In the context of ongoing debates surrounding the recently approved Colombian National Development Plan’s deforestation targets, there is reason for optimism regarding forest conservation. In a new agreement that highlights CIAT’s commitment to working with local partners on high-priority development goals, the Center was named lead implementing organization on a four-year project called Implementation of sustainable land use systems for forest conservation, climate protection (REDD+) and peace-building in Colombia (SLUS project). Funded by the German environment ministry’s International Climate Initiative (IKI), the €5.2 million project seeks to contribute to reduce CO2 emissions, conserve forests, restore degraded landscapes, improve rural livelihoods and support Colombia’s peace process.

Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development is the government partner for this IKI project, while the The Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), and Colombia’s Research Center for Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems (CIPAV) are implementing partner institutions.

“This SLUS  project has major potential for stemming deforestation and creating sustainable rural livelihoods in areas emerging from armed conflict,” said Augusto Castro, a climate finance and policy expert at CIAT. “We also expect the project to contribute to Colombia’s National Development Plan in terms of demonstrating how rural development and forest protection are not mutually exclusive.”

Research by Castro and colleagues has shown that zero deforestation in Colombia is possible but that the goal requires a specific framework and enabling policy environment, which the project aims to support.

“The goal is realistic but it’s also difficult,” said Castro, whose research has examined how forest cover is shaped by armed conflict and how conservation propensity is shaped by peacebuilding.

At the project’s official launch in March, partners chose Caquetá, in Colombia’s Amazon region, as one of the two regional nodes for piloting sustainable land use systems for agriculture and cattle ranching. A combination of factors makes Caquetá an ideal location for the project. The department faces deforestation pressure and local livelihoods are largely dependent on agriculture. It was an epicenter of the country’s armed conflicts, which largely ended under the 2016 peace accords.

The project is expected to inform both Colombia’s climate police processes and global climate dialogues. For instance, the project is already informing the government’s efforts and multi-stakeholder dialogue to promote zero deforestation in milk, meat and palm oil value chains. In addition, a baseline study on the cocoa sector, developed with the support of the project, is informing the design of the strategy for the recently launched Cocoa, Forest, and Peace Initiative.

Strategies for scaling up the project’s outcomes will be developed to promote the most promising land use systems, with monetary and non-monetary incentives. Target groups are farmers living in areas that have priority both in terms of carbon storage and landscape renaturation and were affected or threatened by armed conflicts. Working hand-in-hand with government partners will be essential to the project’s long-term benefits for local stakeholders.

Sources: IKI, Augusto Castro

Further reading:

Sustainable land use systems: A way to help achieve Colombia’s climate change mitigation and peacebuilding goals  (CIAT Blog)

Opinion: We can do better to achieve zero deforestation and low-carbon development (Devex)

Armed conflict was not always ‘good’ for preventing deforestation in Colombia (commentary) (Mongabay)


Studies cited:

Castro-Nunez, A., Mertz, O., Quintero, M. (2016) Propensity of farmers to conserve forest within REDD + projects in areas affected by armed-conflict. Forest Policy and Economics, 66 22-30. doi:

Castro-Nunez, A., Mertz, O., Buritica, A., C. Sosa, C., Lee, S.T. (2017). Land related grievances shape tropical forest-cover in areas affected by armed-conflict. Applied Geography, 85 39-50.  doi: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2017.05.007

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