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Peace is not necessarily good for Colombian forests

During half a century of conflict in Colombia (1964–2016), plans and programs to conserve Colombia’s tropical forests for their biodiversity and mitigating role in climate change, have not been realized. And now that a lasting peace has been fashioned, it appears that the rate of deforestation has increased. Past research has shown that deforestation often increases during peace times, but the specific driving forces and impacts are not well understood.

When a team of researchers recently analyzed deforestation data from 708 municipalities in Colombia, for the years 2001–2018, they found that different factors drive deforestation dynamics in different local areas. Their study combined regional datasets from the municipalities to model the relationships between deforestation, conflict events, displaced people, the size of municipalities, coca crops, and number of cattle and cattle farms. 

Regression analysis of the data revealed that coca cultivation area, number of cattle, and municipality area were the top three drivers of deforestation dynamics at national, regional, and category levels. But, the importance of the different variables varied according to the different spatial dimensions. 

“There are other studies that show increased pressure on forests after peace agreements, but our results show that it’s very hard to generalize deforestation in the context of conflict,” said study co-author Raphael Ganzenmüller of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

“There are various drivers at the local scale that have different effects, so it’s very important to look locally and to see the history and actors.”

For example, the results confirmed a strong trend towards more forest loss at a national level after the peace agreement. This was mostly related to increased numbers of coca farms and cattle. But the impact and leading causes varied depending on the municipality area and region – cattle were the leading predictor in the Amazon, whereas coca cultivation was more important in the Andes.

It was a challenge for the authors to locate historical data on smaller regional levels and this remains an area of interest for future research. They hope that these insights will help make conservation efforts more effective by taking into account the land use, politics and socioeconomics on a local level.

“It’s really difficult to encompass all of the variables that could be driving different deforestation dynamics,” explained study co-author Janelle M Sylvester. “The approach that we took uses the best available data, and we hope that this research can provide critical insights into designing proposals to help curb deforestation.”

“What we can conclude is that there’s not one perfect solution that you can generalize for the whole of Colombia,” said Dr. Augusto Castro-Nunez.

“We have an overall idea of the dynamics at play and next we need to break it down and confirm that this is really happening on the ground by surveying farmers and understanding local motivations. Then we need to provide farmers and those affected with policies and incentives that take into account their livelihoods as well as conservation.”

The exports conclude that insights gained from this study can be used to understand deforestation dynamics in other countries that experience times of conflict and peace, and will support decision-makers in creating programs that align actions for peacebuilding, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity conservation more effectively.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science.

By Alison Bosman, Staff Writer

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