The environment is at the heart of post-conflict development in Colombia. UNDP’s environment projects play a strategic role in the designation of ‘sustainable territories of peace’ in critical places such as the Caribbean, Choco, and the Amazon. Projects have begun generating economic and social opportunities that help consolidate peace through environmentally friendly production, economic mechanisms, market strategies, governance, and institutional capacity-building.
In the Caribbean and the Andes, UNDP, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and governments are working with local communities to address the loss of the dry forest ecosystem under the banner ‘Forests 4 Peace’. The dry forest can be as green as the Amazon during the wet season, but as the dry months approach the trees shed their foliage, turn into skeletons, and adapt to almost zero precipitation until the rains bring the leaves back a few months later. This unique ecosystem, which used to cover about nine million hectares in areas such as the Caribbean coast and the valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers, is severely threatened. Today, only about eight percent of the original area remains. Nonetheless, Colombia’s dry forest biodiversity is significant. It includes at least 2,600 plant, 250 bird, 60 mammal, and 60 amphibian species.
During the last five years UNDP and its partners have consolidated the conservation of 33,400 hectares of dry forest by strengthening the national and local regulatory and land use planning framework; and worked with local communities through conservation agreements, agroforestry projects, and the enrichment of the dry forest with native species. More than 400 families are working on fruit gardens, cocoa production, nurseries with native seeds, eco-efficient stoves which reduce wood consumption, beekeeping, and tourism.
Montes de Maria, in the Caribbean district, has abundant biodiversity and fertility, but has experienced brutal violence in the past 30 years. Many peasants, farmers, and artisans were tortured, assassinated, or displaced during the conflict. Today local communities have returned to Montes de Maria and are using nature-based solutions to increase their incomes, fight climate change, improve their livelihoods, and recover the dry forest. One of the leaders is Carmen Rodriguez who recently participated in the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York.
“We are planting the oxygen that you will breathe in the future,” she says. Her organization ASOMUDEMEPAZ is supporting women who are using science and traditional knowledge to recover seeds for the survival of the forest and local communities. They are using novel in-vitro plant tissue culture techniques to ensure the reproduction of native species not only for the forest’s survival but also for food security by ensuring a constant supply of heirloom varieties of beans, yuca, and yams. These and other native food varieties are being bought by high-end restaurants in Cartagena and Bogota.
Community members have also contributed to the conservation of about 5,000 hectares of dry forest in Montes de Maria with the support of nature-based solutions such as municipal protected areas, forest enrichment, micro-conservation corridors, and agroforestry. Key activities contributing to the rehabilitation of this ecosystem include designing a network of conservation corridors, developing monitoring protocols for water and soil indicators and a methodology for the design, and negotiating a participatory model for landscape management tools.
Forests 4 Peace reflects the power of partnerships in accelerating the achievement of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The Government of Colombia joined efforts with GEF, the private sector, community-based organizations, and UNDP through a comprehensive environmental project. This project catalysed key sustainable development targets related to ecosystem protection, poverty reduction, food security, and climate change. In so doing, it demonstrates that contributing to closing development gaps ensures no one is left behind.