A Future of Forests

USAID is providing the Colombian government with the tools to improve land administration and reduce deforestation in the Amazon

More than half of Colombia is forested, and the majority is concentrated in the Amazon. The country’s forests are one of its most valuable resources, but are threatened by the expansion of cattle ranching, illicit crop plantations, and illegal mining. All of these activities drive deforestation and put rural communities in a vulnerable position.

In the northwestern corner of Colombia’s Amazon rainforest, the government is fighting land grabbing for cattle ranching in an attempt to protect the ecosystems and biodiversity of the country’s treasured wilderness. As land is cleared, ranchers dig deeper towards protected areas like the Chiribiquete National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering more than 4 million hectares.

The National Park includes 13 geomorphologically distinct types of tepuis as well as arches, labyrinths, and caverns. (PNN Colombia)

A 2021 special investigation by the International Environmental Agency found a connection between illegal deforestation and the region’s armed conflict. According to the investigation, illegal cattle production has increased threefold since 2015, and in a four-year period, 17,000 hectares were cleared in the buffer zones surrounding areas of Chiribiquete National Park.

To counter deforestation, the government first requires knowledge about land and forest use in these areas. The USAID Land for Prosperity Activity is providing the government with tools to improve land administration in and around the park, starting with updating the cadaster of the Chiribiquete National Park and its buffer zones.

Chiribiquete is home to many iconic species including Jaguar, Puma, Lowland Tapir, Giant Otter, Howler Monkey, Brown Woolly Monkey. A high level of endemism occurs, and the number of endemic species is likely to rise substantially once new research programs are implemented. (Photos: PNN Colombia)

“The country needs to know how much land we have, which of it is public and which is private, how much it is worth, how it contributes to productivity, environmental conservation and the country’s development.”

Gustavo Marulanda, Director of Colombia’s catastro authority IGAC.

USAID has supported the government with high-quality aerial photography, on a scale of 1:10,000, of more than 500,000 hectares of land currently occupied by rural families in Chiribiquete’s buffer zones. With more accurate photography, the government can improve deforestation monitoring, community engagement, and law enforcement.

Proper land use management and administration in protected areas like national parks disincentivizes illicit crop cultivation. The strategy is based on the logic that addressing land tenure issues and strengthening sustainable rural development will disincentivize further deforestation and promote biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.

“The Government of Colombia conducts periodic flights to identify the deforestation and illegal occupation areas. These are public parcels that need to be identified to control and restore the area while reducing the possibility of affecting the natural and cultural heritage.”

-Carolina Jarro, deputy administrator in the National Parks Authority.

In the remaining area of Chiribiquete, USAID is supporting aerial photography to survey more than 3.7 million hectares. The scale of the aerial photography for the forested areas of the park is 1:50,000. Once the entire area has been surveyed, the government will validate the information only after carrying out free, prior, and informed consent methodologies with indigenous groups living in the park.

“Protecting the uncontacted indigenous groups in this territory is a challenge because of the risk of cultural loss after contact with land grabbers,” explains Jarro.

Despite the fact that limited scientific research has been undertaken in the property, data available shows that 2,939 species have been recorded, according to the UNESCO. (Photos courtesy of PNN Colombia and Colombia Oculta).


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