Mechanics of Colombia’s Land Reform

Hobeth Martínez Carrillo

Colombia’s 16 Development Plans with a Territorial Approach (PDET). CC BY SA4.0

LAND AND TERRITORIALITY in Colombia are quite complex because of the various layers of constitutional and legal regulations, the concrete juxtaposition of different types of lands (i.e. conservation and indigenous reserves), and the interests involved.

The 2016 Final Peace Agreement, while attempting to tackle structural problems facing rural Colombia, mirrors such complexity. Its Comprehensive Rural Reform encompasses three main programs, organized around the primary goal of developing vast rural regions inhabited by peasants, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities that have remained economically and politically excluded from the rest of the country. This is what, in the agreement, was called the “territorial approach.”(1)

The Colombian state committed to gathering three million hectares of land in a land fund for redistribution among landless peasants. The Access and Use of Land Program also involves legalizing seven million hectares of land for those without legal titles for the parcels they have been working, even for decades.

Between the process of access and legalization, the agreement set the goal of acquiring 10 million hectares of land within a 12-year period. Additional important policies included the state’s commitment to updating the national land registry (known as cadaster), the creation of new peasant reserve areas,(2) and the establishment of an agrarian jurisdiction.

The Development Plans with a Territorial Approach, known as PDET by the Spanish acronym, consist of 16 documents designed to plan the development of an equal number of rural regions across the country. These regions were chosen based on criteria such as the high impact of the armed conflict, the presence of illegal crops, economic backwardness, and impoverishment of their inhabitants.

Peasants, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities drafted the plans in a participatory manner through a methodology envisaged by the state. The main objective of these plans was to allow the concerned communities, whose lives the policy would directly impact, to decide on the kind of rural development they wanted for their territories.

Finally, National Plans for the Comprehensive Rural Reform, consisting of 16 public policies of national outreach designed and implemented by the central government.

These plans were supposed to complement the other two actions by providing public goods, services and infrastructure lacking in most rural areas. These include building roads, providing internet and electricity, and offering rural education and health, among others.

In essence, these three kinds of policy interventions make up the Comprehensive Rural Reform of the 2016 Peace Agreement and have been implemented since early 2017, although with some obstacles posed by the stark opposition of some political opponents to the agreement (like former right-wing president Ivan Duque).

The Petro-Márquez administration has committed to strengthening the implementation of those policies through their Rural Reform. There are, however, some nuances worth noticing.

The Government’s Vision

The national government has placed Rural Reform at the center of its agenda. For the self-labeled “government of change” (el gobierno del cambio), the broader economic development of the country demands a radical transformation in the unequal structure of land distribution.

A reindustrialization policy, with the state adopting a more active role in redirecting the economy, also demands a parallel policy of revitalizing the rural sector that has been significantly impacted by the armed conflict, lack of public investment in the last decades, and prioritization of the export-led agriculture via big agro-industry.

Having this goal as its starting point, the government has put much of its effort in acquiring the three million hectares of land for the land fund.

To achieve this, Petro’s administration attempts to have its cake and eat it too. The government carries out the core of the rural reform, acquiring the three million hectares of land for the land fund, without stepping too harshly on the interest of one of the most powerful political and economic agents in Colombia, the large landowners.

It seeks to do this by choosing to buy lands at market prices, instead of employing other more contested policies such as land confiscation, for which there is a legal framework and an institutional path available.

Thus early on, the government initiated dialogues with members of the right-wing Centre Democratic political party and representatives of the most important ranchers’ association (Fedegan), which ultimately led to the signing of an agreement in October 2022.(3) By the terms of this agreement, the ranchers committed to offering lands to the national government, which would purchase and redistribute them among landless peasants.

Rural reform discussed in today’s Colombia therefore encompasses various policies, but at its core is the concern for redistributing land that is not being adequately used for food production.

This policy’s aim stems from the peace agreement, but is also grounded in the progressive vision of the present leftist government, which views land redistribution as a prerequisite for the larger economic development of the country.


  1. Sergio Jaramillo Caro, “The Possibility of Peace,” in The Colombian Peace Agreement: A Multidisciplinary Assessment, ed. Jorge Luis Fabra Zamora, Andrés Molina-Ochoa, and Nancy Doubleday, Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2021), 25-44.
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  2. The Zonas de Reserva Campesina, by their Spanish name, are areas of the country granted to peasant organizations, which manage them collectively and according to their own economic purposes. They were a legal victory for the peasant movement in the early 1990s, but until very recently, they have remained scarcely implemented. Under Petro-Márquez’s administration, these zones are receiving attention again. Five out of 12 of these areas have been created in the last two years.
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  3. Gobierno Nacional de Colombia — FEDEGAN, “Acuerdo Para La Materialización de La Paz Territorial. Compra Directa de Tierras Para La Construcción de La Reforma Rural Integral” (Gobierno Nacional de Colombia, 10 June 2022),
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March-April 2924, ATC 229

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