Senior lecturer at the Department of Law, offered an explanation on how international law frameworks can contribute to the protection of this region, specifically of the Chiribiquete National Natural Park, the largest protected area in Colombia and added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in July 2018.

In contrast, Laura,  Colombian journalist who recently graduated  from the Lumes programme at Lucsus, invited the audience to ‘travel’ to a different Colombian landscape. Her  presentation focused on the changes in land distribution and water access in a small village in the highlands of Las Hermosas region in the southwest of the country. With this very specific case, she  raised awareness on the micro-level dynamics of inequalities that are being reproduced due to interventions carried out by the State, which became the authority on water and property after the FARC guerrilla members left the region.

After our presentations, we discussed how land distribution and conflicts caused by mining remain the major obstacles to avoid negative environmental impacts in the post-peace agreement phase in Colombia.

November 25, 2019

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Two years The Nature of Peace: setting the basis of our research

The group held around 30 sessions of discussions since 2016. Credit: Maria Andrea Nardi.

In September 2016, we initiated a research journey to understand the interconnections between bringing peace to post-conflict societies and the role of nature in that matter.  After almost two years of seminars, international exchanges, conversations with researchers in the field of environment and peacebuilding, an international conference and a research review analysis, we concluded this initial phase of our research in April 2018.

We reflected on the role assigned to the natural environment in peace and post-conflict academic studies. Moreover, we analyzed the complexities of defining both peace and nature concepts and the implications of this framing both for research and policy. Here, we looked back at the key moments of our learning process. 

The beginning

The Nature of Peace started as an Advanced Study Group in 2016 thanks to the support of the Pufendorf Institute of Advanced Studies at Lund University, which seeks to promote interdisciplinary discussions on relevant and novel research issues.

We – 12 researchers from different disciplines ranging from theology to natural science – got together to examine how human activities shape, produce and influence those non-living human processes during peace-building situations.

Becoming a research theme

In September 2017, we became a research theme of the Pufendorf Institute. During this time, we did almost 30 meetings to continue our conversations on how the conceptualization about peace and the natural environment differs in disciplines such as political science, human geography, environmental studies or law.  We guided our sessions with questions such as: What is the nature for a law researcher? What does the same word mean for a human geographer? What can we learn from the difference?

We also focused our activities on inquiries such as: how the environment is considered in fragile economies that need to develop? why peace consolidation can also generate processes of environmental degradation? or whose meaning of peace prevails in the pressing moments of securing development and stability?

We enriched our work with the visits of two guests’ researchers in March and April of 2018.  They are Rania Masri, an environmentalist, and human right activist and Regional Coordinator at ACKNOWL-EJ (Academic-Activist Co-Produced Knowledge for Environmental Justice); and Florian Krampe, researcher in SIPRI’s Climate Change and Risk Project and Affiliated Researcher at the Research School for International Water Cooperation at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University and the Unesco. 


Florian Krampe (left) and Rania Masri (right) joined the sessions of debate in the spring of 2018. Credit: Photos taken from Twitter accounts of the authors.

Revealing general tendencies

Along with our meetings, we elaborated a working paper to present our systematic literature review about the intersection of nature, peace, and post-conflict. We assessed 103 peer-reviewed academic articles published in English by characterizing the theories used, the research design, the methodology and the definitions of peace and nature predominantly used.

Among our several findings, we mainly identify that there is a growing body of literature in the field of environmental peacebuilding in the last six years. Most of the research corresponds to empirical studies and qualitative methods prevailed in the field. The literature mainly focuses on African and Asia contexts.

Countries identified in the literature review at the intersection of peace, post-conflict and environment or nature. Credit: The Nature of Peace research group.

Regarding the conceptual approaches, we highlight that there is a dominant framing on the natural environment as strategic natural resources (timber, water, minerals, oil) for offering economic development in war-impacted societies in the aftermath of the conflict. We stress the shortcomings of this view and point out theoretical gaps to address in further research.  Our paper- which is under revision- will soon be disseminated through this blog.

Our conference: engaging with a larger community

On April 26th and 27th of 2018, we organized The Nature of Peace Conference at Lund University.  The event brought together around 35 researchers and participants interested in understanding the interlinks between the natural environment the peacebuilding agenda. We structured the event in 20 presentations divided into six seminars and three interactive sessions, where participants shared their research projects ranging different disciplines and geographies.

We received stimulating feedback for our reflections on how notions of peace, conflict, resources, and nature are applied in diverse research projects of universities in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Ireland, Colombia, Canada, Finland, United States, among other countries.  We took advantage of the two-day conference to also spread some of the findings of our systematic literature revision.

The event took place at the Pufendorf Institute of Advanced Studies and the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Science in Lund, Sweden.

With this event, we fished this first phase of The Nature of Peace project. Based on the knowledge acquired along these almost two years of research, we proposed a second phase focusing on socio-ecological impacts of peace during post-conflict Uganda and Colombia. We believe that the conceptual reflections of the first phase will guide our fieldwork and case-based analysis to continue contributing to a more critical oriented view on how to integrate the natural environment after the guns fell silent in different societies.   

The researchers participating in The Nature of Peace phase I:

Lina Eklund (coordinator)

Maria Andrea Nardi (coordinator)

Maria Ericson

Alejandro Fuentes

Torsten Krause

Yahia Mahmoud

Micael Runnström

Britta Sjöstedt

Fariborz Zelli

Joshka Wessels

Sandra Valencia

Ana Maria Vargas-Falla

November 18, 2019

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The Nature of Peace Conference 2018: Exchanging perspectives on our research

In the final panel debate researchers discussed the ways in which nature is framed in their academic work.

What are the links between the natural environment and the peace efforts in societies once impacted by war? In which ways does natural resource exploitation hinder or promote fair post-war recoveries? How our own views on nature limit the understandings of peacebuilding processes?  These and other challenging questions built an inspiring academic exchange during The Nature of Peace Conference on April 26th and 27th 2018 at Lund University.

The two-day conference, organized by the interdisciplinary research group The Nature of Peace, brought together around 35 researchers interested in understanding the interlinks between the natural environment the peacebuilding agenda in the aftermath of armed conflicts.  Participants of nearly 12 countries shared ideas in 20 presentations divided into six seminars and three interactive sessions. The event took place at the Pufendorf Institute of Advanced Studies and the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Science in Lund, Sweden.

The conference kicked off with an introductory presentation by Carl Bruch, president of the Environmental Peacebuilding Association– also launched at the event- and researcher of the Environmental Law Institute (US). Bruch set the discussion by explaining how the use of resources vary across the lifecycle of conflicts and the implications for maintaining peace.  This initial explanation served as a roadmap for the following sessions around the themes of natural resources exploitation, environmental legislation and nature governance, biodiversity conservation and local perspectives. 

Check the introduction to the conference: 

Discussing diverse cases 

In the seminars, the current crisis of Colombia’s environmental impacts in the post-conflict phase, the challenges for conservation and economic development, and some reflections on the role of development and neoliberalism in peacebuilding were recurring themes. These issues were based on empirical and desk-research of cases in Colombia, Northern Ireland, East Africa, and the Middle East. 

For instance, Sean Brennan, a researcher from Queen’s University of Belfast, used the example of Northern Ireland to explain the ‘double transition’ -towards peace and neoliberalism- with the export-oriented economic approach in natural resources governance. He stressed how this intervention did not consider social inclusion and reconciliation.

On the side of conservation, Elaine Hsiao, a Global Challenges Fellow at the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID), highlighted the need of explicitly including peace and conflict resolution dimensions in Transboundary Conservation Area Agreements, such as Parks for Peace, for the cases of the Greater Virunga Landscape between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda; and Kidepo Landscape, between South Sudan and Uganda. 

Rethinking views on nature 

In the closing plenary, the discussion allowed the participants to step outside their professional role by discussing personal meanings about nature. The exercise sought to challenge the strong view on nature, as a resource for exploitation, found it in the literature of the field of environmental peacebuilding.

“When we think on a personal level about nature, we don’t talk about natural resources; but in our research work we do. So, what would we gain by using other concepts? What would happen if instead of natural resources we use, for instance, the concept of ecologies?”, inquired the researcher Maria Andrea Nardi, affiliated to the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and member of The Nature of Peace project.

With this final note, the discussion revolved around questions of how the perception of researchers from the Global North about natural resources can influence their research in post-conflict societies, studied in the Global South.

What would happen if instead of natural resources we use, for instance, the concept of ecologies?”

Maria Andrea Nardi, affiliated to the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and member of The Nature of Peace project

The Nature of Peace Conference at Lund University enriched our analysis for the literature review we did in 2018 about definitions of peace and nature present in the current academic endeavors. Especially, the event offered an open and interactive platform for sharing ideas and concepts of current research on the links between the natural environment and the processes of securing a stable and lasting peace in many regions around the world.

In the video, check the closing plenary of the event:

November 18, 2019

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The Nature of Peace Conference: streaming option

We are happy to announce that large parts of the conference held this week will be streamed for those unable to attend physically.

If you’re interested in attending the conference through streaming, please send an email with subject “Streaming NoP” to lina.eklund[at] and we’ll provide you with the link and the password.



April 24, 2018

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Conference Meetings


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