Structural transformation of the countryside, a priority

May 8th 2021

By: Tatiana Orozco García

With the collaboration of: Daniel Enrique Cantor Amaya, Alexander Cuartas Acosta,  Laura Sánchez Galindo

The Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas in 2016 recognized the countryside as the main protagonist of the conflict. In fact, 30% of the Colombian population lives in the countryside and depends on activities related to the primary sector. A sector where the problems have always been related to land ownership, land distribution, exclusion, and the backwardness in the development of the country's rural areas. This is so important that 85.4% of the total resources from the Peace Agreement implementation were allocated to the Comprehensive Rural Reform (RRI) (Contraloría, 2017). 110.6 billion pesos (29 million USD) were made available for the RRI to be spent between 2017 and 2031. Therefore, the last verification report issued by CERAC - CINEP in February 2021 is worrying. The report points to purely normative advances and little progress in execution.

Yet, it is essential to review the situation with respect to inequality in land distribution, land use, peasant labor conditions, and rural poverty and to analyze progress in the implementation of the RRI four years after the agreement was signed in Havana. 

Studio Wey

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, concerning inequality in land tenure, 53% of peasants in Colombia do not own the land they work. The Gini index for land distribution (which has a range between 0 and 1, where 1 represents maximum inequality and zero represents no inequality), has remained at 0.87 for more than 60 years (National Agricultural Census 2014), well above the already scaled Latin American coefficient located at 0.79. In other words, the land is still in the hands of only a few.

Additionally, in relation to the size of the land, in the results of the National Agricultural Census conducted in 2014, the increase in the number of Agricultural Production Units (UPAs) smaller than 5 hectares, with respect to the previous censuses of 1960 and 1970, is striking. This type of UPAs represented 70.4% of the total amount in the last census but they only occupy 2% of the dispersed rural area. In comparison, UPAs of more than 500 hectares represented 0.4% of the total amount but occupy 77.3% of the rural areas.

In addition to the inequality in the distribution of land, there is the problematic labor situation of people in the countryside, and the significant poverty gap between rural and urban areas. Although the unemployment rate in the year 2019 was 7% in rural areas, below the 13% recorded in urban areas (GEIH, 2019), the high rate of the informality of rural workers is a cause for concern. It reaches levels above 80%, far exceeding the national average of 61.5%. The above denotes the difficult working conditions most workers in rural areas have faced for years and a system that is not designed to overcome the volatility of self-employment or day labor which predominates in rural areas (Otero-Cortes 2019).

Finally, reviewing the income poverty data published by DANE for 2019, in the rural area, poverty increased from 46% in 2018 to 47.5% in 2019, and extreme poverty increased from 16.2% in 2018 to 19.3% in 2019. This translates to poverty in rural areas being 1.47 times urban poverty. While this deterioration is closely related to the difficult labor conditions in the countryside, more structural problems persist. According to figures from the Rural Agricultural Planning Unit - UPRA, of the Ministry of Agriculture, women represent 48.2% of the rural population. They are also the ones with the lowest labor participation and low wages because most of their work at home is unpaid.

It is evident that the rural conditions in Colombia, which constitute a fundamental historical reason for the conflict, required immediate prioritization in the peace agreement to effectively improve the quality of life in the countryside. With the RRI, new regulations were proposed to formalize land tenure and access to land, the participation of its population, and the prioritization of municipalities highly affected by the conflict and lagging in development. After four years, progress has been mainly related to formal approvals of the regulations, but delays and lack of clarity for implementation persist.

Jan Kronies

In general, it is of concern that according to the report of the treasury inspector's office in July 2020, in none of the years of implementation have all the resources foreseen been executed, which would translate into 25 years of implementation instead of the 10 years stipulated in the peace agreement (Contraloría, 2020). Although most of the resources were associated with the RRI (59% between 2017 and 2019), the report also notes that they have been mostly allocated for education, infrastructure, land adequacy, and solidarity economy.  Only 2% of the resources are related to pillars of land property. Concerning the proposed mechanisms, the most significant advances have been linked to the approval and execution of infrastructure, primarily roads, in the municipalities prioritized for the post-conflict - PDETs. For the additional mechanisms, access to land, and the National Plans for Integral Rural Reform - PNRRI, the advances have been reduced to the normative regulation.

For access to land, the following are of concern: the Land Fund for the free distribution of three million hectares and the Agrarian Jurisdiction and conflict resolution creation. A little more than 1 million hectares have entered the land fund, but there is no record of free delivery to a single landless peasant (Contraloría, 2020). For legal security of land tenure and legal resolution of land-related conflicts, the Agrarian Jurisdiction was part of the norms to be approved during the first year of implementation. However, instead of having judges, magistrates, and tools for solving agrarian and rural conflicts, it was decided to create a specialty in the ordinary and contentious administrative jurisdictions. The bill was barely processed in Congress in December 2020 (CERAC-CINEP, 2021), and if approved, it will take at least 30 months to start having that specialty. 

Finally, for the National Plans for Integral Rural Reform - PNRRI that seek to support income generation for the farmers, family, and community economy, there are a total of seven approved out of the 16 planned. The CERAR-CINEP report (2021) points out that although it was intended that technical documents and technical roundtables would be developed by 2022, concrete actions to developed this area are not clear.

In conclusion, many concerns persist about the concrete advances framed in implementing the peace agreement to improve the quality of life of the rural population and structurally transform the conditions of inequity that have historically defined the Colombian countryside. Let us hope that this time we give the countryside an absolute priority.


PMI (2017). Plan macro de implementación del acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera. Technical report, Gobierno de Colombia 

GEIH (2019). Gran Encuesta Integrada de Hogares. Departamentop Administrativo de Estadística (DANE)

Otero-Cortés, A., & Otero-Cortés, A. (2019). El mercado laboral rural en colombia, 2010-2019. Documento de Trabajo sobre Econíoma Regional y Urbana; No. 281. 
Contraloría (2020). Cuarto informe sobre la ejecución de los recursos y cumplimiento de las metas del componente para la paz del Plan de Pluralidad de Inversiones. Contraloría general de la república. 
CERAC-CIJNEP (2021). Octavo iónforme de verificacin de la Implementación del Acuerdo de Paz en Colombia. Secretaría Técnica del Componente Internacional de Verificación CINEP/PPP-CERAC