Deforestation Directly Linked To Armed Conflict In Colombia

The massive destruction of the world’s forests — such as the recent burning of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil — is a tragedy in many respects. Deforestation harms the animals who live there, decreases the amount of CO2 that is absorbed by plant life, and makes global climate change even worse than it already is.

But it turns out that deforestation is also linked to armed conflict, especially in a country such as Colombia, which also faces challenges caused by the illegal trade in coca, the raw material for cocaine.

A new study published in Biological Conservation has now analyzed the relationship between deforestation and armed conflict between 2000 and 2015, Mongabay reports:

“One of the study’s main conclusions was that “[d]eforestation was positively associated with armed conflict intensity and proximity to illegal coca plantations,” especially in the Colombian Amazon. Higher amounts of deforestation were also associated with proximity to mining concessions, oil wells, and road networks.”

The lead author of the groundbreaking study was Pablo José Negret, a Colombian biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, who remarked on his findings:

“It has been speculated that there is a relationship between armed conflict and deforestation, but it had never been analyzed statistically. We showed that with more armed conflict comes more deforestation. Additionally, we analyzed coca crops, which had been done before. Researcher Liliana Dávalos has done lots of work with that topic.”

Instead of focusing on the dozens of variables that have the greatest impact on deforestation in Colombia, Negret and his fellow researchers decided to look at the relationship between the variables and the deforestation patterns.

What Negret and his team found was indeed startling:

“’For example, we found that forested areas fewer than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from illicit crops have a higher probability of being deforested than those that are farther away. Additionally, forests fewer than 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from a road have a higher probability of being deforested.'”

After analyzing their data, the researchers found that deforestation in Colombia is concentrated in the foothills of the Amazon and in the Andes region:

“However, when only the presence of armed conflict and coca crops is considered, the greatest amounts of deforestation are within the Amazon and some parts of Chocó department. ‘This makes sense because coca is an illegal crop, so people plant it in areas that are difficult to access, but this ends up affecting well-preserved primary forests,’ Negret said.”

It should be noted that armed conflict and the cultivation of coca are related because the crop serves as a source of income for many armed groups. These groups often cut down large swathes of forest to create space for coca plants because more coca means more income for people in the region.

Despite that, Negret was able to suggest a possible solution to the finding’s that informed his report:

“We analyzed the effects of the protected areas, indigenous reservations, and Afro-Colombian territories, and we found that these places have the most significant impact in relation to preventing deforestation. It would be good to generate conservation projects with these communities.”

But perhaps the most effective way of combating the increase of deforestation linked to coca growth is to provide alternative ways for Colombians to earn a living. That alone could make a dramatic difference in the lives of millions and the health of the natural world.


Featured Image Via Matt Zimmerman/Flickr



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Andrew Bradford

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