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North and South: CanNorth Participates in Community Building Program in Columbia

CanNorth’s Community Programs Division Manager, Ryan Froess, specializes in community-based environmental monitoring programs as well as in cultivating working relationships between industry, government, First Nations, and communities. At the end of November 2019, Ryan received an opportunity to put his skills into action when he, representing CanNorth, was invited by Agriteam Canada (Agriteam) to share his experiences and knowledge of community-based environmental monitoring programs in Canada and to participate in a multi-faceted project in Colombia called the Building Extractive Sector Governance in Colombia (BESG) program.

The BESG program is a five-year project (2015-2020) funded by Global Affairs Canada with the goal of supporting local communities and sustainable socio-economic development related to the extractive sector industry in Colombia. The project seeks to “build capacity of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MinMinas), mining agencies, and mining authorities within departments and municipalities to develop and implement strengthened policy and regulatory frameworks, improve extractive sector planning and implementation, and increase public sector engagement with communities impacted by natural resource extraction” (agriteam.ca). The project works to build trust between local community members and the extractive industries by engaging members in the various processes related to water quality monitoring in their regions.

Agriteam is a Canadian-based international development firm with over 450 completed projects worldwide and a global presence with field offices in Honduras, Peru, Colombia, Mongolia, Ukraine, Vietnam, South Sudan, Tanzania, Mali, and Ethiopia. Agriteam’s mission is to be “catalysts of change and opportunity, to be leaders and partners in international development, providing our best people and expertise to contribute to sustainable economic, social and environmental development” (agriteam.ca).

During his five-day visit to Columbia, Ryan presented a talk to a federal-regional water symposium and then participated in a workshop, offering his experience related to mining and community-based water monitoring in Canadian communities. Ryan shared his experiences of working with three different types of community-based water quality monitoring programs in Saskatchewan, including the Ya Thi Nene community based environmental monitoring program (CMEMP); the Eastern Athabasca Regional Monitoring Program (EARMP); and the Athabasca Working Group (AWG) Environmental Monitoring Program. The presentation offered a Canadian perspective and highlighted the success of community-based water quality monitoring programs in the mining industry in Saskatchewan. Key topics included best practices, methods of connecting with and hiring community members, as well as other topics related to environmental monitoring at a community level.

Ryan also visited several communities in the Putumayo region where he participated in community workshops and delivered further presentations about his experiences in northern Saskatchewan on how communities become involved in water monitoring, either with industrial partners, with governments, or on their own. Ryan also appreciated absorbing valuable and informative talks by Agriteam members and guests concerning training efforts related to environmental monitoring in local communities, gender roles in environmental stewardship, and the development of e-learning modules for participatory water quality monitoring. The audience members came from throughout the Putumayo region, some from as far as eight hours away, and included leaders from several rural communities, including indigenous communities.

For Ryan, this transnational, open exchange of information as well as his interactions with community members at the workshop were the most rewarding aspects of the trip: “Sharing our Canadian experiences with the people at the workshops was a very valuable learning experience. I was also able to learn new engagement approaches related to the extractive industry and how they operate within Colombia. They are doing some really great work related to maintaining and protecting the environment. I would love to take some of those grassroots initiatives and apply them here.”

The BESG program and Ryan’s sojourn to Colombia demonstrate that knowledge sharing breaks down boundaries between countries and nations and brings communities together through participation, contribution, and immersion.

CanNorth was grateful for the opportunity to work with Agriteam on their exciting and impactful project in Columbia and was honored to be invited to take part in the federal–regional workshop and in the community workshop on water quality monitoring. Ryan is eager to apply the many lessons from his experiences in Colombia and to continue to build capacity with communities and grow the community-based monitoring programs here in Saskatchewan and across Canada.