Living the peasant way of life in Santa Cruz de la Colina

After a longer posting-pause in which I finalized my first research phase, identifying supporters of rural grassroots development initiatives in the Province of Soto, here a new update of my activities in Colombia:

Time is flying and I am finalizing my second research phase, asking grassroots development initiatives to evaluate the support they are receiving to build joint capacities. To be able to speak with rural development initiatives, I was invited to spend a week with a peasant family in the vereda St. Ana of Santa Cruz de la Colina.

Santa Cruz de la Colina, Matanza, Colombia

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DERREG film Westerkwartier

Over the last 3 years, we have been carrying out research in the Westerkwartier concerning global influences on rural regional development.

The Westerkwartier, Groningen Province, The Netherlands

This research was carried out as part of the European project DERREG. The Westerkwartier was involved in two work packages of the project: 1. Investigating arrangements through which public support for joint learning and innovation is provided to development initiatives active in the region (WP4) and 2. Investigating global networking activities among rural businesses in the Westerkwartier (WP1).

In the summer and fall of this year, three film students from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales made their way around Europe to visit all case study areas and to film the present development activities. In the Westerkwartier, the film focuses on our research conducted for WP4 (joint learning and innovation). In this film, several supporters as well as the beneficiaries were interviewed. Their stories describe the development activities in the Westerkwartier very lively and give a feeling of the enthusiastic and motivated engagement of the denizens in developing their Westerkwartier. The film is available on YouTube and can be viewed here. Enjoy!

Excursion to Los Maklenkes nature reserve

Last Monday (21st of November), I participated in a field trip to Los Maklenkes nature reserve on top of the mountain La Judía in the municipality of Floridablanca, close to Bucaramanga. This nature reserve is managed by the peasants living around the reserve and, amongst others, sponsored by the Dutch state lottery. The field trip was part of the festival for urban-rural dialogue, in which I participated the previous weekend.

Los Maklenkes Nature Reserve, Floridablanca, Colombia

The day started with a gathering of all participants to make our way up the mountain to the nature reserve. It was an adventurous drive with 16 people in one Jeep, going up steeper and steeper mud-paths. I dared not to look to the right where the mountain was falling as steep to the ground as the road was crawling up.

Upon arrival at the entrance of the park, we were greeted by the local peasants and informed about the history of the nature reserve and its aim to protect biodiversity and water reservoirs. Following the introduction, we switched into our rubber boots and commenced with a three hour hiking tour through the reservoir.

Getting ready for our hike

Here, we saw the organic agro-forest farming activities which are being initiated under the facilitation of Fundaexpresión, a local NGO for promoting participatory research activities and education in peasant communities. I saw plantain and banana trees, coffee plants and avocado trees.

Banana tree

Following our hike, we settled in the communal house of the reserve to discuss nature protection activities in the high Andes and their impact on the livelihoods of peasants. At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that the provision of information and the creation of knowledge at local level was the most crucial point in enabling local peasants to deal with the resulting pressures on their livelihoods. The provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building were, however, regarded as poor. It was agreed that more attention must be given to the provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building at local level should peasants be enabled to deal with pressures on their livelihoods resulting from nature protection activities.

II Festival de Expresiones Urbanas y Rurales: Diálogo por la Diversidad y Buen Vivir, Bucaramanga, Colombia

Last weekend (18-20 of November 2011), I was able to participate in the II Festival for urban-rural dialogue in the barrio La Joya in Bucaramanga, Colombia. The festival was visited by peasants (such as fishers, women groups, and farmers), indigenous groups as well as knowledge brokers from all over Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Cuba. In addition, urban citizens from Bucaramanga, and La Joya in particularly, participated in the event. This mix of participants created a valuable learning environment for everyone (including me), and resulted in new ideas and organisations amongst the participants. In a way, this festival reminded me of the rural cafés I visited in the Westerkwartier, the Netherlands.

The overall theme of the event was the environmental conflicts in rural Colombia resulting on the one hand from the numerous (and often multinational) economic exploitation activities (e.g. gold mining, hydroelectric power activities and monoculture) and on the other hand from conservation activities.

Poster presented at festival

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On the trail of regional learning in rural Colombia

Over the last two and a half years, we have been investigating arrangements to support regional learning in various rural areas across Europe (EU-project DERREG). This intense period of field work and data analysis has given me a first idea of just how complex this subject is, how diverse supportive arrangements can be, and how dependent their success is on the regional contexts in which they are implemented.

As if this complexity is not already enough to ponder about, my curiosity and interest in mutual learning for development has urged me to also investigate this topic outside the European Union. I was particularly interested in questioning how rural regional learning is supported in, what is commonly referred to as, “developing” countries. So, here I am in Colombia,

Downtown Bogotá, Colombia

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“Urban Development with Rural Consequences”

As part of the course Understanding Rural Development, a group of master students from France, Cameroon, Taiwan and the Netherlands plus staff from the Rural Sociology Group went on a study trip to Nijmegen-Lent to learn more on the developments in this area. The group was met by Karolien Andela, from the Municipality of Nijmegen. Gathered around a scale model of the area in the information centre De Waalsprong, she informed us on projects such as: ‘Space for the river Waal’, ‘the Waal Jump’ (new urbanisation in Lent), the ‘Waal front’ (reconstruction of an industrial area) and landscape development.

Her story revolved around the central meaning of the river Waal in the expansion of the city. The carrying capacity of the river is becoming too limited for the amount of water flowing through. In 1995 this already led to flooding in several parts of the city and as the water level tends to rise this is expected to have more negative consequences in the future. This is of course a concern to both local government as well as its citizens. In the past, the response to rising water levels in the Netherlands has been to strengthen dikes and increase its height, but this is not a long term solution. Therefore on a national level, the government decided to change its approach to this threat and introduced the idea to give more space to the river (“Geef de Rivier de Ruimte”) meaning to give the river more capacity. This is done for example by returning flood lands to the river, construct side dams, dig channels along the polder or streamline vegetation. The national government appointed 39 spots where this concept should be applied, concerning the rivers Maas, Waal and Lek. Most of these projects are located in predominantly rural areas but in this case it is right in the middle of a city.

In the case of Nijmegen, the suggested plan by the government entailed to relocate the existing dike more land inwards and in addition dig a channel in front of it to increase the capacity of the river and thus lower the water level. As a result, an island is created which will give opportunities for housing, recreation and cultural activities as well as nature development.

At first this plan was faced with a lot of public opposition as it implied the removal of houses and farming enterprises as well as other negative impacts such as a rise in the ground water level. The group of protesters even came up with an alternative plan which was accepted by the city council but eventually rejected by the national government who favoured the original plan. Initially the city was reluctant with this decision but managed to change it into an opportunity for urban development and even get the necessary public support. One of the factors enabling this public support was the creation of a platform that is involved  in different stages of the plan development and gives voice to various interest groups including a group of affected households.

The group from Wageningen was interested in aspects like: What is the effect of the plans on local farmers? Are the planned green spaces in the new part of the city going to be interconnected or just loose patches of green? How do the citizens of the village of Lent feel about the plans as they suddenly becoming part of a city? How are the urban planners going to create a shared feeling of identity between the inhabitants of the old and the new part of the city? What are the effects of the economic developments on the plan? And are sustainability concepts  taken into account in the design of the area and its houses?

After this informative talk by the Municipal spokesperson, the group took a short stroll over the bicycle bridge that connects the city of Nijmegen with the village of Lent. From here the group could see, with a bit of imagination, what the effects of the planned developments will be. Suddenly it became clear which households were going to be on the  “wrong” side of the new dike and will not be able to escape the new course of the river.

To voice your opinion about the plans you can interact with the project team on twitter ( or follow the developments on YouTube ( The work is planned to start in 2013.

Rural regional learning in the Comarca de Verín, Galicia, Spain

Within the European research project DERREG, we are investigating how public policy can best be arranged to stimulate capacity building within development initiatives operating at grassroots level in rural areas across the European Union.

To find out how public policy interventions can best be arranged, we and our research partners have spoken to various stakeholders in different rural regions across the European Union to find out how they intend to support and facilitate learning and innovation and- most importantly- how the support and facilitation agreed upon is actually provided to the grassroots development initiatives. To find out what is working well and what isn’t working well yet, we have spoken to a number of grassroots development initiators in the participating DERREG case study areas and ask them to evaluate the current support and facilitation received.

To be able to compare the results obtained in the different case study areas, I have travelled to Alytus County, Lithuania in October and Oberlausitz, Germany in December of 2010. In January of this year, I was able to visit our colleague Lola Dominguez Garcia of  Universidade de Vigo in the Comarca de Verín in the South-West of Galicia, Spain. In this blog, we intend to share our experiences. Continue reading

Multifunctionele landbouw is een sector met toekomst

Ondernemen in de multifunctionele landbouw is niet voor stoppers, maar biedt juist toekomstperspectief. Het vervlechten van nieuwe activiteiten (zoals zorg, recreatie, educatie, huisverkoop etc.) met de agrarische productie zorgt voor een aanzienlijke bijdrage aan het gezinsinkomen en verdere ontwikkeling van de agrarische activiteiten. Dit blijkt uit het onderzoek ‘Dynamiek en Robuustheid van Multifunctionele Landbouw’ dat in opdracht van het ministerie van EL&I werd uitgevoerd door de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen University. Het onderzoek is gebaseerd op diepte-interviews met 120 multifunctionele landbouwondernemers. De ondernemers komen uit het Brabantse Groene Woud, Flevoland, Laag-Holland (Noord-Holland), het Zeeuwse Walcheren/Zuid-Beveland, De Drentse Wolden en de Noordelijke Friese Wouden.


Uit de interviews blijkt ten eerste dat bij de komst van nieuwe activiteiten vooral positieve drijfveren een rol spelen, meer dan een te laag inkomen. Betrokken boeren en boerinnen hebben vaak behoefte aan meer contact met burgers, consumenten en de maatschappij. Ten tweede blijkt dat op de onderzochte bedrijven gemiddeld bijna drie verschillende activiteiten voorkomen, in verschillende combinaties.

De verschillende combinaties van multifunctionele activiteiten op de onderzochte bedrijven zorgen voor een gemiddelde omzet van 195.000 euro (aanvullend op de agrarische omzet). De activiteiten leveren – met gemiddeld 40 procent – een aanzienlijke bijdrage aan het totale gezinsinkomen. Sinds de start van de nieuwe activiteiten is er bovendien op het overgrote deel van de bedrijven sprake van een positieve wisselwerking met verdere agrarische ontwikkeling. Agrarische omzet, grondgebruik en arbeidsinzet blijft behouden of groeit.

De robuustheid van multifunctionele bedrijvigheid blijkt verder ook uit de positieve beoordeling van het totale bedrijfsinkomen door boeren, groeiende omzetten en inkomensbetekenis en de geleidelijke uitbreiding van het aantal nieuwe bedrijfsactiviteiten in de tijd. Ook de totale arbeidsinzet op betrokken bedrijven neemt geleidelijk aan toe. “Multifunctionele landbouw is dus niet alleen van betekenis voor betrokken bedrijven, maar zeker ook voor de plattelandseconomie als geheel”, aldus projectleider Han Wiskerke.


Het onderzoek laat zien dat er grote verschillen bestaan in dynamiek en robuustheid van onderzochte bedrijven. Dit wordt enerzijds verklaard door regionale verschillen, zoals de aanwezigheid van sterke samenwerkingsverbanden als belangrijke succesfactor. Daarnaast maken ook meer bedrijfsgebonden factoren verschil. Te denken valt aan verschillen in bedrijfsstrategie zoals de mate van investeren, het wel of niet werken met personeel en in hoeverre er wisselwerking plaatsvindt tussen de verschillende bedrijfsactiviteiten.


De Taskforce Multifunctionele Landbouw zet zich namens het ministerie van EL&I in voor de verdere ontwikkeling van zorglandbouw, streekproducten, recreatie, agrarische kinderopvang en educatie en natuurbeheer. Kenniscoördinator Arjan Monteny: ,,Het onderzoek toont aan dat multifunctionele landbouw een stevig fundament heeft: ondernemers durven erin te investeren en behalen rendement uit de nieuwe bedrijfsactiviteiten. Het is mooi dat dit vaak gepaard gaat met verdere ontwikkeling van de agrarische activiteiten. Multifunctionele landbouw is daarmee onlosmakelijk verbonden met de agrarische productie. Het is duidelijk geen exit-strategie.”


Het onderzoeksrapport is te downloaden via de website van het onderzoeksproject.

Bron: deze blog is een overname van een gezamenlijk persbericht van de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie en de Taskforce Multifunctionele Landbouw

Wanted: Students for an international experience!

Every year, the Rural Sociology Group participates in a two week intensive programme on rural development in the EU. A diverse group of students from various European countries (a.o. Portugal, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Slovenia) work together on a case study. Through lectures and field trips scientific and practical knowledge will be aquired and then implemented in the case study analysis. See past experiences of Marlies, Petra and Wiebke
This year the IP is organised by the university of Padova and takes place in San Vito Di Cadore in the Italian Dolomites. The general topic is: “the role of agriculture in territorial identity and competitiveness of rural areas”. More specificly, the general question is related to how these (territorial identity and competitiveness) contribute to rural development in the Dolomites (Alps region). For more information on the content see below. 
Are you a student of Wageningen University and looking for an international learning experience? Then sign up for two intensive weeks from 3 to 16 April 2011! For subsciption or more information contact Els Hegger ( 

Rural regional learning in Alytus County, Lithuania

Last week (October 21-22, 2010), I was given the opportunity to visit our DERREG project partner Emilija Kairyte (Institute NeVork) in her case study area of Alytus County in the South of Lithuania. In this blog, Emilija and I would like to share our experiences.

Like the Dutch DERREG case study region Westerkwartier in the province of Groningen, Alytus County comprises four rural municipalities. In terms of demography and economy, both areas are very different from each other. For example, the Westerkwartier has a population density of 173.4 inhabitants/ km², whereas the population density of Alytus County is estimated as 32.6 inhabitants/ km². While the Westerkwartier has witnessed an increase in citizens over the last years, amongst them a large number of young families, rural development in Alytus County is strongly affected by an increasing out-migration and an aging population. Living standards differ considerably. In the Westerkwartier, the GDP per capita was estimated as 55.400 Euro in 2006 while the GDP in Alytus County was estimated as 19.100 Litai in 2007 (equals 5.531,74 Euro, October 2010). Also in geographical terms the two regions are very different. The Westerkwartier is characterized by open grasslands in the North and small fields with framing hedgerows in the South. Alytus County is renowned for its vast forests and lakes.

During my visit to Alytus County, I accompanied Emilija to two workshops, one for the LAG and other public administration authorities on the 21st of October and one for rural initators and actors on the 22nd of October, which she organized in order to evaluate existing arrangements for support and facilitation of joint learning-by-doing activities within rural development initiatives. At these workshops, I presented supportive arrangements and benefiting rural development initiatives that we found during our investigations in the Westerkwartier and which we evaluated together with local stakeholders at a workshop organized by the Rural Sociology Group in the Westerkwartier on the 18th of October.

Meeting with rural development initiative supporters in Alytus District LAG office, Alytus

To my surprise, both regional learning supporters (including the LAG) and rural initiators did not see striking differences between the existing arrangements and support given to rural development initiatives in Alytus County and the Westerkwartier. Emilija and I however learned that there are some basic differences in the foundation and operation of the Countryside House (Plattelandshuis) in Westerkwartier and Seniūnija (NUTS5) in Alytus County. Continue reading