Addressing Agricultural Drivers of Deforestation in Colombia

In a world facing the triple challenges of land scarcity, climate change, and the loss of tropical forests, there is an urgent need to increase agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing tropical deforestation. Colombia is well positioned to become a global leader in meeting these challenges. Its palm oil and sugarcane sectors have begun the transition to sustainability as they expand biofuel production and exports, supported by free- trade agreements and effective finance programs. The beef and dairy sector, which occupies most of Colombia’s cleared land, has a goal of reducing the area of pasture from 38 to 28 million hectares by 2019 as it increases production. If successful, this reduction of pastureland area could open up land for crop expansion, sparing forests on a national scale. A peace agreement under negotiation between FARC1 guerrillas and the national government could soon end the half-century war that has paralyzed much of Colombia’s rural zone and strengthened the illicit drug economies. An ambitious restitution program is beginning to compensate or resettle some of the five to six million smallholder farmers and villagers who have moved to urban centres, displaced from their land by guerrilla activity or land grabs. Tree plantations are expanding onto degraded lands. These trends and programs are reinforced by the national government’s commitment to end deforestation by 2020, by the law n. 2 of 1959 prohibiting deforestation in the Amazon and six other main forest regions2, by the national REDD+3 framework, and by the “Heart of the Amazon” programme designed to consolidate protected areas and indigenous territories in the Amazon region while arresting further frontier expansion into the region.

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