Colombia's conflict spares forest

Colombia's conflict spares forest

Page last updated: 14 May, 2008

By Hernando Salazar, BBC Mundo correspondent in Colombia

The armed conflict in Colombia is protecting the 447,000 sq km of the country's Amazonian territory against the more serious threat of migration and widespread economic projects, experts have told the BBC.

The Amazon region in Colombia sees frequent skirmishes in the Amazon region between the army and the guerrillas - and is also where 35% of the Colombian coca plantations are.

But Carlos Rodriguez, the Director of Tropenbos International, told BBC Mundo that the conflict is ultimately of benefit to the Amazon, as it "stops anyone coming in."

"Who's going to go into the jungle in the middle of a war?" he added.

According to Dario Fajardo, a former director of the state-run Institute of Amazon Studies, Sinchi, urbanisation is "without doubt" the main threat to the Amazon region.

Public protection

Almost a million of Colombia's 42 million inhabitants live in the Amazon region, which represents a third of the country's territory.

Mr Fajardo warned that there is a growing pressure on the population of the Amazon region because of the arrival of people who are being displaced from other areas of the country - a phenomenon occurring particularly in the main towns and the smaller villages.

As well as migration, oil and gold mining are also threats the Colombian Amazon region, which accounts for between five and eight percent of the total forest.

But with ongoing conflict, extraction of these materials becomes much more difficult.

However, Dr Rodriguez warned that Colombia "cannot rely on clear public policies on Amazonia which take into account cultural, environmental and local social issues - they only think in terms of economic exploitation."

"We enjoy good legislation and constitutional guarantees, but the problem is the application of the policies," he added.

This desire for economic expansion is seen as a greater threat, with the Amazon region being threatened by the increased growing of industrial crops like the African palm.

In all some 2,000 sq km of the Colombian Amazon region are subject to deforestation each year, for a number of reasons. While some are legal, others are linked to the production of coca plants, and their subsequent processing into cocaine.

Coca production damages the forest in two ways - both from chemicals used in the cocaine conversion process polluting the water sources, and from the Colombian government spraying the coca crops with glifosate herbicide - which not only kills the coca, but all other flora.

The spraying simply makes the growers move elsewhere, leading to de-forestation, not only in Amazonia but also in the rest of the country.