Coca plants were cultivated on around 171,000 hectares in Colombia in 2017 – with devastating consequences for the environment. Illegal coca cultivation is one of the main causes of deforestation in Colombia. In 2017 alone, the country lost around 220,000 hectares of rainforest (equivalent to around 300,000 football pitches). The impacts on the climate, ecosystems and inhabitants of these regions are considerable. For this reason, the bilateral programme “Protection of forests and the climate” (REDD+) and the project “Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development” (GPDPD) carried out five pilot projects in Colombia between 2016 and 2018 to show that it is possible to use the forest sustainably and legally.
Coca plants were cultivated on around 171,000 hectares in Colombia in 2017 – with devastating consequences for the environment. Illicit coca cultivation is one of the main causes of deforestation in Colombia. In 2017 alone, the country lost around 220,000 hectares of rainforest (equivalent to around 300,000 football pitches). The impacts on the climate, ecosystems and inhabitants of these regions are substantial.
The bilateral programme “Protection of forests and the climate” (REDD+) and the IZR project “Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development” (GPDPD) on behalf of BMZ jointly conducted five pilot projects in Colombia from 2016 to 2018 in order to demonstrate that it is possible to use the forest sustainably and legally. Measures based on the Alternative Development (AD) approach were tested in selected areas with high coca cultivation and severe deforestation in cooperation with the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and numerous regional and local partners.
In four areas in the Amazon region (Putumayo, Caquetá, Guaviare and Meta), small farmers achieved a higher and above all legal income through the use of forest resources such as palm fruits and nuts, but also through sustainable livestock farming. The aim is to build up stable sources of income in the long-term through sustainable value chains that show producers alternatives to coca cultivation and at the same time help to protect the forest. In this way, the projects also contribute to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
In accordance with the German AD approach, local authorities and producer associations as well as the civilian population are closely involved in the projects in order to strengthen their role for the sustainable development of their communities. By signing forest conservation agreements, participating communities voluntarily commit to permanently protecting defined forest areas from deforestation. Since the start of the measures, 1,600 hectares of forest have already been protected by such agreements. In addition, more than 18,000 domestic wood and fruit trees have been newly planted. In the medium- to long-term, these trees represent a further source of new income opportunities.
The participating producers have already been able to generate more income from the sustainable use and marketing of local fruits such as açaí, arazá and cupuaçu or the cultivation of cocoa. Cocoa farmers and açaí producers are furthermore supported in having their products certified and in concluding fair trade agreements with local companies. As a result, they achieved higher prices. Some of the products, such as açaí or a cosmetic oil from the Cacay nut that grows in the Colombian rainforest, are already being marketed by national partner companies on international markets in Europe and the USA. Some projects have trained smallholders in sustainable management and environmentally friendly cultivation methods. A total of over 200 families were involved in these measures, which now act as multipliers in their communities. In this way, the messages of the pilot projects now reach around 1,200 people living in these regions. Furthermore, the number of members of the açaí producers association has increased from 20 to 100 over the last two years.
More background information and findings from two pilot projects carried out with UNODC can be found in the publication “Desarrollo Alternativo, participación comunitaria y bosque – Reflexiones desde la experiencia territorial“ (Spanish).
Another aspect of the cooperation between the two projects was the organisation of three exchange visits between Colombia and Thailand. The Thai Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage (MFLF) repeatedly received delegations of Colombian small producers, representatives of various ministries and institutions working both in the environmental field and in the field of alternative development. The Doi Tung Development Project in Northern Thailand is internationally recognised as a best practice example of alternative development. It promotes economic growth and sustainable development in the former opium poppy region by creating legal alternatives to drug crop cultivation for small farmers. The project focuses on reforestation and sustainable management of the areas degraded by opium poppy cultivation.
A total of 60 Colombian delegates gained an increase in knowledge and – perhaps even more decisively – a strong motivation for their future engagement in Colombia through this exchange of experiences. Following the study trips, they exchanged their impressions and experiences in Colombia with strategic partners at national and regional level as well as with their communities and families. The message has thus arrived in many regions and institutions of Colombia: Successful and sustainable strategies to protect forests and reduce illicit drug crop cultivation are being implemented in other countries and the population there is earning a stable and legal income.