A Conservation-Based Future in Colombia

A.J. Rohn


In the wake of Colombia’s peace deal with the FARC rebels failing to be voted through, some have evaluated what the peace measure may have brought about for conservation in the country. Colombia is home to about 10% of the global biodiversity, with considerable forest coverage. Nearly all countries struggle to balance development with sustainability and conservation, so an end to Colombia’s long conflict could provide more opportunities and incentives to focus on economic development. However, a lasting peace could also bring about opportunities to improve upon insecure land tenure rights and lead to sustainable forest practices.

It has been estimated that 15% of Colombian land has been abandoned or seized illegally and more than six million people have been displaced from the forest during the conflict, which began over fifty years. With such an unstable and unestablished land tenure system, a political renewal provides a clean slate, in a way, and the opportunity to use methods that are understood to be ideal for a sustainable and productive economic plan. However, this is an optimistic outlook. At a Palladium Group panel this May discussing the potential outcomes of a peace agreement in Colombia (linked above), Roger-Mark de Souza of the Woodrow Wilson Center of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience noted that – like in the aftermath of the conflict in the Philippines in the late 20th century – the peace could threaten the forest that has grown back following land abandonment. For example, forced displacements have been conducted by the palm oil industry as well as the rebels, and that industry could expand in a time of peace and accelerate deforestation. By properly including indigenous and impoverished peoples in the new economy and securing communal land rights in the forests, as well as fostering soil recovery in areas of coca cultivation and managing resource extraction, Colombia can move into a more equitable and environmentally sustainable future.

Deforestation near the Medellín River and Caldas, Antioquia, Colombia.  Photo: medea_material, January 2008.
Deforestation near the Medellín River and Caldas, Antioquia, Colombia. Photo: medea_material, CC BY 2.0, January 2008.

It is unclear what the future holds for Colombian conservation. The country’s extremely rich ecology must be balanced with livelihoods of the people present in the rural areas. This is a unique case in Latin America. For example Costa Rica has found some success in sustainable development, enabled in part due to the fact that that country had a much shorter period of civil war and conflict that ended many decades ago. By staving off corruption and environmental degradation, Colombia could become a hugely successful example of sustainable development in contrast with some of their neighbor countries, although much pessimism has been expressed on the matter.

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About the author
A.J. Rohn
A.J. is a recent graduate of the Geography and Environmental Studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a passion for writing and interests in areas ranging from ecology to geosophy to geopolitics. He enjoys the geography of Wisconsin, be it the north woods or city life in Madison. He loves to read research papers in geography, books by scholars like Yi-Fu Tuan and Bill Cronon (both at UW-Madison), as well as classic fiction writers like Thomas Pynchon and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is very much inspired by the work of all the people he encountered in Madison’s geography department, so expect a wide range of topics when reading his articles here.