Colombia Profile

Forest Conversion for Commercial Agriculture and Associated Exports

In Colombia, 75 percent of deforestation is due to expansion of the agricultural frontier; more than a third of forest cleared between 2000 and 2005 was converted to cattle pasture alone (Government of Colombia, 2011). In 2008, it was estimated that 2.2 Mha of Colombian forest had been lost during the previous 15 years to make way for cocaine production (Mongabay 2008).

A large proportion of Colombia’s agricultural land is owned by drug gangs; in 2003, the country’s own Court of Audits estimated that drug traffickers owned almost half (four million hectares) of the country’s fertile farmland, also noting that due to the use of front men, the real figure was probably double (Clarin, 2003). Coca cultivation and cattle ranching were among the drivers cited in a Colombian government report in 2014 as factors behind a substantial increase in the deforestation rate that year (IDEAM 2015).

The province with by far the largest area of recent deforestation was found to be Caqueta, where large-scale cattle ranching is gradually encroaching on the moist forests of the Colombian Amazon (WWF 2016). Colombia is also seeing large expansions in the amount of land cultivated with oil palm. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, the area of oil palm plantations more than doubled, to 450,000 hectares. This is set to increase to just under a million hectares by the end of 2020 (Vargas et al., 2015).

Colombia typically exports between 10 and 20 percent of its beef, though in 2012 the proportion was just 2 percent as a result of trade restrictions stemming from outbreaks of foot and mouth disease.

Illegalities in Conversion

There is little information on the nature and extent of illegality in conversion of tropical forests for commercial agriculture in Colombia. However, given the poor general forest governance situation (it has been estimated that 42 percent of Colombian timber production is illegal) (World Bank 2006), it is likely that the country suffers similar problems as those documented elsewhere in Latin America. All of the deforestation for coca production is illegal. One news article in 2015 claimed that 48,000 hectares of forest were being lost to illegal deforestation each year in the country (El Tiempo 2015).

This summary was last updated in September 2016. For more recent information, please see individual news stories.