Octavio Duque López
Fellow Since 1999
Asociacion para el Desarrollo Campesino
This profile was prepared when Octavio Duque López was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Octavio Duque has spent years experimenting with initiatives to protect the livelihood of small rural producers, stem the flow of urban migration, and guarantee the ecological sustainability of the land upon which they depend for subsistence. His first major innovation was the creation of the Network of Civil Society Natural Reserves (NCSNR), which he founded in 1991 to encourage landowners to turn uncultivated land into reserves, creating "ecological corridors" between protected regions. This movement has already achieved national recognition, and is particularly relevant because the concept of "reserve" it has established has expanded to embrace land that is still in production - an explicit acknowledgement of the importance of conservation tactics that incorporate the needs of people who rely on threatened land for their income. Having served as President of the NCSNR from its creation through 1997, Octavio has now stepped into the Vice-President role in order to focus more on the replication of his second significant innovation, the adaptation of the traditional Minga model of community organization. The Minga is a social structure known throughout the Andean region, and used on an occasional, short-term basis to pool labor for specific tasks. But Octavio has demonstrated in five municipalities that the principles and cultural appeal of this structure can be resurrected for ongoing productive organization. In specific response to the "vertical" management and declining real participation in the cooperatives he started and observed in Colombia, Octavio drew on the looser framework of the Minga to promote community identification of core areas of concern, followed by commitment of small producers to involvement in only one specific area - community organization, research, conservation, sustainable production, local leadership development, ecotourism or youth education - a commitment they have proven more likely to sustain than the broad economic co-dependence of the cooperative. The best proof of the success of this modified approach are the increased yields and noticeable lifestyle improvement for farmers participating in the Minga, and the requests for replication of the model that Octavio has received from across Colombia and beyond.