The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has rarely ever been credited with positive environmental outcomes, intentional or otherwise. But the previously long-standing presence of the rebel guerrilla group in many rural parts of the country appears to have had one constructive ecological impact: significantly limiting deforestation, particularly in provinces in and around the delicate Amazon region, such as Caquetá and Meta.
The country’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) recently announced that deforestation rates have rapidly escalated since the signing of a peace deal between FARC and the Colombian government last year that finally ended more than 50 years of conflict. Around 178,597 hectares (690 sq miles) of forest was cleared in 2016, 44 per cent more than in the previous year. Post-conflict Colombia is witnessing opportunistic loggers entering territories where fear of FARC kept them away for decades, and converting them into sites for large-scale agriculture and cattle ranching, road infrastructure projects, or illegal mining.
It’s unwelcome news for a nation which pledged in 2015, through the UN’s REDD+ scheme (with donations totalling $300million from Germany, Norway and the UK), to bring its Amazon deforestation rate down to zero by 2020. Deforestation and forest degradation forms the country’s largest source of greenhouse emissions, half of the national total. Omar Franco, director of IDEAM, recently announced that the latest figures represented a ‘trend that we cannot allow to increase’ and insisted that the government’s onwards strategy – involving supporting local and indigenous communities and utilising environmental zoning to promote conservation – will ultimately make it possible to achieve that goal.
This was published in the September 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.