In Colombia, the end of the war meant the start of rampant deforestation, according to a study



  • A new study analyzes changes in forest cover in Colombia before and after the signing of a peace agreement in 2016 between the government and armed guerrillas.
  • The authors found that between 1988-2012 the forest area converted to agriculture was 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres), but that in the much shorter post-conflict period of 2013-2019 , the pace of conversion accelerated, with 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) converted to farmland.
  • Researchers have also identified a direct relationship between violent events and loss of forest cover.

The signing of a peace accord in 2016 between the Colombian government and armed rebels has been one of the most anticipated moments in decades for millions of Colombians. But the end of one of the world’s longest civil wars marked the beginning of a serious setback for Colombian forests.

Since the signing of the peace accords, which ended a 57-year conflict, the longest in the Western Hemisphere, deforestation has increased by 40% compared to the previous 24 years, when war between government forces and the left-wing FARC rebels were at their worst. most critical phase, with the insurgents marking out their presence in a significant part of the country.

It is one of the main conclusions of a new study about “rapid and widespread land changes in the Andes and Amazon region following the Colombian civil war”. It was published in the July edition of the journal Global environmental change.

Colombian researcher Paulo Murillo-Sandoval led the research as part of his doctoral studies at the Oregon State University (OSU) College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. According to Murillo-Sandoval, the aim of the study was to assess changes in forest cover in the Colombian Amazon before, during and after the war.

Although previous research has already shown an increase in forest loss after the end of the conflict in Colombia, this study explores not only deforestation after the peace agreement, but also the 30 years before it was signed – up to the years 1980 (when the conflict was at one of its most intense moments). He then compared that to the few years that have passed since signing.

The study also analyzes the evolution of forest cover in conflict zones. To do this, the authors examined deforestation that occurred within 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) of sites of armed attacks with at least one fatality.

“We observed satellite images of the Landsat Archives compare how land use was transformed when the FARC was the environmental authority in much of Colombia with what happened when [they] left these territories, leaving room for other actors, such as peasants, large companies and the state, ”said Murillo-Sandoval in an interview.

The research details how the FARC acted as the leading authority during the conflict in the areas of control.

“After the peace agreement was concluded, the forests were more secure, but also had little or no government control, creating an opportunity for people with money and power to take over. earth, ”David Wrathall, associate professor at OSU and one of the article’s co-authors, said in a press release.

“It is undeniable that the mere presence of the FARC was an obstacle for investors, whether they were farmers or large agricultural projects,” said Murillo-Sandoval. “The proof is that in the Andes-Amazonia zone, during the period 1988-2012, the size of the forest transformed into agriculture reached 1.2 million hectares. [3 million acres], while it was only in the period 2013-2019 that the conversion to agriculture was much faster, from 0.5 million hectares [1.2 million acres]. “

The authors conclude that the slow implementation of conservation governance, the emergence of illegal land markets, and illicit land uses such as illegal cattle ranching could accelerate land cover change. Provided by Pedro Szekely via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

More deaths, less forest

To correlate the incidence of violence with increasing deforestation, the researchers used the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, a database which, in the case of Colombia, records clashes between different armed actors such as the FARC, paramilitary groups, the state and civilians, in which there has been at least one death.

The researchers identified a total of 181 violent events and found that the forest cover within a radius of 1 km around these conflict events has decreased significantly: from an average of 19% during the conflict, it fell to 30%. in the post-conflict period.

According to Wrathall, this proves that “the conflict itself causes deforestation”.

Likewise, the expansion of agriculture was greater during the post-conflict period, but exclusively in sparsely populated municipalities, the study shows.

The authors conclude that “the slow implementation of conservation governance in the region; the emergence of illegal land markets by rich and powerful people; and illicit land uses such as illegal cattle ranching and, to a lesser extent, coca cultivation ”- could accelerate land cover change in the years to come.

The researchers also found that the presence of FARC had a positive impact on increasing secondary forest, fundamental for primary forest generation, but this changed negatively during the post-conflict period.

Wrathall notes in the OSU press release that their intention is to identify “an incredible political need, not only in Colombia but in other parts of the world affected by armed conflict, such as the Congo or Liberia”.

Banner image: A black-mantled tamarin in the Colombian Amazon forests. Image by Grégoire Dubois via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Agriculture, Amazon destruction, Biodiversity, Conflict, Conservation, Deforestation, Environment, Forests, Land conflict, Land use change, Protected areas, Rainforest destruction, Tropical forests, Resource conflict, Threats to Amazonia, Tropical deforestation, Tropical forests, War

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