Sustainable agriculture and livestock for dry tropical forest conservation

The cotton-top tamarin monkey is just one example of the richness, in terms of biodiversity, that lives in the dry forest and  is currently threatened. This endangered species only exists in Colombia, in the departments of Atlántico, Bolívar, Sucre and Córdoba. It is estimated that there are only about 7,000 individuals left. Photo: © Michael Gäbler / Wikimedia Commons 


Tropical Dry Forest (TDF) is very high in biodiversity: almost 2600 species of plants (83 endemic), 230 species of birds (33 endemic), and 60 species of mammals (3 endemic. Additionally, the TDF provides humans with fundamental ecosystem services such as water and climate regulation, carbon sequestration, soil retention, and nutritional legumes for human sustenance. Also, TDF is home to insect species that help control pests and diseases (Humboldt, 2014).

Paradoxically, TDF is one of the most threatened ecosystems in Colombia – from 9 million hectares that existed, today only 8% remain. This issue is not only affecting deforestation, but also land desertification. For this reason, the Natural Wealth Program financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) works to safeguard this ecosystem and supports the Government of Colombia to achieve this task.

Why agriculture and dairy farming in a conservation program?


To conserve means to keep alive something and protect it from waste, loss, or damage. Therefore, when we talk about conserving the TDF we refer to keep alive what is left of it, and second, to prevent future degradation. To keep TDF alive, it is essential to monitor biodiversity and its threats – as the USAID Natural Wealth Program does through Bioterra-; as well as increase the areas under legal protection. However, if we talk about preventing future degradation, it is essential to reduce environmental pressures from productive activities; especially the impacts from agriculture and dairy farming.

Recently, CIAT’s environmental molecular biologist Jacobo Arango Mejía said that “if there are large emissions, at least from agriculture activities, it is due to failures in the production system, because the energy released (gas emissions) can be efficiently absorbed by plants or animals”. For this reason, one of Natural Wealth’s lines of work, in which CIAT participates, is the implementation of improved productive practices through sustainable incentives, and the strengthening of Green Business models in two conservation corridors: one in San Juan Nepomuceno – in the Montes de María region, and the other in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – Serranía del Perijá.

For this purpose, Natural Wealth works to build three sectoral strategies[1] aimed at improving competitiveness and conservation, for the cocoa and avocado industries – in Montes de María – and dairy farming in Perijá. These strategies are planned and executed with the active participation of stakeholders from each value chain. The strategies intend to increase income for families, and promote biodiversity conservation.


Supply chains and green businesses prioritized by Natural Wealth within the Dry Tropical Forest ecosystem.

main strategies to conserve biodiversity:


  1. Increase areas under legal protection and strengthen existing ones.
  2. Provide incentives to key stakeholders for their direct conservation actions.
  3. Strengthen the planning norms, policies and instruments to make the priority areas for conservation sustainable development axes.

landscapes of high conservation value, which are also post-conflict areas:


Two in the Caribbean Region (The dry tropical forest of Montes de María and the DTF of the southern foothills of  the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the east foothills of the Serranía del Perijá) and one in Orinoquía (Floodable Savannahs, riparian and gallery forests, wetlands and transitional jungles in Casanare and Vichada).


CIAT’s contribution to the USAID Natural Wealth Program focuses on the second strategy and the two landscapes of the Caribbean Region. However, in December 2017 CIAT trained La Palmita, partner responsible for the Orinoquía, in the use of the LINK Methodology, with the purpose of standardizing the methodological bets in the three landscapes.  

To strengthening green businesses, CIAT implements the LINK Methodology[2], tidentify organizations to support. So far, the program identified 16 initiatives in Montes de María and 11 in Perijá. Organizations were evaluated and selected based on 8 eligibility criteria (development of activities within the prioritized conservation area, productive activities friendly with conservation of prioritized ecosystem, long-term projection of the possible source of financing, number of beneficiaries, gender and vulnerable population involved, commercial relationship over 6 months, organizations that are registered in the Chamber of Commerce, and relevance to any of the business lines of the Program) and 8 technical criteria (purchase guarantee, commercial relationships, product profitability, coverage or impact, agroclimatic feasibility, level of organizational development, willingness and opportunity of organizational and productive accompaniment, and willingness of actors to innovate/change)

As a result, 3 green businesses were chosen (one in Montes de María and two in the Corridor of Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta – Serranía del Perijá):


Commercial relationship between the Asociación de Actores Sociales Agropecuarios del Núcleo 8 Páramo, Loro y Pujana (Asoagro) and the buyer CI Tropicol. 98 families of the 180 that make up the association participate in an initiative supported by the Proyecto Apoyo a Alianzas Productivas (PAAP), of the Ministry of Agriculture, to export yams to the United States. The association is currently developing activities to promote dry forest conservation.


Association of Cocoa Producers of Jagua de Ibirico (Asocajagua), Asocajagua is an organization of 105 producers (40% of them women) located mostly in the basins of forestry compensation programs from mining companies. Cacao Hunters has not yet bought, but has expressed interest in consolidating a commercial alliance.


Association of Arhuacas Authorities – Tayrona Indigenous Confederation (ASO-CIT), This indigenous organization has 356 members that produce organic coffee.  Currently the organization faces marketing difficulties for its main product line.


[1] CIAT methodology for the construction of sectoral strategies can be found here:

[2] CIAT’s LINK methodology for the construction of inclusive businesses with small-scale producers can be found:


Contact us


Marcela Quintero

Marcela Quintero

Theme Leader in Ecosystem Services in the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area (DAPA)

Natural Wealth supports the Government of Colombia in the fulfillment of the goals and commitments of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. In the same way, it aims to contribute to citizen security, increase participation of young people in the planning and development of conservation strategies, and create alliances with the private sector that allow natural preservation and the increase of economic opportunities.


“This publication is possible thanks to the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of Chemonics International and CIAT, and does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the Government of the United States.”


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