Can development and conservation go hand in hand in Colombia’s Orinoquia region?

Can development and conservation go hand in hand in Colombia’s Orinoquia region?

A diverse group of environmental and private sector specialists met in Bogotá last week to discuss how to achieve sustainable development in Colombia’s Orinoquia region. Meeting participants explored possible scenarios of sustainable development that reconcile nature protection and improve human well-being. Organized by the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), participants discussed potential development scenarios for the principal agricultural and land use sectors and how these might affect biodiversity and ecosystem services in the region. The SNAPP working group on land-use change in the Orinoquia region is a two-year effort to evaluate development impacts on ecosystem services and livelihoods, and how to support planning processes and decision making with scientific analysis.

Agroindustry representatives and conservation specialists had a unique opportunity to discuss how to balance development and environmental concerns. Participants noted a number of limitations to development in the region, such as lack of transportation infrastructure, lack of timely access to water resources, land tenure insecurity, and corruption. They overwhelmingly agreed that the best future scenario is green growth, with agroindustry representatives recognizing the importance of nature protection and
Dr. Jaime Bernal of the Colombian Corporation for Agricultural Research (CORPOICA, its Spanish acronym) discussed soil ecosystem services of the Orinoquia region.
conservation specialists recognizing the importance of improving livelihoods. They also agreed that the worst future scenario is unplanned development or the current trend in the region. However, most participants had a rather negative view of the most likely scenario, which is much closer to the worst-case than the ideal scenario. The discussion highlighted general agreement between agroindustry and conservation specialists on the need for green growth, but difficult challenges given past experience.

Results of a poll asking participants their perspectives on the ideal, the worst-case and the most likely scenarios of future development of the Colombia’s Orinoquia region. Full poll results are available here:

A group of scientists and conservation specialists discussed key environmental and sustainable development challenges facing the region, such as fire, reducing CO2 emissions, soil health, water resources, biodiversity, and livelihoods. They noted the need to synthesize existing research, how the heterogeneity of the region defies simple generalizations, the importance of understanding the historical dynamics behind the different drivers of change, and the need to adopt whole landscape and participatory approaches in order to integrate sustainable development concerns in the region.

The SNAPP land-use change working group for the Orinoquia region organized the August 2nd Bogotá meetings, which included representatives from agroindustry, conservation organizations, government agencies, and university and research institutions. A morning session on August 2nd included conservation specialists and scientists discussing key issues related to land-use change impacts on ecosystem services. The working group and officials of the BioCarbon Fund’s Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL) held a lunch meeting to discuss how SNAPP could support ISFL, a payment-for-results initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Finally in the afternoon, representatives of the private sector and conservation specialists met to discuss limitations to development and future scenarios. The working group is developing a partnership of institutions and individuals developing analyses and models to support development planning and decision making in the region. For more information about SNAPP, contact German Forero at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Tomas Walschburger at The Nature Conservancy, or Glenn Hyman at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).