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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Facts about deforestation, coca crops and the conflict in Colombia

Forest cover Colombia 2012 Source: IDEAM

Forest cover Colombia 2012 Source: IDEAM

In the first blog post in our series on conflict and deforestation, we outlined the potential drivers of deforestation in Colombia and discussed evidence which suggests that conflict could potentially lead to either, deforestation or reforestation.

Please read our blog post of our series of three here:

Forest and conflicts in Colombia: Exploitation of natural resources or gunpoint conservation?

In this new blog post, number two, we will now take a closer look at the data and the recent trends in deforestation experienced by Colombia.

According to the Institute of Hydrology, Meterology and Environmental Studies (Instituto de Hidrología, Meterología y Estudios Ambientales – IDEAM), in 2012 natural forest covered around 60 million hectares or about 52.6% of the land area in Colombia. About two thirds (67.3%) of all natural forest cover in Colombia can be found in the Amazon, 17.1% in the Andean region, 9.4% in the Pacific region, 3.5% in the Orinoco and 2.7% in the Caribbean. The distribution of Colombia’s forests in 2012 is illustrated in the map to the right.

IDEAM also provides the forest cover official statistics (table below) and reports the share of forest loss, from 56.8% (1990) to 52.6% (2012).

Year Area covered by natural forest Area without information Proportion of total area covered by natural forest
Hectares (ha) Hectares (ha) Percentage % Percentage %
1990 64,862,451 2,495,934 2.2 56.8
2000 62,497,758 1,998,484 1.8 54.7
2005 61,109,621 2,255,505 2.0 53.5
2010 60,507,592 1,327,865 1.2 53.0
2012 60,013,580 1,776,044 1.6 52.6

Source: IDEAM

While deforestation has been mainly concentrated in the Amazon and the Andean region, the Caribbean forests have been the worst affected in relative terms. Between 2000 and 2010 the region lost 20% of its natural forest cover (IDEAM 2011).

Now let’s take a look at what official statistics say about the use of the deforested area: According to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Ministerio de medio ambiente y desarrollo sostenible – MADS) between 2005 and 2010, 57% of forested area was converted into grasslands and only 10% to agriculture.

The planting of illicit crops such as coca crops attributes for a comparatively smaller, yet considerable, part of deforestation. Between 2010 and 2011, 23,000 ha were deforested to plant coca crops and it is estimated that in 10 years coca cultivation could have resulted in the destruction of over 600,000 ha of forest.  The total area used for coca plantation has been decreasing from 2001 to 2009 and increasing since then (see graph below).

Source: UNODC

Source: UNODC

Clearly, a link between the planting of illicit crops, fueled by the conflict, and deforestation of Colombia’s forests remains. However, is it so strong?. ¿Are coca crops to blame for all forest cover loss?. The existing research and empirical evidence is not clear on whether there is a causal impact of the conflict on broad deforestation and if so whether this impact is positive or negative. Watch this space for the release and discussion of new findings regarding the results of a new research paper on this subject:

Conflict-Driven (de/re?) forestation in Colombia”


Rafael Isidro Parra-Peña S.

Summary — This paper offers evidence on the relationship between armed conflicts and the environmental impacts. For the case of Colombia, using a unique yearly municipality panel dataset (from 2004 to 2012) and an instrumental variable approach, which controls for possible reverse causality problems, there is evidence that the armed conflict is a force of forest regrowth. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began engaging in discussions with the national government in 2012 to attempt to end Latin America’s longest-running internal conflict starting more than half a century ago. Forests degradation often increases in post-war situations. With the beginning of remarkable era of peace as well as prosperity for the country, these findings spotlight a need for increased protection of Colombia’s forests.


Other related blog posts:

How violence affects farmers in Colombia and beyond

This blog was written by:

Jana Bischler, Visiting Researcher @ LFM-CIAT, University of Oxford, UK


Rafael Isidro Parra-Peña S., – Policy Economist/Analyst  – @ LFM-CIAT – PhD.c Economist , University of Sussex, UK.

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