IIASA researchers Juliana Arbelaez-Gaviria and Eleanor Warren-Thomas have coauthored a new policy brief published with the Colombia team of the Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land, and Energy (FABLE) Consortium, an initiative under the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) and part of the UN Sustainable Development and Solutions Network (UNSDSN). The brief outlines how deforestation and ecological restoration in Colombia may impact carbon, biodiversity, and agricultural production by 2030.

Our new research shows the opportunities and potential consequences of forest restoration in Colombia. The findings highlight the importance of preventing further deforestation to avoid future forest carbon emissions, and the opportunities to restore forests without impacting agricultural production by focusing on low-intensity pastures.

We reviewed five policies aimed at halting deforestation and enhancing restoration in Colombia and analyzed their potential impacts on land use, agricultural production, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and 2040 using scenarios modeled in the IIASA Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM) for Colombia (a partial equilibrium model calibrated and adapted to the Colombian context).

The Colombia FABLE team consists of John Chavarro and Andres Peña, who were originally based at Universidad Javeriana with the late Prof Efrain Dominguez. Together with John, we led the development of GLOBIOM-Colombia, while Andres conducted an in-depth policy review that informed the scenario design. The work was also supported by Aline Mosnier and Maria Diaz from the UNSDSN, and David Leclere at IIASA.

Between 2000 and 2020, around 4.9 million ha of natural forest were turned into grassland in Colombia. In 2021–2022 the most affected macro-basin was the Amazon, which accounted for two-thirds of the deforestation (0.11 million ha), followed by the Andean with 17%. Between 2005 and 2015, 50% of deforested areas were transformed into pastures with low-productivity cattle ranching. The cultivation of illegal crops remains a problem, but in the last 34 years, cattle ranching has overtaken coca farming as the main driver of forest loss outside of the area where agricultural activities are allowed (the 'Agricultural Frontier').

The policy review showed that there is an approximate national target for restoration in Colombia of 1 million ha. However, restoration policies are not consistent about the total area, the targeted land cover type for restoration, and whether the proposed restoration is passive or active.

Our research comes at a crucial moment for Colombia during the first year of a new government that has agrarian reform and climate change as top priorities. The government has already pledged funds to support the development of rural communities and environmental protection of forests in the Amazon.

The brief recommends that the future National Restoration Plans for Colombia consider focusing on areas where ecosystems are most at risk, even if they lie inside the agricultural frontier, if agricultural productivity is low and natural regeneration for passive ecological restoration is possible. Further, stopping, displacing, or restricting the expansion of agricultural activity in certain areas to avoid deforestation requires the buy-in from rural communities and farmers. To realize these pathways, Colombia needs to implement a set of complementary interventions, such as incentives, support to formalize land ownership, community roundtables, and policies that support job creation for the rural working population whose livelihood depends on deforestation-related activities.

Work continues to develop GLOBIOM-Colombia as part of Eleanor’s NERC-IIASA Fellowship project on understanding potential consequences of meeting forest restoration targets for people, carbon, and biodiversity. Juliana is also working on GLOBIOM-Colombia within an IIASA-CGIAR cooperative project called MITIGATE+, which develops data, evidence, and tools for food systems transformation to ensure policymakers and program implementers are equipped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food systems in the most efficient and cost-effective way in the context of climate change.

The policy brief is available to read here: https://fableconsortium.org/publications/ecological-restoration-and-deforestation-control-implications-for-colombia-s-agriculture-and-climate-goals/ (a Spanish language version is also available).


Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the IIASA blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.