Trees, cattle and power dynamics in Colombia

Trees, cattle and power dynamics in Colombia

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Date: 5th December 2016
Type: Feature
Organisation: E3Asesorias

CDKN's Miren Gutierrez explores dilemmas and real opportunities for climate compatible development in Colombia.

It is likely that, in post-conflict Colombia, new challenges will grip people´s attention. Facing tough development questions while being true to international environmental and climate commitments will be one of them.

Nowhere are development vs. climate change dilemmas and synergies clearer than in the Colombian cattle business. This land intensive system has been responsible for 90% of forest loss in the Amazon region from 2005 until 2010 –mostly in the Southern department of Caquetá[1], according to a report of the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) and the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI), published with CDKN´s support.

“The Amazon is a mosaic of different environmental, political and socioeconomic interactions, compounding a complex and heterogeneous region. This complexity requires wide analyses which consider interactions between various factors involved in the processes,” says a report published by Earth System Science Center (CCST) Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Colombia is among the world’s top cattle-producing countries, with about 23 million heads of cattle on pastures covering 38% of the country. Meanwhile, agriculture, deforestation and other land uses are the second largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, after fossil fuel combustion, according to the IPCC 2014 report. And in Colombia, most emissions are related to agriculture, forests and other land uses, said  Claudia Martinez, CDKN’s senior strategic advisor for Colombia, in a previous interview about the main challenges that the Paris Agreement.

According to Martinez, “agreements with the big agriculture sectors (palm, soy, coffee, sugar cane, cattle ranging) are needed and they should be made in a pragmatic manner with concrete indicators and financial commitments.”

“It is increasingly apparent that cattle production or movement of cattle into new areas is an opportunistic response from producers who take advantage of already-cleared land or hope to gain tenure informally by “improving” the land through cattle grazing” says a 2015 report published by the Forest Carbon, Markets and Communities Programme.

But at the same time this country has perhaps one of the most vocal, expert and committed governments in the fight against climate change and in favour of biodiversity conservation.

The Forest Carbon, Markets and Communities Programme report also notes that deforestation is “at odds with government goals to increase productivity and decrease the amount of land under cattle production while increasing the number of hectares of non-livestock based agricultural commodities.”

A series of national policies are seen as opportunities in the right direction, including the Estrategia Transversal Envolvente de Crecimiento Verde del Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2014-2018[2]; the national commitment to zero net deforestation for the Amazon in 2020 under the UNFCCC Framework Convention on Climate Change; emission reduction commitments of 30% a year; and the Low Carbon Development Strategy for the conservation of the biome.

To meet these dilemmas and opportunities, exploring “the ways in which the private sector can contribute towards meeting WEF (water-energy-food) security objectives” could be key, say David Sabogal and Helen Bellfield of Global Canopy Programme in a CDKN article.

The so-called WEF nexus is becoming “a useful approach for addressing this challenge by identifying and evaluating resource trade-offs across different sectors. This approach recognises the interdependency between water, energy and food systems and their reliance on natural resources,” say Sabogal and Bellfield. What is more, this approach can be useful in unpacking the tensions and synergies between development needs, and climate and environmental commitments.

Water, energy and food security, as well as human wellbeing, are interdependent, these experts say. And for Colombia, “this security link is connected to the ecosystem services of the Amazonian biome, which represents 42.4% of the total territory and 33% of the country´s hydrographic area.”

A CDKN assessment of the coherence of using the WEF nexus approach in several countries in the Amazon region, including Colombia, indicates that, among other things, national development policies still need to “recognise and account for the strategic importance of the Amazon biome”; granular zoning and land use plans could facilitate “sustainable agricultural production, forest restoration and resource management”; better supply chain transparency,  better region coordination and stronger existing platforms for coordination should be in place; and public-private commitments and financial pledges to tackle deforestation can help “aligning current national development and climate plans,” and fund their implementation.

The WEF nexus approach frames Amazonia Security Agenda´s efforts to generate a comprehensive security agenda for Amazonia, which places water, energy and food security at the centre in an interconnected manner. The initiative was set up by by CDKN and Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano and GCP also to recognises the importance of Amazonia’s ecosystems in underpinning a comprehensive security as a basis for wellbeing and economic prosperity.


[1] Today beef exports, though, come from the departments of Santander and Atlántico, in the Andean and Pacific regions respectively, while the Amazon region produces beef for domestic consumers.

[2] The Crosscutting Green Development Strategy of the 2014-2018 National Development Plan.

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