Colombia: Commercial Reforestation on Lands Dedicated to Extensive Cattle Grazing Activities - Magdalena Bajo Seco
UNFCCC Reference No.: 4861
The great hydrographic basin of the outer Magdalena River is the most important river system in Colombia. It provides the connection among three major cities: Bogotá, Medellin and Cali; more than 66% of the Colombian population is settled here, where 86% of the country’s GDP is generated. Moreover, it accounts for more than 1.5 million hectares identified as soils highly suitable for commercial reforestation. However, for years, the basin has been subjected to serious environmental degradation due to the extensive traditional cattle ranching that have so far been the dominant agricultural activity. Between the 1970s and 1990s, about 4.6 million hectares of forestry ecosystems were destroyed. This large scale deforestation has dramatically increased the threat of desertification due to the dry climate. Cattle ranching activity along with mining and other industrial agricultural activities have also caused soil erosion, diminished the fishery resources and deteriorated the coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. The low productivity of grazing, lack of alternative economic activities and increase in population have added pressure to the social situation, generating spiral of violence and irreversible environmental damage.
The Commercial Reforestation project (PRC) was initiated in 2000 by the Corporation Autonoma Regional del Rio Grande de la Magdalena (CORMAGDALENA) with the aim of stopping and reversing this land degradation issue. As the project evolved, FINAGRO, A.W. FABER CASTELL & T.H. Reforestation S.A.S and ONFI joined as partners in project implementation and management. The vision of PRC is to set up a public-private associative scheme for forestry business that generates environmental, social and economic benefits for participating landowners, the private sector entities, and the State.
Project acitivity consists of the reforestation of 4,373 ha of land traditionally devoted to extensive cattle grazing in the North of Colombia, in the lower part of the Magdalena River basin, called Magdalena Bajo Seco. The project area includes six municipalities: Santa Bárbara de Pinto, Plato, Tenerife, Zapayán, Pedraza and Piñón and are one of the most deforested areas in the country.
Main project acitivites include: (a) Optimal use of the land traditionally devoted to extensive livestock in the Magdalena Bajo, through higher cattle densities per surface unit, in order to release areas for the establishment of commercial forest stands, (b) Reforestation on private lands dedicated to extensive cattle grazing activities, and (c) Creation of a forest sector integrated to the regional wood sector.
The program has become the first example of public-private partnership for forestry business in Colombia. It has changed the traditional development approach of forestry initiatives and enables the participating landowners to move from receiving donations, credits or subsidies from the government to internalizing the concept of forestry business and perceiving plantation as their own business, while receiving payments for emission reduction.
Reforestation of lands dedicated to extensive cattle grazing activities has led to reduction of soil erosion and its related negative impacts. Further pressure on the exploitation of natural forest has decreased. The program has also contributed to the reduction of the risk for desertification of the region, preservation of biodiversity, improvement of the hydrological cycle, and climate change mitigation.
The implementation of PRC’s associative scheme among investors, entities and landowners has resulted in the reconstruction of social cohesion and the strengthening of security in the region, which was severely affected by population displacements due to the economic crisis and the armed conflict in Colombia in the 1990s. The program has produced direct and indirect economic benefits, generating employment (for each 1,000 hectares reforested in PRC, 80 permanent jobs are created in the countryside, 5 times more employment than if the area had depended on stockbreeding) and improving the living conditions of the local community. The social and economic benefits proved the program to be a viable alternative for the low-income landowners in the region, who have seen their income from livestock activities dwindle over the past years due to a cycle of overgrazing, land degradation and droughts on top of the negative impact from the regional armed conflict. The program has also demonstrated the technical and financial viability of reforestation activities and transfer of technical knowledge and capacity building.