Red Tierras (Land Rights Network)

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Red Tierras (Land Rights Network)

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Red Tierras is a network that connects land rights practitioners from marginalized communities, NGOs and governmental agencies across Latin America to replicate best practices and share lessons learned in land conflict resolution, agrarian reform and sustainable natural resource management. Network activities include onsite cross-visits and a virtual platform at

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Inequitable land distribution is one of the driving causes of conflict and poverty in Latin America. Moreover, land registry and cadastral systems in the region are outdated, inconsistent and often infiltrated by large land owners and/or illegal armed groups. Forced displacement has exacerbated land tenure complications and blurred land boundaries in many Latin American countries, such as Guatemala and Colombia. Between 1980 and 1996, nearly 11% of the Guatemalan population was forcibly displaced by conflict. Colombia has the second highest rate of internal forced displacement in the world, with over 4 million people displaced since 1996. Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities are typically excluded from agrarian reform discussions in the government, despite the fact that both depend on land for their survival and both are disproportionately affected by land conflict. In Colombia, for example, land conflict and related factors threaten 34 indigenous groups with extinction.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Red Tierras is a dynamic, interactive network to connect local actors seeking lasting solutions to violent land conflict in Latin America. The project is the newest phase of the Tierras program, which has been managed by Mercy Corps and local partners since 2003. To date, the Tierras program has resolved over 290 land disputes, securing land tenure for more than 25,000 indigenous families in Guatemala. In 2009, Mercy Corps received funding from the European Union to replicate Tierras in northwestern Colombia via a unique South-South exchange between the two countries. The exchange has included regional cross-visits between local NGOs, government authorities, and indigenous and Afro-descendent community leaders from Colombia and Guatemala. These cross-visits have evolved into a broader network known as Red Tierras, which will now include a virtual platform. Red Tierras is innovative for four important reasons: (1) It will provide an ICT platform to strengthen relationships built between Colombian and Guatemalan stakeholders during the cross-visit exchanges. (2) It will use the first virtual network translated into local indigenous languages from Colombia and Guatemala; eventually, the network will be translated into other indigenous languages from Latin America, facilitating greater participation in land rights. (3) It will conduct onsite computer and internet training for indigenous and Afro-descendent groups for more inclusive participation in Red Tierras. (4) It will build local knowledge on land rights, alternative dispute resolution, land demarcation techniques, and cadastral modernization through cross-visits and virtual lessons for stakeholders.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Land Conflict Resolution: The knowledge exchange among local NGOs is focused on securing land tenure via land conflict resolution. Conflict mediators learn techniques for alternative dispute resolution through a series of onsite and virtual workshops. Local GIS specialists, land surveyors and land rights attorneys also learn specialized skills, such as demarcation, geo-referencing, and analysis of land rights legislation. To date, 3 local partners have received onsite training in Guatemala and Colombia, culminating in the creation of 6 land conflict mediation centers serving over 22,000 people. Local NGOs from other areas of Latin America can learn from, and contribute to, land rights methodologies via the website. Ethnic Land Rights: Mercy Corps and local partners work alongside 250 indigenous and Afro-descendent communities in Colombia and Guatemala to strengthen their capacity to resolve internal and external land disputes and protect land rights. Red Tierras will connect other ethnic communities to discussions in Guatemala and Colombia via the virtual network. The network also includes community participation in national debates on agrarian reform, thus forming more inclusive policies. Agrarian Reform: Mercy Corps supports government agencies in Guatemala to improve implementation of agrarian reform commitments from the 1996 Peace Accords. Colombia, a country struggling to overcome a nearly five decade-old armed conflict fueled by land disputes, has the opportunity to learn from Guatemala’s achievements and mistakes in agrarian reform. To this end, Red Tierras will provide a virtual platform for dialogue between key governmental officials and other stakeholders, complementing the onsite advocacy cross-visits.
About You
Mercy Corps
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Section 1: About You
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Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Organization Name

Mercy Corps

Organization Phone

+1 503 896 5834

Organization Address

PO Box 2669, Dept W Portland OR 97208

Organization Country

, OR, Multnomah County

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on
Do you have a patent for this idea?


The success of Red Tierras could be limited by barriers to participation including language, technology skills, limited connectivity, and/or lack of cohesion among network members. The following actions will mitigate these limitations: The virtual network ( will use a Ning platform for customized networking technology, such as working groups, photo/video uploading, blogging, and advanced communications tools. Mercy Corps will translate the website into local indigenous languages, train communities on computer/internet use, and explore the possibility of using text messaging and/or netbooks with USB modems for communities with limited connectivity. Workshops on land rights issues will be converted into a virtual format, with different presentations according to education, cultural background and technical expertise. Red Tierras will host nine cross-visits from 2010-2012 for local communities, NGOs and government to build cohesiveness and community among members. The cross-visits and the website are mutually reinforcing, giving participants a combination of onsite and virtual contact.


Cross-visits: 5 cross-visits in Guatemala and Colombia, including the participation of Nicaragua and Honduras. 50 land conflicts resolved in Colombia and 50 land conflicts resolved in Guatemala, benefiting 8,000 people with secure land tenure.
Website: Translations in Embera, Tule, Q’eqchi’, Spanish and English, 1,000 users, virtual workshops on land conflict resolution, cadastral modernization, and ethnic land rights.
2012 and 2013:
Cross-visits: 4 cross-visits in Guatemala and Colombia, 1 cross-visit in other Latin America country. 100 land conflicts resolved in Colombia and 100 land conflicts resolved in Guatemala, benefiting 16,000 people with secure land tenure.
Website: Expansion in Latin America and the Caribbean (such as Haiti, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Brazil), translated in 15 languages, 10,000 users, virtual workshops on GIS, land-use planning, sustainable resource management, gender and land rights, and natural resource conflict resolution.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


If so, how?

Since the Peace Accords were signed in Guatemala in 1996, the government has faced myriad challenges in implementing reforms enshrined in the Agreement on Socioeconomic Aspects and the Agrarian Situation. In 2003, Mercy Corps joined with local partner, JADE, and launched the Tierras program. The Tierras staff knew that land conflict resolution would be superficial without structural agrarian reform, so they included local and national political advocacy as a primary program objective. The Tierras program’s municipal and provincial networks have been critical instruments in the design and/or passage of numerous pieces of legislation, including the Law on the Registry of Cadastral Information and the Comprehensive Rural Development Law. For Colombia, the lessons learned in Guatemala could be a vital input to the resolution of the country’s armed conflict. 2010 has presented Red Tierras with an auspicious opportunity for advocacy; the newly inaugurated Colombian President, Juan Manual Santos, proposed a comprehensive agrarian reform bill in September. In response, cabinet members, congressmen, NGOs, universities and the media have been anxiously seeking new opportunities to learn about agrarian reform and analyze President Santos’ bill. Mercy Corps’ discussions with ministries and other key government agencies have demonstrated an unprecedented interest from public officials to learn from the Guatemalan experience in agrarian reform. In 2011, Red Tierras will host a bilateral cross-visit in Guatemala focused on applicable lessons in agrarian reform for Colombia. Red Tierras aims to be a key source of dialogue on agrarian reform in Colombia, based on the lessons learned from Guatemala.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation.

Red Tierras is a vehicle for developing partnerships across borders to secure land rights for marginalized populations. Mercy Corps’ relationships with communities are critical to Red Tierras’ success. Mercy Corps has key partnerships with Tule, Embera and Q’eqchi’ indigenous communities and multiple Afro-Colombian communities. Local NGOs are also important partners, given their contextual and technical knowledge. Mercy Corps’ NGO partners, Fundación Darién in Colombia, and JADE and ADIM in Guatemala, have over 10 years of collective experience in land conflict resolution. At the local and national levels, Mercy Corps has partnerships with governmental entities responsible for agrarian policy, titling, mapping, and land-use. These entities update titles after conflicts are resolved, and they will learn how to improve their methods via exchanges with Red Tierras. Mercy Corps also has close relationships with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the South-South Task Team to integrate Red Tierras into existing South-South cooperation channels.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

The first two years of Red Tierras cross-visits are funded by the European Commission via a €1.3 million grant to replicate the Tierras experience in Colombia and expand activities in Guatemala. USAID has donated an additional US$1.2 million for the continuation of cross-visits in 2012 and two additional Land Conflict Mediation Centers in Colombia. IrishAid is contributing €750,000 to expand the sustainable resource management component of Red Tierras. The funds from the European Union and USAID will finance the basic Red Tierras website and nine cross-visits through January of 2013. Red Tierras will also seek national government funding from Colombia and Guatemala to expand the exchange and virtual activities. The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently invited Mercy Corps to present a Red Tierras proposal to the Bilateral Commission that funds South-South cooperation projects between Colombia and Guatemala. Mercy Corps is a member of the international South-South Task Team, a working group that evaluates the impact of South-South activities in the context of the global Aid Effectiveness agenda. The Task Team will develop a case story on Red Tierras, which will be featured at the High Level Event for Aid Effectiveness in Korea in 2011. Mercy Corps also secures co-financing for exchange trips from government officials and others who are able to pay part of their travel costs, such as when local and/or national governmental officials are invited to Red Tierras exchange events, they are asked to cover part or all of their travel costs to attend events. In 2011, Red Tierras will assess market mechanisms, such as charging for membership fees, the use of virtual learning materials and/or participation in cross-visits.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

In February 2010, Mercy Corps organized its first cross-visit on land rights in Cobán, Guatemala, the birthplace of the Tierras land conflict resolution program seven years earlier. Participants included local NGO partners Fundación Darién from Colombia, JADE and ADIM from Guatemala, and staff from Mercy Corps Guatemala and Colombia. It was the first time the Colombian participants had traveled outside of their country to learn from others in land conflict resolution, and the exchange exposed both nationalities to new ideas, enduring friendships and fresh perspectives. Participants engaged in an invigorating dialogue and analysis of their innumerable similarities in land rights issues, including shared histories of land conflict, technical and political challenges of securing land rights for marginalized communities, internal forced displacement, environmental degradation, gender and ethnic discrimination in land rights, and problems caused by infrastructure megaprojects and monocropping. The Colombian participants received in-depth technical training from their Guatemalan counterparts in alternative dispute resolution, land conflict mapping and analysis, land rights frameworks, and administrative and human resource strategies for land conflict mediation centers. They also visited communities and local authorities who had peacefully resolved land disputes through the Tierras program. The Colombian participants took the lessons they learned home and launched the first two land conflict mediation centers in Colombia only a month and a half later. Soon after the cross-visit, however, the Colombians and Guatemalans both recognized that they needed to bridge the distance between the two countries and continue to support each other in their efforts to resolve land conflict and secure land rights for marginalized communities. It was also clear that the newly formed group would need a broader network to perpetuate lessons learned and include other land rights specialists and stakeholders. Modern information and communications technology proved to be the most viable tool for achieving these two objectives. Accordingly, the group decided to build an interactive virtual platform to complement the cross-visits as a network-building activity. After investigating available networking technologies, the Ning platform ( was chosen as the most versatile, user-friendly website option for the land rights network. The groups shared their idea for a land rights network with colleagues, community leaders, government officials and other NGOs, all of whom became excited over the potential of the network. Additional cross-visits in Guatemala and Colombia have also been scheduled to further strengthen the relationships that underpin this exciting new network.

Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.

A diverse range of social innovators are behind the creation of Red Tierras. The original Mercy Corps Tierras program in Guatemala was developed by Romeo Euler and Borys Chinchilla, two Guatemalan rural development specialists who dedicated their lives to help impoverished communities amidst rural violence after witnessing the pain and anguish caused by land conflicts. They envisioned the need for viable alternatives to land disputes in northern Guatemala and used their ideas to initiate Tierras. By 2008, Tierras was an overwhelming success in Guatemala. Mercy Corps’ Colombia Country Director, Gary Burniske, met with Borys Chinchilla to discuss the possibility of replicating Tierras in Colombia, which was also facing violence caused by land disputes. Gary was convinced that the Tierras methodology could have a profound impact in resolving land disputes in Colombia. Gary and Borys shared the idea with two headquarters decision-makers, Kathy Fry from the Portland, Oregon office and Carrie Beaumont from the Edinburgh office, and both offered their full support for the initiative. Within six months, they secured funds from the European Union and Irish Aid to launch the program. A team of development professionals with local experience was formed to build the program. Matthew Alexander, with ten years of extensive grassroots human rights experience in Central and South America, was appointed as the Regional Coordinator to facilitate the South-South knowledge exchange between Guatemala and Colombia. He has led the formation of Red Tierras along with three colleagues in Guatemala and Colombia: Carlos Aquino, Miguel Balán and Hugo Gómez. Carlos Aquino is Mercy Corps’ Rural Development Manager and has decades of experience in land rights projects. Miguel Balán was one of the original Tierras land conflict mediators in 2004 and now serves as the National Tierras Project Manager in Guatemala. Hugo Gómez, the National Tierras Project Manager in Colombia, is a land rights professional with experience in areas of intense armed conflict in Colombia. Miguel, Hugo, Carlos and Matthew have built a solid team and a lasting friendship that forms the base of Red Tierras. Mercy Corps plans to eventually transition the leadership of Red Tierras to a Technical Secretariat, which will be comprised of local land rights practitioners from NGOs and communities across Latin America.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another source, please provide the information.

Which (if any) of the following strategies apply to your organization or company (check as many as apply)

Policy advocacy to strengthen property rights or increase security of tenure, Formalizing and documenting property rights (i.e. titling, leasing or certification), Legal education and awareness, Developing/applying technology for surveying, mapping and documenting property rights.

Please explain how your work furthers one or many of the above strategies (if you selected “other”, please explain your strategy)

Red Tierras advocates for improved agrarian policy via cross-visits and a web forum. Land conflict methodologies include formalization of property rights and technologies for surveying, mapping and documenting property rights. Methods will be replicated via virtual training. Legal education/awareness on ethnic land rights are facilitated via onsite and virtual workshops.