The ZIDRES : Another Failed Attempt

Original Source :,-otro-intento-fallido.html

Article by Enrique Herrera Araujo, “The ZIDRES: Another Failed Attempt” dated July 27, 2015

Translated by Jessica Schwartz and edited by Jack Laun, CSN volunteer translators

These special zones of rural development did not work in the past in Colombia and they do not have how nor why to function now. Here are the reasons for this new announced failure.

Circular History:

The Zonas de Interes de Desarrollo Rural, Economico y Social (Zones of Interest for Rural, Economic and Social Development), or ZIDRES, would be rural areas where campesinos (small-scale farmers) could associate themselves with major investors to advance agricultural and livestock production for reciprocal benefit. The Santos government holds a great deal of hope in these zones as a means of addressing the needs of landless campesinos, while at the same time promoting the necessary modernization of the countryside.

But as the ZIDRES are conceived in the draft of proposed Law 223 of 2015—which a short while ago was passed by the full Chamber of Representatives and is now being considered in the Senate—they will suffer the same fate as that of the Zones of Economic Development (ZDE) created by Law 160 of 1994; in 20 years not one such Zone has been created.

This land is occupied, although it has not been legalized, titled or formalized, and in these conditions it is hard to imagine that a significant amount of private foreign investment would be made in these proposed ZIDRES.

Colombia has experienced the tragic fate of repeating itself to exhaustion, of choking on its deeds, of moving forward and then backward, as if history were a type of wheel which kept turning or like a dog which in trying to bite its tail moves in a circle without end or beginning.

This has happened so far with violence, with winters, with embezzlement, and with so much other “news” of this country of ours. It seems that the ZIDRES will suffer the same fate.

The Mistaken Supposition:

The proposed ZiDRES bill proposes that private initiative and investment promote rural development in certain abandoned and remote zones of the country, just as happened in the second half of the Twentieth Century—although in other agro-ecological conditions and in places closer to the centers of consumption. Proposed law 223 of 2015 will remain a dead letter for several reasons, but the principal one is that it is based upon a mistaken supposition.

That moment marked the beginning of the modernization of agriculture, with the increased use of machinery, the application of new technologies, the emergence of a new business organization, and international marketing of products such as coffee, flowers, cane sugar, bananas, and palm oil.

The intention to deliver rural development to private investment in these specific areas is valid and necessary (as long as it is regulated), and surely this goal becomes more pressing today given the government’s fiscal difficulties, which will reduce the budget for the agricultural sector by nearly 50% from 2015 to 2016, from 3.3 to 1.4 billion pesos.

Therefore the ZIDRES project directs its batteries towards the Orinoco region and especially the Altillanura, a territory which offers a broad availability of lands for agricultural use, where the cost per hectare continues to be low (although it has been increasing) and where there is great environmental richness.

Also in this region there still coexist the following:

The absence of clear rules for private investment in rural areas;
High informality in rural property ownership.
Legal uncertainty over the land
Difficulties in incorporating indigenous and black in productive alliances.

The ZIDRES seek precisely to intervene in these types of zones, classified as remote, with low population density, high levels of poverty, high demand for investment in transport infrastructure and marketing, and that require because of low soil fertility and agro-ecological conditions, economies of scale and megaprojects which maximize productivity and reduce unit costs.

However, these goals will remain as no more than good intentions, and good intentions pave the road to hell.

The project assumes that the untitled lands where ZIDRES would be created are empty and that nobody occupies these lands and exercises authority over them. But this is not true, and therein lies the project’s great mistake.

The land is occupied, although not legally or formally titled. And in these conditions it is difficult to imagine large private investment under ZIDRES. Therefore, before creating any “development zone of interest”, a massive program of formalization of rural property would have to be completed. In that way legal clarity would be provided on land titles in a territory which lacks them and this would permit negotiating with campesinos in better conditions for participating in a productive alliance with businesses.

The Reasons for Failure:

Other reasons exist that portend the failure of the ZIDRES:

The ZIDRES bill does not profile one or more associative models for the productive alliances between large, medium and small producers which would incorporate more than one UAF (Family Agricultural Unit) of baldio origin and which would follow what was stipulated by the Constitutional Court in its Sentence C-644 of 2012, so that the campesino would not be
separated from the land, but would be engaged in the project’s activities, would participate in the profits and improve his living conditions.

The ZIDRES bill does not recognize the actors of the region.

The bill does not say anything about Sentence C-644 and does not establish rules of the game so that large investment arrives at a zone where the UAF of baldio origin are abundant and legal insecurity about rural property is common. This situation signifies too much legal uncertainty in the business world, where legal clarity is needed in order to be able to invest.

Even more, the lack of existence of a model of regulated association was due to the notorious “incident” of Riopaila Castilla, Cargill, Monica Seeds, Poligrow and other companies which fell into the accumulation of UAF baldios, and which led to the resignation of Carlos Urrutia, Santos’ Ambassador to the United States.

The ZIDRES bill seeks to provide a concession or lease, but never to adjudicate or title, the baldios for agricultural and livestock use. That is to say, it wishes to maintain extensive zones of the country in informality of title or as property of the Nation, and in that case the State would continue to be an owner on paper.

Furthermore, the State should not keep maintaining zones dedicated to agricultural and livestock production, especially when the Nation is the largest landowner in Colombia, possessing more than 450,000 hectares in the National Agrarian Fund, although those hectares are occupied and exploited by others while the Colombian Institute of Rural Development
(INCODER) and the Ministry of Agriculture are the ones who pay the real estate taxes on them.

Public policy should seek titling of productive lands, and the State should end its ownership of these properties and establish a country of landowners. A separate issue is if the areas in question are forest reserves, environmental protection areas or strategic military zones. In these cases, the Nation should reserve the lands as its own, but in the other cases, it should adjudicate the lands to the many campesinos without land who exist in Colombia.

In Colombia’s agrarian policy the dominant paradigm is of centralized development, “top down”, and with a sectoral approach. This paradigm has not only not yielded the expected results, but it has in fact produced the opposite results.

Therefore, one cannot understand why, taking into account the foregoing, the ZIDRES are declared from Bogota and in Bogota. There the Rural Agricultural Planning Unit (UPRA) will carry out a technical study; the national government, through CONPES, will delimit the zones; and the Council of Ministers will approve the ZIDRES by decree. If the national government is declaring to the four winds that rural development will have a territorial approach, the question arises, What role will regional and local institutions play in the constitution of the ZIDRES? As things are planned, the department, the municipality, the agricultural organizations, the campesinos, the unions and the Departmental Councils of Rural Development (CONSEA), among others, would be excluded from decisions they should make and which affect them.

By and For the Regions.

Therefore, it is fitting to call attention to the document Rural Development with a Territorial Focus of the United Nations says: “The policy of rural development requires a lot of knowledge and this not only exists in the illustrated technocracy at a central level. Much of it is in the regions and localities of the country, in formal and informal organizations, n public and private institutions, in the centers of investigation and thought of the territories, with their differences of visions and conceptions.”

The proposed ZIDRES law ignores the actors in the region, who are the ones most familiar with the territory because the closest read on it. Little will be done if the state of occupancy of these lands is not known and if clear rules are not established for private investment in areas which originally were baldios, through associative models which include the campesino in labor and productivity terms.

Nor will they get very far if they do not formalize rural property and if the State seeks to keep being the title-holder or owner of productive lands which it should adjudicate to private persons (including campesinos).

Note: The author, Enrique Herrera Araujo, is a lawyer who specializes in regional development, and has a master of arts in public policy. He is an expert in lands and rural development, and is an advisor in Postconflict.

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