Colombia's Muñoz optimistic despite multiple development challenges

Simón Gaviria Muñoz, director of Colombia’s National Planning Department, and Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of Devex. Photo by: Amy Lieberman / Devex

Just months after signing a historic peace deal, Colombia’s current development to-do list appears overwhelming.

The country must keep working toward the Sustainable Development Goals while also meeting its COP21 commitments and moving forward with its entry to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development — all on top of implementing its own fragile peace agreement, which ended half a century of war in November 2016.

But juggling four large-scale development efforts is doable when the goals are not in opposition to each other and when certain common elements are weaved throughout each effort so they all head in the same direction, Simón Gaviria Muñoz, director of Colombia’s National Planning Department, told Devex on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Buenos Aires.

“Even though it might seem like its four policy debates going in different places, they overlap,” he said of the planning department’s current priorities. “It’s a package of policy that is going in the same direction, and it’s becoming a very important driver in reform.”

At the center of Colombia’s reform is a newfound commitment to a “territorial focus” in its development policy, Muñoz said, a strategy pushed into high gear following the strong narrative the peace process revealed about the country’s need to better address development issues and poverty in rural Colombia.

For efficiency purposes, talk of inequality often revolves around talk of large populations — and large populations live in cities, as is the case in many countries across Latin America. The danger when this mindset takes hold is the neglect of rural communities in policy conversations, Muñoz said.

“What people tend to do is focus on those [urban] areas and leave other areas of the country unattended or with less emphasis,” he added.

Colombia knows the results of this all too well. The country aims to break this cycle by instilling a “territorial focus” in all of its development efforts, an approach key in meeting rural peace agreement demands, but also for future evidence-based development work, Muñoz said.  

This strategy is “becoming stronger day by day,” Muñoz said, adding that its key in delivering on the end goal of leaving no one in the country behind.  

Now, as Muñoz and others draft a peace deal implementation and costing strategy in the next eight weeks, as well as a 15-year development strategy by the end of the year, they’re working to ensure all reforms complement one another — and that a strong emphasis on rural Colombia exists in each. 

In the meantime, the country continues to move forward to deliver on the peace deal. That agreement includes promises of land reform and improved rural infrastructure — most notably, Muñoz said, on advancing planning for tertiary roads in the country to link rural populations with markets and in establishing security in areas where the opposition guerilla group FARC has already disarmed.

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About the author

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.