Executive summary

Colombia experienced remarkable economic growth over the last two decades, almost doubling the size of its economy and growing nearly three times faster than the OECD average between 2000 and 2021. This growth helped Colombia record the sixth-highest reduction in regional inequalities in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita among OECD countries between 2008 and 2020. However, despite this progress, regional income inequalities remain the highest across OECD countries in 2020, with rural areas recording the highest monetary and multidimensional poverty rates.

Colombian rural areas are undergoing profound transformations. Agriculture is gradually reducing its weight in the national and rural economy. Despite still employing most rural workers (62%), the sector’s share of national GDP declined by more than half over the past decades, from 14% in 1995 to 6% in 2020. Rural communities are also facing the increasing impacts of climate change (floods and long dry seasons) as well as challenges to adapt to the digital transition.

Against this backdrop, rural policies have also evolved over the past years. New planning instruments were developed to align national plans to local interests (e.g.  Territorial Pacts and Development Programs with a Territorial Approach) and the ongoing Integral Rural Reform (IRR) of the 2016 peace agreement has provided building blocks for a place-based approach to rural development, but still needs further advancement in its implementation.

Despite these improvements, Colombia’s rural policy framework still applies a narrow vision to rural development, mainly focused on primary activities, social assistance and security, as a legacy of an urban-centred development policy. The rural policy approach is mainly sectoral, characterised by low levels of coordination among ministries that develop rural policies, fragmented implementation of rural strategies at the local level, and national policies that still associate rural with agricultural development.

Rural regions in Colombia have significant untapped opportunities for sustainable and inclusive growth. Their population is on average younger than the OECD and contains one of the most diverse ethnic mixes in South America. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world and the sixth in terms of volume of freshwater. Its rural regions also provide fertile land, a variety of minerals and strong potential for wind and solar energy. The country’s polycentric territorial structure and local value chains of both traditional sectors and emerging ones (eco/ethno tourism or bio and renewable energy) can leverage these assets and provide new income sources for rural communities.

However, several historical structural challenges have undermined development and well-being standards in rural Colombia. These challenges include high rates of informal land tenure and land concentration, unfinished land restitution processes, violence in rural communities, poor transport infrastructure and low access to quality broadband, healthcare and education. The lack of rural information (e.g. untitled public lands or tertiary roads) coupled with low civil society participation in rural policy and weak capacity of local governments represent additional bottlenecks for effective policy responses and implementation.

Addressing the cross-cutting challenges and mobilising the variety of assets in rural regions will require a broader rural policy framework with better inter-ministerial co-ordination to harmonise sectoral policies, that can prioritise the main rural needs and better involve local actors in policy implementation. The country already has elements in place for this comprehensive approach, including the national sectoral plans set by the IRR and specific national policies to diversify the rural economy (e.g. sustainable tourism and energy transition) and support agriculture competitiveness (National Agricultural Innovation System). The government has also established strategies to address pressing rural challenges, including the development of a land use information system (the Multipurpose Cadastre, Catastro Multipropósito), the modernisation of the land restitution process and the elaboration of a national multimodal transport plan.

To attain greater well-being for rural communities and equal development opportunities across the country, the review identifies 15 recommendations structured around 3 key pillars: i) creating a long-term and comprehensive national rural policy focused on people’s well-being, that harmonises the IRR with sectoral economic policies; ii) prioritising actions on key bottlenecks for rural development, with better alignment of national policies to rural characteristics and greater financial and human capacity to ongoing initiatives; and iii) improving the design and implementation of rural policy, supported by an inter-ministerial coordination body for rural policy and greater involvement of rural communities in policy implementation (see table below).

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