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Sugarcane and Gold Mining in Lomitas, Colombia


Lomitas is a rural settlement located within the municipality of Santander de Quilichao, part of the department of Cauca. There is a division of this rural settlement in two sectors of its territory known as Lomitas Arriba and Lomitas Abajo. The population of Lomitas is composed principally of afrodescends, which have occupied historically the region for 200 years [1]. This rural community has experienced the change of its social dynamic and its environmental conditions, affecting thus the quality of life of its people [1] [2]. The inhabitants of Lomitas faced the dispossession and abandonment of their traditional farms by the expansion of the sugarcane agroindustry and the armed conflict with the presence of illegal armed groups such as guerrillas and specially paramilitaries [3] [4]. Based on testimonies of community members, the sugarcane crops of the rural zones of Lomitas started to be established approximately in 1987, replacing extensive livestock. Breeding of animals such as cows, horses, chickens and pigs was the main source of livelihood for the families, along with the intensive cultivation of coffee, rice and citrus. In 2000, the paramilitaries of the Farallones Front - Calima Block of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia or AUC) arrived to this rural settlement establishing training camps. This caused a wave of violence, and led to the forced displacement of its inhabitants to other places in Colombia and foreign countries [3]. Therefore, parcels of land were abandoned and some of them were taken by sugarcane workers. The difficult situation of poverty for the people who remained in their lands made them sell their lands at cheaper prices to big landowners, who rented the lands or sold sugarcane production to the mills. This extended the monoculture of sugarcane in the region: currently 70% of the Lomitas territory is used for sugarcane cultivation [4]. The decrease of the population in these territories is evident. The community census obtained from Community Action Councils reports that there are currently 700 inhabitants in Lomitas Arriba and 650 inhabitants in Lomitas Abajo [5] [6]. In Lomitas, there are currently three sugarcane mills: Incauca, La Cabaña and Mayagüez [1]. Studies of the regional environmental authority (Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cauca (CRC)) reported that there are 2.128,34 hectares (ha) of sugarcane cultivation of which only 879,62 ha are monocultures belonging to these mills [7]. The other 1.248,72 ha belong to individual landowners. Although the economy of this rural settlement is based on cultivation of the sugarcane, the population has not received benefits from the sugarcane agroindustry, considering that only 56 men of the community are sugarcane workers [1]. Indeed, the majority of the people live with temporal contracts by day of laboring outside of their community, evidencing high rates of unemployment and also secondary consequences such as drug addiction and prostitution. According to the testimonies of the community, the practices of illegal gold mining have also affected the community of Lomitas. The municipality of Santander de Quilichao has been considered a gold - rich territory and the exploration and exploitation of gold have been carried out since the beginning of the twenty-first century, bringing serious degradation of the water bodies and lands, loss of biodiversity and detriment of the communities [3]. Hence, the expansion of the sugarcane agroindustry, together with the illegal gold mining, has brought strong environmental and health impacts to this rural settlement. The sugarcane crops have produced contamination, given the high toxicity and inadequate biodegradability of herbicides used for weed control including glyphosate, ametrine, fusillade and DCMU, acid reaction of soils and accumulation of salts and aluminum [1] [8]. The contamination of water bodies such as the Teta and Catalina rivers by the dumping of toxic wastes and the high amounts of water used from the process of the sugarcane productions and gold mining are observed [1]. Research on the perception of the communities has also shown the changes of the landscape, the loss of the diversity of the vegetation cover including native forest, fruit trees and agricultural crops and human health impacts by the burning of sugarcane. After 2005, when the paramilitaries left Lomitas, the displaced people came back to their lands, finding that their homes were destroyed, their crops and animals no longer existed and their properties were invaded by the sugarcane agroindustry [9]. The fear of the population for denouncing this social and environmental injustice is reflected in the lack of collective action through years.

  However, the issuing of the law N° 1448 with the aim of repairing integrally the victims of the armed conflict with the restitution of lands by the national government along with the international assistance of the Norwegian Refugee Council in 2011, allowed the return of fifty-seven families to Lomitas and the legal restitution of 408 hectares that they had been forced to abandon [10] [11]. In 2012, five families began the struggle to recover their lands with the victims’ law through the Land Restitution Unit [12]. The sentence N°046 in favor of these families came out on 28 April 2015, establishing the reparation of their lands and the general benefit of the Lomitas community [13]. This sentence orders the evaluation of the socio-environmental impact of the sugarcane cultivation in Lomitas and, specifically, in the properties of the involved families. Currently, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cauca (CRC) and the Universidad del Valle carry out this evaluation. Although this sentence is still in process of execution for land restitution, other twenty-two restitution judgments from families of Lomitas have been issued in the First Civil Court of the Specialized Circuit in Land Restitution of Popayan [14]. Hence, the rural settlement of Lomitas has become an emblematic case for the department of Cauca, considering the highest number of land restitution judgments obtained positively. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Lomitas are still hoping that the restitution of their lands can also bring solutions to the environmental impacts of sugarcane cultivations and illegal gold mining, which are contributing to the detriment of their community.           

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Sugarcane and Gold Mining in Lomitas, Colombia
State or province:Cauca
Location of conflict:Santander de Quilichao/Lomitas
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Specific commodities:Sugar

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Project area: 2,128.34
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1350
Start of the conflict:1987
Company names or state enterprises:Incauca Sugar Mill
La Cabaña Sugar Mill
Mayagüez Sugar Mill
Relevant government actors:The Victims Unit, The Land Restitution Unit and The Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cauca (CRC).
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations (UN) from United States of America
The Norwegian Refugee Council
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Association of Northern Cauca Community Councils (ACONC)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the sentence N° 046 and others are still in process of execution for land restitution, there is no a clear solution to the impacts of the sugarcane expansion and ilegal gold mining.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[10] Secretaría General de la Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá D.C. (2011, 10 June). Ley 1448 de 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from

[13] Juzgado Primero Civil del Circuito Especializado en Restitución de Tierras de Popayán. (2015, 9 June). Sentencia Judicial N° 046 de 2015.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] SOLUTERRA SAS & CRC. (2016). Estudio de Impacto Ambiental en la Vereda Lomitas del Municipio de Santander de Quilichao, Departamento del Cauca.

[4] Morales, J. (2011). Impacto ambiental de la actividad azucarera y estrategias de mitigación. Monografía. Universidad Veracruzana.

[5] JAC Lomitas Abajo. (2016). Censo Poblacional Lomitas Abajo. Santander de Quilichao.

[6] JAC Lomitas Arriba. (2016). Censo Poblacional Lomitas Arriba. Santander de Quilichao.

[7] CRC. (2015). Información Cartográfica. Escala 1:25.000. Popayán.

[8] Barba-Ho, L. E., & Becerra, D. (2011). Biodegradabilidad y toxicidad de herbicidas utilizados en el cultivo de caña de azúcar. EIDENAR.

[2] (2015, 15 March). Lomitas, Cauca, Quiere Salir del Abismo. Retrieved 9 July 2017, from

[3] (2013, 28 April). Los Desaparecidos de Santander de Quilichao. Retrieved 10 July 2017, from

[9] Unidad de Restitución de Victimas. (2015, 4 June). Víctimas que Permanecían en el Exterior Vuelven a Colombia gracias a la Restitución. Retrieved 9 July 2017, from

[11] Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica. (2014, 9 March). Ley de Victimas. Retrieved 9 July 2017, from

[12] Periódico Virtual. (2015, 9 March). Consejo Noruego para Refugiados Apoya Restitución de Tierras en Cauca. Retrieved 9 July 2017, from

[14] Alvarez, V. (2017, 13 April). De la Restitución a las Respuestas. ARAAC-EEUU. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

USAID Land, Rural Development Program (LRDP), & Tetra Tech. (2016) Documentary "A Pesar de Todo (Despite Everything) Municipality: Lomitas/Cauca". Retrieved 11 July 2017, from

Restitución de Tierras. (2015). Documentary "Tus Tierras Tus Derechos, Cauca, Afrodecendiente". Retrieved 11 July 2017, from

Meta information

Contributor:Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado, Researcher
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2902



The Plantations of Sugarcane in Lomitas. Photo by Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado


Meeting of the Elderly Population in Lomitas. Photo by Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado


The Rural Settlement of Lomitas in Santander de Quilichao. Photo by Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado