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Research articles

Factors Influencing the Development of Rural Producer Organizations in Post-War Settings. The Case of Coffee Growers Associations in Southern Tolima, Colombia


Angela Navarrete-Cruz ,

Universität Hohenheim, DE
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Athena Birkenberg,

Universität Hohenheim, DE
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Regina Birner

Universität Hohenheim, DE
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Since civil wars hit rural areas intensely, Rural Producer Organizations (RPO) -as forms of long-term collective action or cooperation among small farmers- are considered essential for peacebuilding. However, the factors underpinning the formation and performance of RPO post-war are unclear. Based on a case study in the municipality of Planadas, Colombia, where the former communist guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army – FARC-EP was formed and several associations flourished post-war, this article identifies 14 contextual factors facilitating the rise of RPO. Contrasting the findings with variables identified by collective action, commons theory, and literature on RPO, it was determined that four additional contextual variables play a critical role in RPO development post-war, namely, legacies of war, resilience strategies, institutional intermediaries, and discourses. Legacies of war refer to the vestiges left by the kind of relationship developed between the main armed actor and the civilians in wartime. Economic activity as a resilience strategy indicates civilians’ strategies to stay aside from the confrontation, reducing the probability of being harmed and preventing their involvement in the war or illegal economic activities. Intermediary institutions are third-party organizations that influence RPO. In the case considered, this role was developed by certification schemes known as Voluntary Sustainability Standards. Controverting critical literature on the effects of the standards, the results suggest that they can enhance self-organizing capacities post-conflict at the local level. Finally, discourses refer to additional incentives for RPO development regarding what participants consider valuable beyond economic benefits. Consequently, the article presents the foundations of an expanded framework to understand and foster RPO growth in post-war settings.

How to Cite: Navarrete-Cruz, A., Birkenberg, A., & Birner, R. (2020). Factors Influencing the Development of Rural Producer Organizations in Post-War Settings. The Case of Coffee Growers Associations in Southern Tolima, Colombia. International Journal of the Commons, 14(1), 692–713. DOI:
  Published on 09 Dec 2020
 Accepted on 17 Oct 2020            Submitted on 07 Feb 2020


Most civil wars occur in the rural areas of developing countries, affecting agriculture and putting at risk the livelihoods of millions of smallholders living directly from agriculture (Holleman, Jackson, Sánchez, & Vos, 2017; Rami Zurayk & Woertz, 2018). In the cases in which an end to armed conflict was possible, the probability of relapse into war were as high as 50% (Collier et al., 2003). The threat of relapse related to the persistent fragility of agricultural production, whether preceding the conflict or resulting from the violence (Holleman et al., 2017). A significant challenge for peacebuilding, therefore, is to foster economic development in rural areas. Consequently, peacebuilding processes involving rural communities undertaking collective action -as cooperation efforts to tackle problems impossible to solve individually- are crucial (Cox, 2009; Ostrom, 2010; Vervisch, 2011). The role of Rural Producer Organizations – RPO is particularly stressed because these organizations constitute forms of long-term collective action and community-based development efforts that influence better horizontal market access and improve the livelihoods of rural communities post-war. (Cooperatives Europe & CEDP, 2019; Ettang & Okem, 2016; Majee & Hoyt, 2011). Therefore, peacebuilding endeavors would be facilitated by grasping the dynamics of RPO post-war.

However, the literature does not provide definitive answers on the determinants explaining the development of RPO post-war. Literature on RPO and collective action highlights different variables addressing how they prompt or hamper collaboration at both the internal and external levels of the RPO, neglecting post-war settings. Internally, formal rules, democratic mechanisms, accountability, the professionalization of the RPO managers, number of participants, and managerial capacities are identified as critical aspects to strengthen trust and promote collaboration (Agarwal, 2010; Brandão & Breitenbach, 2019; Ostrom, 2010).

Externally, variables such as social, economic, or cultural homogeneity of the RPO participants providing a source of shared identity, market relations, and the different actors interacting with the organizations (including the state) affect the performance of RPO (Agarwal, 2010; Attwood & Baviskar, 1987; Brandão & Breitenbach, 2019; Ostrom, Ahn, & Olivares, 2003; Ragasa & Golan, 2014; Ruben & Heras, 2012; Snider, Afonso Gallegos, Gutiérrez, & Sibelet, 2017). The literature defines those relations as bridging capital (cooperation with outsiders that affects trust and collaboration at the intragroup level) and nested enterprises (membership to umbrella organizations). State interference is found to have negative effects on RPO because the farmers felt alienated from the organization, and the development of democratic and participatory mechanisms is difficult in this top-down environment (Agarwal, 2010; Ostrom et al., 2003). Besides, relying on external funding may prompt free riding, whereas self-funding increases the farmers’ commitment to the organization.

Studies on post-war contribute little to this issue as well, focusing on the effects of war and even reaching contradictory conclusions, especially regarding economic growth, trust, and cooperation (Kang & Meernik, 2005). The “war ruin” school portrays war as chaotic and warzones as devastated during and after a conflict (Bodea & Elbadawi, 2008; Cassar, Grosjean, & Whitt, 2013; Collier et al., 2003; Kijewski & Freitag, 2018; Rohner, Thoenig, & Zilibotti, 2013; Vervisch, 2011). By contrast, the “war renewal” school has found cooperation post-conflict, pointing out mechanisms related to responses to trauma and behavioral transformations of individual victims and ex-combatants as triggers of pro-cooperative behavior (Bauer et al., 2016; Bellows & Miguel, 2009; De Luca & Verpoorten, 2015). Nonetheless, these explanations highlight psychological determinants as a base for collective action post-war, neglecting contextual factors.

Given this gap and due to the importance of RPO in peacebuilding processes, the main objective of this article is to contribute to answering the question of what the factors influencing RPO development in post-war settings are. With this purpose, we conducted a case study in the municipality of Planadas in Colombia, where the former communist guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army – FARC-EP was formed. After peace talks from 2012 to 2016, the FARC-EP demobilized its military forces in 2017. Various coffee growers associations flourished post-war in Planadas, allowing us to identify the determinants of the development of RPO. The factors observed are discussed in reference to literature on RPO and Ostrom’s collective action and commons theory. While different internal factors and governance mechanisms were important for the success of the associations, they corresponded to aspects tackled already in the literature. We found three dominant factors: self-governance (the associations were able to craft their own rules), monitoring mechanisms (the associations implemented monitoring mechanisms to verify the compliance with the rules), and rules regarding market relations (especially with commercial partners).

Therefore, we focus in this article on contextual aspects found at the local, national, and global levels, identifying four additional external factors not yet captured by the literature, namely, legacies of war, economic activity as a resilience strategy, institutional intermediaries, and discourses.

  1. The legacies of war refer to the remnants of the presence of armed actors in a warzone, specifically, how these actors relate to civilians. These legacies may affect positively or negatively RPO formation. In the case study, the development of a governance system by the guerrilla forces, which stated clear rules for the peasants, eased the subsequent formation of the coffee growers’ associations post-war.
  2. Economic activity as a resilience strategy provided the means for the civilians to stay aside from the confrontation, reducing the probability of being harmed and preventing involvement in the war or illegal economic activities. Despite the difficulties of coffee growing, such as low and volatile prices on the international markets and increasing input costs, the peasants in Planadas persisted in coffee growing and ultimately were able to form associations.
  3. Intermediary institutions are third-party organizations that influence RPO. Certifications constructed by third-party organizations, national governments, or multinational companies for ensuring the social, environmental, or economic sustainability of agricultural products in exchange for premiums paid by consumers in developed countries, known as Voluntary Sustainability Standards (from now on, standards), sparked cooperation in Planadas. Standards provided incentives for the formation of the associations and a set of rules that diminished the costs of learning “how-to-do”, favored the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices, and made possible the access to premiums that are improving the livelihoods of the farmers. Against critical literature on the effects of the standards (Bray & Neilson, 2017; DeFries, Fanzo, Mondal, Remans, & Wood, 2017; Levy, Reinecke, & Manning, 2016), the case of Planadas shows their potential for fostering collaboration in post-war areas and contributing to peacebuilding by enhancing the self-organizing practices of the producers.
  4. Finally, discourses, understood as the specific meanings assigned to parts of the reality, provided a common ground to collaborate beyond market-oriented benefits. Environmental discourses made meaningful cooperation in new ways, facilitating farmer adoption of the practices promoted by both the standards and the associations.

The paper proposes an expanded framework for understanding the formation and development of RPO post-war that includes these four factors and differentiates between the local, national, and global levels. The emphasis on these four factors draws attention to various omissions in collective action and commons theory and shows how this theory can be strengthened. The legacies of war and resilience strategies relates the analysis to the ways in which the past-history of a community affects collective action. This is important in view of some critics to commons theory concerning its lack of attention to the specific historical circumstances in which collective action takes place (Husain & Bhattacharya, 2004; Quintana & Campbell, 2019). Institutional intermediaries account for the institutional environment in which collective action develops beyond governmental rule and provide standards that instead of negatively affecting the self-governance processes of the communities can actually invigorate them. Discourses unveil factors that can illuminate why people engage in and sustain long-term collective action efforts such as RPO (Snow & Bedford, 2000; Tarrow, 1992).

By analyzing RPO, the paper also sheds light on the intersections between commons based on natural resources and commons as resources created by human action (Hagedorn, 2013). Agriculture is highly nature-dependent and the depletion of resources by human intervention can be regulated by acting collectively through self-governance mechanisms, such as RPO that establish clear rules of production and environmental care. Additionally, the necessity of trading leads to the generation of common-pool resources from which the farmers contribute to and benefit from on a market-oriented basis (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2009; Berkes & Davidson–Hunt, 2007; Orozco-Quintero & Davidson-Hunt, 2009). In this sense, community-based enterprises, such as RPO, are gaining attention as forms of new commons that connect local and global concerns through markets while maintaining social purposes, managing hybrid resources (partially natural, partially human made), and sharing agricultural knowledge and practices (Hagedorn, 2013). The case of Planadas also highlights how they can improve rural livelihoods post-war.

Additionally, by showing the interplay of various external and local factors, the framework furthers the understanding of peacebuilding not as an imposition of external actors in charge of solutions, but as an intricate process of local and external conditions in which local actors wield a significant capacity in shaping the outcomes of peace endeavors (Lederach, 2005; Mac Ginty, 2010). Peacebuilding is a complex process that implies a non-violent transformation of conflict, including the individual, relational, structural, and cultural levels (Lederach, Neufeldt, & Culbertson, 2007). Not only direct violence among individuals must be overcome. The structures that enforce inequality, reproduce injustice, and limit the rights of individuals and groups, on the one hand, and the beliefs and mindsets that endure the use of violence as legitimate, on the other, require to be modified. For these reasons, peacebuilding demands the endeavors of governments, armed groups, and the different social groups and organizations in the incumbent society (Lederach, 2005; Lederach & Appleby, 2010). Thus, a peace accord and public policies, while necessary, are insufficient in the peacebuilding process. Our research highlights the significant role of local actors by showing how they deal with the various factors identified, whether by taking advantage of them or by overcoming the different constraints that some factors pose to collective action. In this sense, the extended version of collective action and commons theory we propose becomes an important tool for fostering community-based and self-governance approaches in post-war settings.

Finally, despite the focus of the paper on post-war scenarios, it intends to discern why collective action is possible in general, contributing to both post-conflict literature and commons theory. Concerning the literature on civil wars and post-war, the paper explains why cooperation emerges post-war beyond psychological variables. Regarding commons theory, the mechanisms through which people managed shared resources or failed to do it have been extensively identified (Colin-Castillo & Woodward, 2015; Ostrom, 2000, 2010, 2011; Partelow, Senff, Buhari, & Schlüter, 2018; Tschopp, Bieri, & Rist, 2018). Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why these endeavors emerged beyond explanations of cooperation as the result of the continuous interactions among the stakeholders and expedited principally by rules crafted as an outcome of those interactions. Contextual factors have been reduced to biophysical conditions, the governance environment (emphasizing mainly the role of state institutions as rule producers and as connections between the local and the national scales), and the individual attributes of the actors (Delgado-Serrano & Ramos, 2015; Epstein, Vogt, Mincey, Cox, & Fischer, 2013; Partelow et al., 2018; Rahman et al., 2017; Ratner, Meinzen-Dick, May, & Haglund, 2013). However, disentangling other external variables influencing the possibility of the emergence of collective action remains a challenge. Our research is a contribution in that direction by both unpacking additional contextual factors that influence collective action and understanding how actors take advantage of these external factors to spark cooperation.

Study Area

Rural areas in Colombia suffered from the atrocities of war for decades. The war resulted in almost nine million victims, including 7.5 million people forcibly displaced and more than 260,000 casualties (CNMH, 2018; Registro Único de Víctimas, 2019). In 2016, a peace accord between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government intended to end the 52-year conflict. The accord recognized the necessity of RPO as a peacebuilding strategy in rural areas (Mesa de Negociaciones, 2017). In the section ‘Rural Productivity Development’, the agreement established support for RPO through funding, access to credit, technical assistance, and market access. Nevertheless, by May 2018, the monitoring report on the implementation of the accord stated that 64% of the activities planned in this section had achieved no progress and 36% had minimal progress, meaning that none of the planned activities had been completed (Iniciativa Barómetro, 2018, p. 22). Despite this meager progress, several press reports have detailed RPO establishment in former warzones producing cacao, coffee, shrimps, and milk, among other products (Barrios, 2019; Universidad del Cauca, 2019; VerdadAbierta, n.d.; Zuluaga & Vera, 2019). In most of the cases, it was reported that the national government has not supported RPO. What contextual factors explain the emergence of these RPO if the role of the national government was marginal?

To answer this question, the municipality of Planadas was selected. Planadas is located in the southern part of the Department of Tolima, as shown in Figure 1, and has around 25,000 inhabitants. Only 25% live in the three main villages (Planadas, Gaitania, and Bilbao), whereas the majority lives on farm sites (Alcaldía Municipal Planadas, 2016). Therefore, agriculture is the primary income source. Around 75% of the farms have less than 10 ha, 13% have between 10 and 20 ha, and 12% have more than 20 ha (UPRA, 2013).

Figure 1 

Map of Planadas, Tolima.

Source: Modification of Google maps.

For selecting the case, we followed three main criteria. First, the area should be highly affected by the armed conflict and the presence of the FARC-EP. Second, post-war, as a transitional stage that implies a significant reduction in both violence and the presence of non-state armed groups, prevails. Third, long-term collective action efforts materialized through functioning RPO exist.

Regarding the first criterion, civil war affected Planadas significantly. Communist peasants formed the FARC-EP in 1964 after the army attacked a peasant settlement in Marquetalia, a rural area of Planadas (CNMH, 2014). Since then, the presence of this group was permanent in the municipality, due to both symbolic and military importance. Planadas is also a corridor connecting eastern Colombia to the Pacific Coast, and was used for hiding guerrilla chief commanders and drug smuggling (FIP, USAID, & OIM, 2013). More than 230 armed conflict-related events affected Planadas from 1990 to 2013 (IGAC, 2016). Since 1985, the war has created 4,579 victims (Registro Único de Víctimas, 2019).

In 2016, the peace agreement brought hope to rural areas. Nevertheless, several locales faced war relapse provoked by dissidents, disputes among non-state armed actors to occupy areas formerly controlled by the FARC-EP, and the skyrocketing assassinations of community leaders. Seminal research unveiled associations with land-grabbing, drug trafficking, natural resource extraction, smuggling corridors, and in general, difficulties in the implementation of the peace accord (Álvares Vanegas, Pardo Calderon, & Cajiao Vélez, 2018; Defensoría del Pueblo, 2018; Garzón-Vergara & Silva, 2019; González-Posso, González-Perafan, & Espitia-Cuenca, 2018).

Yet this relapse is occurring unevenly. While misdemeanors increased in Planadas, the degree of violence compared to other former FARC-EP territories is low. Non-state armed actors are inactive, no community leaders have been killed, and the levels of violence have decreased (Defensoría del Pueblo, 2018; DIJIN, 2018). Therefore, Planadas met the second criterion.

Concerning the third criterion, coffee growers associations do constitute collective action in Planadas. The coffee sector is quite important for Colombian agriculture. In 2018, Colombia was the third largest coffee producer worldwide and the largest producer of Arabica coffee (ICO, 2019). Coffee-growing involves more than 560,000 families (Café de Colombia, 2010). The National Coffee Growers Federation – FEDECAFE, a private-public organization, oversees coffee growing, commercialization, and exports (FEDECAFE, 2016). FEDECAFE settles the price for Arabica coffee on the national market and guarantees the purchase of all of the production (even low-quality coffee) through different cooperatives and warehouses. However, independent coffee growers’ associations are becoming more important. It is unofficially estimated that more than 600 associations are active countrywide. Organic coffee production is rising, as well. At least 47 associations are certified organic (BIOTRÓPICO, 2018; MAYACERT, 2019).

Six-thousand peasants grow coffee in Planadas, the largest coffee producer in Tolima and the ninth largest producer countrywide in 2018 (MADR, 2019b). FEDECAFE’s local cooperative is the Cooperative of Coffee Growers from Southern Tolima – CAFISUR. Still, seventeen coffee producers’ associations, centered in the village of Planadas, have prospered (MADR, 2019a). Therefore, Planadas met the third criterion.

Data Collection and Analysis

For the case study, we conducted a focus group with ten coffee growers, 17 individual semi-structured interviews, and five group interviews in two visits in October 2018 and January 2019. Considering that Planadas is an area that remained isolated by the presence of the FARC-EP in wartime, collaboration with a local NGO with strong community ties enabled us to collect sensitive information about both the conflict and post-war periods. The local NGO contacted associations’ managers and respondents with the disposition to cooperate with the study. Nineteen members and seven managers of six associations, and one group of coffee growers in the process of forming an association participated. These associations were located in the village of Planadas. Consequently, the data collection excluded the associations in the villages of Gaitania and Bilbao. For confidentiality reasons, we refer to the associations with numbers. One public officer, six community leaders, and two former FARC-EP members were also interviewed in order to deepen our understanding of the war and post-war contexts in Planadas. The information was collected until reaching saturation point.

For the analysis, we followed essential principles of grounded theory, consisting of an inductive process in which the data collected is clustered and coded according to constructed categories (Rennie, 2007). To understand the factors facilitating collective action in Planadas, multi-level and multi-causal analyses were conducted to develop what is known in grounded theory as axial coding which ‘focuses on the relationships between categories and sub-categories, including conditions, cause-and-effect relationships, and interactions’ (Bitsch, 2005, p. 79). The multi-level analysis allowed us to identify three critical contextual levels (global, national, and local). Using multi-causal analysis, we associated different actions and processes influencing the development of RPO to each of the three scales (Clark, 2014; Ostrom, 2007).

To discuss the findings in relation to already developed collective action theory and literature on RPO (not tailored to post-war settings), we conducted what Kelle (2005) calls abduction, integrating ‘previous knowledge and new ideas.’ We assessed whether the variables influencing collective action in general can also account for it in a post-war settings, or whether through axial coding, it was possible to find new emergent categories. With this purpose, we compared the factors identified in Planadas with Ostrom’s collective action theory and literature on RPO, by running a second coding to group the factors under general categories. Finally, the information was triangulated with secondary sources, such as press reports, official records, and gray literature.


The associations in Planadas managed their own funds, paid premiums to their associates granted by buyers in the United States, Europe, and Asia, and leased or owned -in most of the cases- warehouses and laboratories. Moreover, the associations broke the monopoly held by CAFISUR and local buyers in what the peasants called the Trade Street, a street in the village of Planadas where independent traders had warehouses and bought washed coffee under the price settled by FEDECAFE. Indeed, the sales through the cooperative dropped 40% from 2017 to 2018, whereas the production increased by 702 tons in the same period (CAFISUR, 2018; MADR, 2019b). The associations spread collaboration in Planadas and guaranteed the sustainability of coffee growing in the municipality. Additionally, they provided labor opportunities for the associates’ children, spurred coffee growing practices, and offered training programs to compel the young population to stay in rural areas. The associations also disseminated practices of environmental protection among their associates, forbidding the pollution of natural resources and taking care of wildlife. How was it possible?

Fourteen events and processes influenced the development of coffee growers associations in Planadas, ranging from local to global levels, as shown in Figure 2: Seven factors at the local level, four at the national, and three at the global. At the local level, the first aspect tackled is the FARC-EP presence, which played an essential role in the formation of the associations post-war. Afterward, we present the factors influencing the development of the associations from the national to the global levels. The information was collected prioritizing the period 1990–2018.

Figure 2 

Factors influencing the formation of the associations in Planadas according to the level.

Source: Authors.

The FARC-EP Governance System

In wartime, the de facto rulers in Planadas were the FARC-EP. Although public officers and agencies, such as police and the mayoralty, made presence in Planadas, the guerrilla held the monopoly of violence. Furthermore, the FARC-EP provided justice and security services, competing efficiently with an insufficient state offer for those services. The guerrilla created a regime of governance based on different rules to manage civilians’ affairs, enforce contracts, provide public goods, and solve conflicts, a phenomenon named by other authors Rebelocracy or Rebel Governance (A. Arjona, 2016; A. Arjona, Kasfir, & Mampilly, 2015). The FARC-EP regulated coexistence (e.g., public scandals, gossips, debts, domestic violence, curfews), petty crimes, and work (which was mandatory) at least from 1990 to 2017 (FARC-EP, 2016). Strategic violence against the civilians to punish those that did not observe the regulations upheld the system. The punishments included community work (e.g., cleaning the village’s central park), threats to leave the municipality, and assassinations. Different aspects of daily life in Planadas were consequently regulated despite being a warzone.

The peace talks in El Caguán (1998–2002) between the national government and the FARC-EP did not alter the situation (CNMH, 2014). Instead, the FARC-EP strengthened their rebelocracy in Planadas, because the insurgents took the opportunity to invigorate their military forces and political dominion in their historical strongholds during the ceasefire. The only period that jeopardized FARC-EP dominion was 2003–2008 when the state aimed at recovering the control of Planadas militarily after the failed peace talks. The peasants named this period as “The War” due to the continuous armed confrontations between the FARC-EP and the army and the increasing accusations among civilians of being whistleblowers or guerrilla collaborators. Therefore, violence from armed actors against civilians was exacerbated. The beginning of the peace talks in 2012 led the guerrilla to relax its governance system, which ended after the demobilization of the rebels in 2017. Figure 3 presents the temporal allocation of relevant events during the FARC-EP presence.

Figure 3 

Timeline – FARC-EP presence in Planadas 1990–2017.

Source: Authors based on the focus group conducted in October, 2018.

The guerrilla relied on rural Community Action Boards to implement and legitimize their governance system (FARC-EP, 2016). The boards are voluntary civilians’ organizations to manage different kinds of affairs at the local level (in both urban and rural areas). The government created and regulated the boards in the 1950s, but they do not receive public funds for their functioning.

While the FARC-EP enforced numerous rules, a specific set of rules affected the ulterior post-war setting and the formation of coffee associations. The first group of rules isolated the municipality in wartime, inhibiting the development of necessary market relations and partnerships for the associations to thrive. The guerrilla issued identity cards for the local population and controlled the mobility of all the outsiders coming to Planadas, including seasonal workers. If a local wanted to invite a foreigner, he/she had to inform the boards in advance. Additionally, when a foreigner arrived in Planadas, the guerrilla inquired into the acquaintance/relation, and the purpose and duration of the visit. The guerrilla also urged the local population to inform the board about strangers. In addition to the war setting, foreigners avoided going to Planadas because one of the funding sources of the FARC-EP was extortion and kidnapping (CNMH, 2014).

While the boards have been a strong community actor, other forms of cooperation among civilians were stagnated. The FARC-EP did not interfere with collective action efforts, but the war setting and perhaps its effects on trust among civilians (some of them reporting the guerrilla about the activities of other civilians) could have been the causes that discouraged collective action.

However, the second set of rules deactivated conflicts after the peace agreement. When the FARC-EP enforced them, it was impossible to anticipate the consequences, but these rules influenced the post-war situation greatly. First, the guerrilla regulated the land market in the area by approving or rejecting transactions considering both the buyer and the property. The guerrilla commanded the peasants to inform and ask permission to the boards for selling a real estate property, enabling the preservation of a land tenure structure based on smallholders. Additionally, the isolation of Planadas due to the war might have discouraged land acquisition by outsiders or at least in amounts significant enough to change the land distribution patterns.

Second, the guerrilla banned opium growing. Opium was introduced in Planadas in the late 1980s (El Tiempo, 1991). Nevertheless, the opium bonanza in Planadas occurred between 1998 and 2003. The FARC-EP rebelocracy was destabilized because poppy-growing for opium attracted foreigners that ignored the rules, and the cash flow during the bonanza fostered alcohol consumption and conflicts among the peasants. Additionally, the government began to use aerial spraying of glyphosate to eradicate the opium since 2003 (El Tiempo, 2004), jeopardizing the security of the guerrilla members. The FARC-EP could afford neither the social disorder generated by poppy-growing nor the threats posed by the aerial spraying in this stronghold territory. Therefore, the guerrilla prohibited it after 2003, even when they were taxing the production.

The prohibition had twofold effects. In wartime, it obliged the peasants to return to coffee growing as their primary income source, also considering that work was mandatory. In the post-war, the banning deactivated one of the major problems that areas formerly occupied by the FARC-EP encountered: illegal economic activities (mainly, illegal mining and crops) that attracted various non-state armed actors interested in controlling the production and smuggling corridors (Garzón-Vergara & Silva, 2019; González-Posso et al., 2018).

Evolution of Coffee Production and Trade

Besides the guerrilla ruling, the other central aspect fostering the formation of the associations corresponds to the evolution of coffee production and trade. As shown in Figure 4, the respondents identified three periods. The first period is the FEDECAFE system from 1992 to the beginning of the 2000s. The growers relied on FEDECAFE’s extension services and sold the coffee principally to the Trade Street and CAFISUR, which established a warehouse in the village of Planadas in 1992 (CAFISUR, 2016). The peasants called the second period “the pioneer associations” when the first associations were established. The associations, however, were still weak regarding coffee production and commercialization. The third period is “the revolution” or “the boom” of the associations when the associations broke the monopoly of FEDECAFE. Within these periods, different factors underlined the formation of the associations from the local to the global levels.

Figure 4 

Timeline – Evolution of coffee trade in Planadas 1990–2018.

Source: Authors based on the Timeline conducted in October 2018.

Figure 5 illustrates the production and marketing processes that occur in the associations’ system. Due to the necessity to verify compliance with the standards, the associations directly hired technical assistants in charge of routine monitoring visits to the farms. The growers dried the coffee at the farm. Consequently, at the delivery point in the warehouse post-harvest processing that influences key characteristics of the coffee was determined. Therefore, for the associations was important to be able to track the coffee to each farm. To do so, besides the monitoring visits, the associations owned laboratories and hired trained personnel to analyze the coffee. The associations in Planadas distributed the profits to each grower according to both the quantity and the quality of the coffee sold. Since compliance with the standards was associated with additional premiums, the farmers were highly motivated to produce both high quality coffee and follow the standards. The associations required each farmer to market a minimum percentage of their coffee through the RPO and expelled the growers that were not selling coffee (with the exception of Association-6 who had a “black list” of these farmers). The associations regulated the number of members (on average 65 farmers) to be able to implement the harvest and postharvest monitoring system.

Figure 5 

Production and Marketing under the Associations’ Model in Planadas.

Source: Authors.

Local factors. Agro-climatic conditions, Resilience, and Pioneer Associations

The first factor at the local level facilitating the formation of coffee growers associations besides the FARC-EP presence are the agro-climatic conditions in Planadas (altitude, temperature, and rainfall), which are propitious for high-quality coffee growing.

The peasants stated as a second factor their perseverance in coffee-growing despite the war. Living in a warzone obliged them to seek solutions that enabled them to stay without participating in the war economy or as informants. Coffee growing provided the opportunity to stay aside. A coffee grower said. ‘As long as the guerrilla knows that you were working, they would not bother you. If they knew that you were not a sapo [literally: toad, equivalent to whistleblower], they would not bother you’. Another peasant stated, ‘The peace shielded behind the coffee trees,’ stressing the pivotal role that coffee played as a resilience strategy in both wartime and post-war.

As Figure 4 shows, the firsts associations established around 2000. Association-1 and Association-2 were founded not for coffee but other products, such as panela (raw sugar) and poultry. FEDECAFE promoted the only pioneer association created for coffee growing, Association-3. The peasants formed the first associations that evolved into coffee associations to access funding opportunities, in the context of the impulse given by the national government on the model of solidarity economy, particularly since 2002 (DNP, 2003). Some peasants recognized this moment as “associations of beggars” because the associations lacked an agenda, and the primary funding sources were the government or development projects.

FEDECAFE played another role in the formation of associations. The peasants felt discontent with the monopoly held by the Federation because it allowed FEDECAFE to establish arbitrary conditions without considering the farmers’ opinion. Furthermore, while the cooperative representing FEDECAFE at the local level, CAFISUR, was Fairtrade certified since 2004 (CAFISUR, 2016), it did not forward the premium to the producers. Frustration and distrust in CAFISUR spread when the peasants discovered the situation after several years. Strengthening or forming associations was the alternative to access the premiums not granted by the cooperative.

Nevertheless, the associations became widespread and relevant for the local economy since 2014, when an entrepreneur formed Association-4, considered by the farmers as the leading association. Association-4 created a successful model that other peasants wanted to imitate, in terms of the visibility that it gave to the coffee from Planadas and the networking with commercial partners and other public and private organizations. Several farmers and managers of other associations were initially members of Association-4 (e.g., Association-5 and 6), but a confrontation with Association-4’s managers led them to establish other organizations. Therefore, Association-4 boosted the conformation of coffee associations, whether by imitation or by conflict.

National factors. Coffee Crises, the Cup of Excellence, and the Peace Process

In 2001, FEDECAFE changed the policy of price stabilization, making the national market vulnerable to the price volatility characteristic of the international coffee market since the end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 (World Bank, 2002). The same year, the prices plummeted due to coffee oversupply affecting principally smallholders. For the coffee growers in Planadas, this vulnerability was a warning. In 2012–2013, the price slumps and the increasing cost of fertilizers prompted the formation of countrywide peasants’ movements and strikes (Cruz-Rodríguez, 2013; Restrepo, 2013). While many farmers were involved in demonstrations, others sought alternatives to compensate for the losses, motivating them to form associations.

Additionally, the coffee growers from Planadas were regularly reaching the finals of the Cup of Excellence, a contest organized by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence since 2005 (Alliance for Coffee Excellence, 2019). The contest assesses only high-quality coffee based on the cup profile, a scoring system assigning points on a scale in which the maximum is 100. To participate, the growers sell micro-lots with a cup profile of a minimum of 85 points quality score. The final stage of the contest includes an auction in which buyers from around the world can make offers for the finalist coffees. Thirty producers countrywide and six producers from Planadas reached the final round on average each year.1 The outstanding performance of the producers from Planadas convinced the peasants of the quality of their coffee and motivated them to strengthen or form associations.

Finally, the beginning of the peace talks in 2012 favored the associations to develop relations with potential partners, especially exporters and buyers. Even in 2014, some partners were reluctant to visit Planadas for security reasons, a situation that gradually changed. Initially, the associations were meeting their partners outside the municipality until the representatives of the companies trusted the security conditions. Therefore, for the associations’ managers, the initiation of the peace talks in 2012 was pivotal for the creation of commercial relations that facilitated market access. The manager of Association-5 said

‘There was a time when we had to go to visit the export companies. After one, two years, they decided to come. But at the beginning of the system it was me who was going, I sought them because they were afraid to come, and two big companies came for a very short visit but the bosses didn’t come, they sent their employees. But now even people from other countries have come, we have been able to bring them (…) because now it is possible for them to come to taste and buy our specialty coffee’

For a member of Association-2, the situation was more critical

‘The exporters never came here. We did not have businesses with the export companies. The truth is that [before the peace process] we were selling coffee to CAFISUR, but only green coffee. But that was individually, not the association (…) because who would come to Planadas 10 years ago? A foreigner couldn’t come’

Global factors. Standards and Discourses on Environmental Protection

Fairtrade, Organic standards, and Rainforest Alliance are the main standards for the associations in Planadas. Fairtrade guarantees a floor price and promotes the formation of democratic producers’ associations to strengthen their position in the market (Fairtrade International, 2019). Therefore, Fairtrade certifies only whole associations of smallholders.

Organic agriculture is a production system aiming at protecting both the environment and human health, by enhancing soil fertility, reducing pollution, and banning the use of agrochemicals (Reed, M; Holt, 2006). The Rainforest Alliance’s hallmarks are the protection of wildlife, tropical forests, and the improvement of management practices within the farms. Contrary to Fairtrade, both organic and Rainforest certify the producers individually and do not have a surcharge settled in advance. However, associations reduce the investment in consultancy and monitoring systems and increase the bargaining power of small farmers, since the growers must negotiate the bonus directly with the buyers.

Association-1 obtained both Fairtrade and organic certifications in 2006 but did not renew them due to the lack of trustworthy commercial partners. Only after 2012, when state agencies granted funds, the pioneer associations adopted standards, while the coffee crisis hastened their adoption by other associations.

The standards provided incentives to form associations, especially Fairtrade, considered by the farmers as the necessary certification for the associations. Nevertheless, according to the growers, the market for Fairtrade certified conventional coffee is small. Therefore, as a marketing strategy, all the associations participating in the study were organic certified, and four sold micro-lot coffee additionally (up to 100 bags of coffee from one farm with a quality score above 85 points). Since the associations had laboratories, the farmers did not have incentives to shirk and sell the coffee independently because without the association the farmers would not have had the possibility to analyze the coffee and obtain better prices. The associations also sold conventional coffee because farmers that were in transition to organic production were also affiliated.

Despite initial slumps in the yields, the peasants considered organic production better than conventional production due to both the high international demand for organic products and increasing concern about the environmental degradation generated by conventional growing. The manager of Association-4 claimed that

‘If I am obsessing applying poisons, applying agrochemicals, is what’s happening in other regions growing coffee going to happen here? You go to Huila [the first coffee producer in Colombia], to Caldas, to Quindío [departments in the Colombian coffee belt], and the land is done, those are lands that if you do not apply huge amounts of fertilizer you will not grow anything, and you have to apply high-quality fertilizer. 10 years and those lands are going to be a desert. Therefore, if I want to provide a better future for my children, I have to become organic. Otherwise here will be the same as what is happening in Antioquia [the second coffee producer], of course, they have the boom of conventional coffee but they are ruining the environment’

A member of Association-2 said also that

‘Organic is better than conventional growing, because with the organic fertilizer what one does is improve the soil quality, and with the chemical fertilizers you deteriorate the soil. Then you will need more fertilizer, while with the organic fertilizer there is a huge contribution to the soil quality and with that we contribute to counteracting global warming. We [the association] have a campaign here in Planadas to make the people aware about the problems that we are having because of climate change and with the destruction of wildlife. Where I live we have different species that are in danger of extinction, like the spectacled bear and native birds (…) Those species are in danger because humans are deforesting, burning, then we have a sensitizing campaign on this [with other farmers not affiliated].’

Only Association-3 and Association-5 were Rainforest certified. Both associations recognized that this standard was the hardest regarding the requirements. For Association-5, Rainforest was necessary due to both environmental management and as a marketing strategy, whereas the members of Association-3 decided to hold on this certification because they considered the Rainforest’s contribution to environmental protection as higher than Organic’s. The manager of Association-3 pointed that

‘With Rainforest we observe the same agricultural practices like in other standards, but Rainforest helps us to preserve better the environment, the animals, many things, we are not only selling and selling coffee, we are rescuing the environment as a whole, the soil minerals, the water, the animals, everything.’

Standards influenced the practices of the farmers greatly. Indeed, the critical process inside the associations was trust-building, or as a community leader called it ‘beating the fear’ of involving in an association and collaborating. Previous networks permitted the founders to gather an initial group of associates and convince other farmers to participate. Nevertheless, the process of running the associations tested the trustworthiness of this initial group and made it possible to identify defectors. Consequently, a major concern was how to guarantee the collaboration of all the members, including the managers. The associations adapted, adopted, and modified different rules to compel the peasants to collaborate, clearly stating what the rights and duties as a member of the associations are. Since the standards entail mandatory regulations, the farmers had available a set of rules influencing their practices. In this sense, they adapted the standards to their particular setting. For instance, according to Fairtrade, the associations must be managed democratically and are free to state the rules they considered convenient. Additionally, to adhere to the rules of the standards and foster environmental protection, the associations forbade burnings, deforestation, pollution of water sources, application of agrochemicals (or poisons, as several associations’ members call them), and promoted recycling, for instance, of honey water. Finally, the standards eased market integration through traders interested in certified products.


The case of Planadas stresses the importance of RPO as a peacebuilding strategy, at least in four manners. First, RPO has the potential to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable rural communities through better market access. Second, the RPO can implement production systems coupled with the necessities and values of their associates, e.g., organic production. Third, the RPO are opportunities for developing self-governance practices that strengthen the ability of small farmers to deal with social challenges such as enhance trust and cooperation in the aftermath of war or can make rural areas appealing for the next generation. Fourth, RPO can shield legal economies, preventing the production of illegal crops, which in Colombia are responsible for war relapse in several territories. Nevertheless, factors influencing long-term collective action in the form of RPO in post-war settings are unclear. This study contributes to filling this gap.

Our results support the “war renewal” school optimism. However, this school bears psychological explanations, and it is difficult to understand the contextual determinants of cooperation. According to our results, 14 external factors influenced the RPO rise in Planadas. We ran a second coding to assess whether general categories encompass the determinants identified in the case of Planadas to sketch a framework for the analysis of RPO in post-war settings. In this process, we compared the factors with variables, relations, and processes that influence collective action, according to Ostrom (2010). First, actors must consider the problem at stake as an important one and have enough incentives to embark on collective action efforts (Ostrom, 2004). Second, the biophysical conditions or referring characteristics of the resource system (sector (e.g., water, forest), size, productivity, location, among others) and the resource units (e.g., economic value, size (Ostrom, 2007)), must enable the solution to the problem (Ostrom, 2011). Third, it is necessary to consider social capital as aspects of the social structure that can enhance cooperation, particularly the macro-institutional environment surrounding collective action (Ostrom et al., 2003). An effective law system, a democratic environment, and a well-functioning government facilitate collective action for three reasons. First, because collective action is permitted; second, the participants can develop their own rules to shape collective action and promote collaboration; third, the participants have available additional sanction systems to punish non-cooperators (e.g., to enforce legal contracts).

In the case study, the problem, the incentives, the biophysical conditions, and the macro-institutional environment relate to factors at the global, national, and local scales. Table 1 presents the second coding. Some determinants of the performance of RPO identified by specific literature are also included.

Table 1

Correspondence of factors influencing the formation of associations in Planadas and the variables identified by Ostrom and the literature.

Factor influencing the formation of associations in planadas Result of the study Variables influencing collective action Determinants from RPO literature

Coffee crisis 2013
Price volatility on the international markets
Changes in FEDECAFE’s price policy
Monopoly held by CAFISUR and the Trade Street
CAFISUR not forwarding the Fairtrade premium
Trade Street paying natural coffee below the price settled by FEDECAFE
Problem Problem (Ostrom, 2004)
Cup of Excellence
Premiums provided by Standards
Organizations granting the funds for certifications
Incentives Incentives (Ostrom, 2010)
Pioneer associations
Entrepreneurs-imitation Leaders
Generalization of collaboration (Ostrom, 2010)
Agroclimatic conditions Agroclimatic conditions Biophysical conditions (Ostrom, 2011; Ostrom et al., 2003) Regional agrarian structure (Attwood & Baviskar, 1987)
Land tenure structure based on smallholders, providing a sense of equality among the members of the associations Source of homogeneity Heterogeneity of participants (Ostrom, 2010) (Attwood & Baviskar, 1987)
Socioeconomic homogeneity or marked social affinities among their members (Agarwal, 2010)
Initiation of the Peace Talks between the FARC-EP and the national government A real possibility of the end of the war Macro-institutional or political environment (Ostrom, 2011)
FARC-EP governance system Legacies of war
Coffee growing as a resilience strategy during war Economic activity as resilience strategy
Voluntary Sustainability Standards Institutional intermediaries
Discourses on environmental protection Discourses underlying collective action

Source: Authors.

Most of the determinants found in Planadas correspond with factors established by collective action theory or RPO literature. Nevertheless, we found that RPO literature neglects the role of entrepreneurship and imitation. Since the support provided by the state was minimal, we cannot conclude that state interference might have detrimental effects on RPO development. However, the RPO formation was possible in Planadas without direct state interference, besides the signing of the peace accord and funds for first-time certifications for the pioneer associations.

Additional Factors found influencing the Development of Rural Producers Organizations Post-war

According to our results, it is necessary still to expand the understanding of one variable already addressed by the theory and to include in the analysis four further variables.

Macro-Political Environment

A real possibility for the end of the war

The macro-environment in post-war includes the real possibility for the end of the war, e.g., expressed in peace talks and the ulterior commitment of the parties involved to meet the agreement. To consider this factor might seem obvious, but if the parties are evading an accord and the end of the confrontation is infeasible, the result could be the strengthening of rebel governance, as in Planadas during the peace talks in El Caguán (1998–2002). Therefore, a real possibility for the end of the war can trigger RPO development in warzones, even during negotiations.

Additional Contextual Variables

Legacies of war determined by the relationship between the main armed actor and the civilians in wartime

The FARC-EP developed a rebelocracy system in Planadas, stating clear rules of coexistence. In wartime, the rebelocracy impeded market integration and the creation of bridging capital because it isolated Planadas. Furthermore, warfare affected trust among civilians. In contrast, in post-war, some legacies of rebelocracy facilitated collective action, while in other regions, the FARC-EP prompted illegal economies that nowadays truncate collective action endeavors undertaken by the communities (González, 2016).

Therefore, the type of relationship that an armed group develops with civilians affects RPO formation, either positively or negatively. Arjona (2016) identified three variations of this relationship in irregular warfare, namely, disorder, alliocracies, and rebelocracies. Disorder prevails when the armed group has short time horizons, prioritizing present rewards. A common case of disorder is when the armed group deals with confrontation with armed foes. Defeating the enemy becomes the preeminent task (A. Arjona, 2016). Alliocracies and rebelocracies are, by contrast, situations of order. Non-state armed actors prefer order because the expectations of their combatants and civilians are clearly stated. Civilians also prefer order because it decreases the possibility of being harmed (they know what to do and what not to do). Besides territorial control and increased power in front of the enemy, order in war zones helps a non-state armed actor to supervise civilians’ behavior, foster voluntary obedience, and even to obtain support from community members. Consequently, armed actors usually aim to establish rebelocracies when they have both internal discipline to control their combatants and long-time horizons in a territory. However, this is not always the outcome. The armed actor prefers to settle for an alliocracy if the community and/or the public institutions for conflict resolution are legitimate and effective before the arrival of the group, because civilian resistance to the group is likely to emerge for two reasons. First, since conflict resolution is extremely important in the daily life of non-combatants, they will try to protect their own institutions instead of letting the armed group to impose their rebelocracy (in which the offer of conflict resolution services to the civilians is essential). Second, those institutions provide the community with channels for organizing and acting collectively against the group. Consequently, in this case the armed actor restricts to collecting taxes (civilians’ “contributions” for its operation) and regulating conduct directly related to its security, whereas the community, the state or both, keep the control of other aspects of life.

In Colombia, the FARC-EP developed rebelocracies, alliocracies, and disorder, according to the conditions of specific territories (Aguilera-Peña, 2000; A. Arjona, 2016; Urdaneta, 2017). In order to analyze post-war collective action, therefore, it is necessary to account for the type of relationship between the main armed actor and the civilians. In the case of rebelocracies, the content of the rules, arrangements, and practices in specific contexts must be understood.

Economic activity as a resilience strategy

Coffee growing allowed the peasants to stay aside from the confrontation and to meet FARC-EP’s rules concerning work as mandatory. The peasants counted on FEDECAFE and the Trade Street that provided marketing channels during wartime when collective action was difficult. Therefore, the peasants were able to deduct an income from coffee growing. Some distinctive traits of coffee also impeded the capture of the production by the FARC-EP. Coffee is not a staple crop. Direct consumption by the combatants was impossible. Additionally, coffee depends on international markets characterized by high-price volatility. Family labor absorbs the losses when the price drops beyond the break-even point. Therefore, a tax on the production by the FARC-EP (as they did with opium) would have meant taking away the means of subsistence from the peasants, and would have created an unfavorable environment against the insurgents interested in keeping their rebelocracy. Consequently, coffee growing became a resilience strategy during the war. Resilience is the capacity of the people to deal with adverse situations, which depends on different contextual factors (Lewis, 2013; Southwick, Bonanno, Masten, Panter-Brick, & Yehuda, 2014). In wartime, resilience refers to the efforts to contain the violence from the armed groups, protecting and setting aside civilians from the confrontation (Jose & Medie, 2016; Lederach, 2005). Coffee was paramount to allow the peasants to stay in Planadas, despite the severe conditions spawned by the war because it granted a means of subsistence and impeded the farmers’ involvement in the war economy (whether by joining the guerrilla, or supporting it as whistleblowers, or participating in illegal economic activities).

Intermediary institutions

The literature considers outsiders influencing RPO as organizations, analyzing them from the bridging capital or nested enterprise perspectives. The case of Planadas allowed us to identify institutional intermediaries, not considered as organizational entities but as a set of rules (which may emanate from organizations). Therefore, we understand intermediary institutions as third-party rulers that influence collective action. The FARC-EP, FEDECAFE, and CAFISUR affected cooperation greatly in Planadas in wartime, especially before the peace talks. However, the peasants felt disconnected from the collective action effort because it was imposed, external, and, in the case of the pioneer associations, dependent on other organizations that granted the only funds they could access. The standards, on the other hand, provided a set of working rules without interference in the process of creating the association, which was initiated by the peasants. In this sense, our findings suggest that the kind of rules available (complementary or imposed), how the intermediary institutions and the participants of collective action are linked (horizontally or vertically), and the funding source (external or self-generated) are indicators of whether the intermediary institutions can foster or stagnate collaboration.

The results also reveal the necessity of considering the standards beyond both the environmental impact perspective and economic lenses, analyzing them instead as intermediary institutions. The case of Planadas controverts the literature finding negative or neutral effects of the standards in the livelihoods of small farmers (Bray & Neilson, 2017; DeFries et al., 2017). Standards in Planadas provided incentives for cooperation and a set of working rules for the associations, had significant social effects (e.g., strengthening trust among both the associates and with external actors and invigorating self-organizing practices), and facilitated the appropriation of discourses related to environmental protection.

Discourses underlying collective action

Discourses defined as a set of ideas that assign specific meanings to particular situations (how they are or should be) (Runhaar, van Laerhoven, Driessen, & Arts, 2013; Sharp & Richardson, 2001), underlies collective action by condensing what the actors consider valuable besides economic rewards and creating a sense of responsibility among the participants. In the case analyzed, while the initial goal of the RPO was coffee trading, environmental discourses noted in the section on Global Factors provided a common ground to commit to and maintain cooperation, providing further incentives. Discourses reduce free-riding problems, people’s tendency to calculate based on their own private benefits, and enforcement costs, because discourses deepen the legitimacy of collective action institutions (Ambrosino & Fiori, 2018; Snow & Bedford, 2000; Tarrow, 1992). In short, discourses make cooperation valid and worthy to the individuals, making behaviors (in this case, holding environmentally friendly practices), not an external constriction, but a voluntary process aligned with the individuals’ beliefs (even though shared). Considering the post-war situation in Planadas, a further advantage of environmental discourses is their neutrality regarding contending discourses and ideologies, such as the communist ideology held by the guerrilla, deactivating sources of conflicts, or motives to push away collaborators that wanted to recede from the guerrilla.

Since power relations underpin discourses, they are also an analytical tool to answer questions linking collective action with broader societal structures. While it is not the focus of this research, questions such as to whom (besides the stakeholders) and to what general purposes collective action serves can be elucidated by paying attention to discourses grounding it.

While the legacies of war are specific to post-war scenarios, we consider resilience strategies, institutional intermediaries, and discourses underlying cooperation have the potential to analyze further collective action situations, especially for disentangling the incentives and motivations of the actors to collaborate.

Framework to understand Rural Producer Organizations Development Post-war and Implications for Public Policy design

The results suggest that RPO as forms of collective action in post-war settings are possible due to the interplay of different factors. First, external factors placed at various scales (global, national, and local) can prompt or stagnate collaboration. Second, the capacity of the actors to deal with those factors, take advantage of the opportunities, and overcome difficulties (some of them inherent to collective action as distrust) is crucial. Figure 6 presents the factors identified in Planadas as a framework to investigate and understand RPO in post-war settings. The factors are sorted by scale (external factors, local capacity indicators, and internal factors of the RPO) and classified according to their type of influence on collective action (prerequisites, facilitating conditions, and triggers). Prerequisites are conditions of possibility and precede collective action but are difficult to alter (e.g., biophyisical conditions). Facilitating conditions can be intervened or fostered for expediting collective action (e.g., social entrepreneurs). Triggers provoke collective action but are unpredictable because they depend on situations out of the direct control of the local stakeholders (e.g., a real possibility of the end of the war).

Figure 6 

Framework to understand RPO development in post-war settings.

Source: Authors.

According to this framework, we can expect collective action in post-war zones if the following factors are present, taking for granted the possibility of the end of the war. RPO literature identified an essential group of elements influencing collective action in post-war settings:

  • The stakeholders encounter a problem only possible to solve through cooperation.
  • Awareness of the importance of solving the problem and the necessity of collaboration exist.
  • Incentives to solve the problem and undertake collective action efforts are enough.
  • Biophysical conditions allow the solution of the problem (or the solution is adapted to the biophysical conditions).
  • A source of homogeneity that invigorates a shared identity is available.
  • Stakeholders craft rules fostering self-governance practices, establishing monitoring practices, and stating precise practices to relate to the markets.

We found additionally that legacies of war that abolished illegal economic activities and affected other aspects (e.g., a source of homogeneity) influence the possibility of collective action. Moreover, if the civilians during the war were able to develop an economic activity that allowed them to stay aside from the war dynamics, collaboration is more likely to occur. This does not mean that if there is not a specific set of legacies of war or economic activities as a resilience strategy in a certain area, collective action would be impossible. It means that the analysis must be context-based to understand why or why not collaboration occurs in a specific post-war setting considering these two factors, and how to advance suitable strategies according to local capacity indicators (Figure 6). This study provides alternatives and strategies to prompt RPO development in situations different from Planadas, e.g., in which the emergence of resilience strategies was impossible, the confrontation between different armed actors prevailed, or illegal economic activities succeeded. In this sense, to direct endeavors to facilitating conditions is required.

For example, social entrepreneurs can show to others that cooperation is possible and that to tackle the problem together could be rewarding. Social entrepreneurs, as agents implementing practices to solve social problems through market approaches (Douglas & Grant, 2014), spurred collaboration and proved that local communities are able to solve their problems collectively without the necessity of direct state interference. These entrepreneurs were able to connect local concerns (e.g., problems with the commercialization of coffee, the main agricultural product of the municipality) with global approaches (e.g., standards), tailoring solutions to these specific settings (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2009; Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2007; Zahra, Gedajlovic, Neubaum, & Shulman, 2009). Therefore, assisting individuals and groups that can foster cooperation directly or by imitation may expand the formation of RPO.

We also found that institutional intermediaries are decisive. While institutions and laws enacted by the government are recognized as important to promote collective action and RPO, it is assumed that these efforts fall into an institutional vacuum concerning third-party institutions and regulations. To understand how collective action interacts with other institutions, particularly those affecting the collective action endeavor directly, is imperative, especially in post-war settings, where they can play a critical role in sparking cooperation and encouraging self-organizing processes. It is also the case of discourses, also neglected by the literature on RPO, because discourses make collective action relevant to the individuals besides economic rewards, and fosters the practices required for maintaining cooperation (e.g., environmentally friendly practices). Our results suggest that trainings and funds for acquiring the standards can hasten the formation of RPO in post-warzones.

Nonetheless, academic and public policy analyses must be context-based. The lack of data impeded us from developing a complete typology of all the possible variations of the factors found. Comparison with contexts where the RPO formation has been particularly difficult in post-war scenarios (especially in those where the war ended with the peace agreement) is necessary. Additionally, we are considering a case framed by irregular warfare. Therefore, the validity of the results might change in the context of extreme violence or high intensity conflict.


Our results provide evidence on the importance of RPO as strategies of community-based economic development for peacebuilding in former warzones. RPO prompted trust and cooperation, improved the livelihoods of rural communities, and contributed to inhibiting the re-initiation of war in Planadas. Nevertheless, despite the importance of RPO for peacebuilding and economic development in rural areas, the factors underlining the formation of RPO are unclear. This paper contributes to addressing this gap, by analyzing contextual factors and their interplay to better grasp why RPO develop post-war. Four additional factors were found: legacies of war, resilience strategies in wartime, institutional intermediaries, and discourses. An expanded framework for understanding the formation and development of RPO post-war that includes these four factors is proposed.

Major implications for both public policy and theory are derived from the expanded framework on collective action we outlined. Concerning public policy, top-down interventions may have detrimental effects on local collective action post-war because peacebuilding is a complex process in which the local agents are not merely recipients of national policies or international interventions. Since actors respond in different manners to opportunities and constraints, we suggest that assessing local capacity indicators is necessary. In this sense, devoting efforts to facilitating conditions of collective action may be more effective than to intervene directly, e.g., by working with social entrepreneurs. Different actors can also adapt or boost the opportunities posed by triggers, which are outside the scope of the direct control of local actors. For instance, institutional intermediaries reveal how outsiders can contribute to collective action without compromising the self-governance practices of the stakeholders; complementary, they show how local actors profit from the possibility of having available these institutions with the purpose of promoting cooperation.

Regarding theoretical implications, the attention to history and context also allows us to broaden the psychological explanations distinctive of the war renewal literature and to challenge the “war-ruin” school generalizations, which portray warzones as chaotic and devastated. While violence does have devastating effects, generalizations oversimplify complex situations as war and post-war that affect local contexts differently, even in the same country. We found indications of social order in wartime and successful cooperation during post-war in Planadas.

Additionally, from this historical and context-based approach, the article addresses some gaps in commons theory, specifically, its lack of attention to history, the difficulty to understand how stakeholders interact with other institutions beyond the state, and motivations underpinning engagement in long-term collective action (besides the mere necessity to solve a problem). The article also enriches the growing literature on new commons by stressing the role of community-based enterprises as efforts in which actors connect global and local concerns, find market-oriented solutions to social problems, share knowledge and practices, and manage hybrid resources.

The theory is particularly invigorated by inquiring why collective action is possible even in extreme situations such as post-war. Whereas commons theory has made major contributions to understand how people are able to manage shared resources and the mechanisms through which they do so, contextual variables explaining the possibility of collective action have received less attention. Our analysis points out to the necessity of considering additional factors such as the legacies of war in the case of long-term collective action post-war; and resilience strategies, institutional intermediaries, and discourses, which have the potential to broaden our understanding of why collective action emerges in various kind of situations. Complementary, the results emphasize the importance of local actors and the ways in which they enhance collective action by profiting from opportunities and coping with constraints.

However, important challenges remain, both theoretical and practical. As indicated, the analyses must be context-based. It is important to test, and if necessary, broaden or modify the proposed framework accordingly. Moreover, while we highlight the role of local actors in peacebuilding, the commitment of both the incumbent government and demobilized non-state armed groups is indispensable to preserve and defend peace accords. This is a crucial condition for all local communities to enjoy the benefits of post-war instead of uneven situations, in which relapse into war is a constant threat in several territories, as is currently happening in Colombia.


1The information about the winners of each year in Colombia is available on 


We are indebted to the members and managers of the associations in Planadas and community members that made this research possible. We are also grateful to the German Academic Exchange Service – DAAD that provided funds for this research, and to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions on previous drafts of this paper.

Competing Interests

The authors have no competing interests to declare.


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