Indigenous communities in southern Colombia denounce invasion of their territories by cattle ranchers

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

This post draws extensively from an article published by Semana Sostenible.

In the southern Putumayo Department, which borders Peru and Ecuador in the Colombian Amazon, indigenous communities have denounced illegal invasions and deforestation of their lands by cattle ranchers.

According to the latest issue of Semana Sostenible, an environmental quarterly Colombian magazine, the indigenous communities Nukanchiruna, Chaibajú and Uaima have demanded, so far without success, that ranchers remove their cattle from their territories.

At Nukanchiruna, residents of the kichwa ethnicity allege that ranchers have occupied and cleared 170 hectares of forests on their land in recent years.

The communities have expressed concern that if ranches continue to advance into the reservation their water sources and livelihoods will be affected.

They claim that even when ranches, several of which extend for more than 300 ha, do not encroach on their lands, cattle are allowed to move around and destroy their cassava and plantain cultivations.

The communities have been settled within the Alto Predio Putumayo indigenous reservation since 2007 following an agreement with INCODER (Colombian Institute for Rural Development, a now extinct government body).

The Alto Predio Putumayo reservation, Colombia’s largest with an area of 5.5 million ha, covers the municipality of Puerto Leguízamo, one of eight municipalities in Colombia that concentrate over 50% of deforestation in the country.

According to Semana Sostenible, Corpoamazonia, a government body tasked with promoting the sustainable development of Colombia’s southern Amazon region, has been investigating cases of illegal occupation of indigenous territories by ranchers.

Ranchers defend themselves by claiming that they have legal titles to the lands and that it is the government’s responsibility to manage land conflicts in the region. They have also alleged that they’ve only appropriated areas that had been abandoned.

Colombia’s forests have made headlines in recent months due to increases of over 40 percent in illegal deforestation rates following the 2016 peace agreement between the FARC guerilla and the government. Conservationists have claimed that the guerilla’s demobilisation and an absence of state presence in several areas have led to land grabbers and organised crime moving into protected areas and illegally clearing forests to sell the land to ranchers, farmers and miners.