In post-conflict Colombia, what does forest conservation depend on?

¿De qué depende la conservación de bosques en una Colombia en posconflicto?

There are some things that money cannot buy, including the co-benefits derived from forest conservation efforts for climate change mitigation. Actually, when it comes to conserving our forests, financial incentives do not seem to be the main motivation for deciding whether or not to conserve them.

These are some of the conclusions drawn from the results of a recent study, titled Propensity of farmers to conserve forest within REDD+ projects in areas affected by armed-conflict, carried out and published jointly by the University of Copenhagen, ONF International, and CIAT. This study was conducted in the Area of Special Management of La Macarena (AMEM) and it pursued a double objective: to evaluate the propensity of farmers to adopt forest conservation practices, and to understand what factors motivate or work against the adoption of such practices in areas affected by the conflict.

The target area, La Macarena (AMEN), is one of the areas of Colombia most affected by armed conflict and illicit crop production. The AMEN was chosen as a site for piloting REDD+ projects by the Colombian government and partners. As such, the region represents a key opportunity to complement forest conservation activities with efforts to reduce the causes of the armed conflict in the area, as part of the country’s strategy for peace and rural development.


Of the farmers surveyed indicated that they would not like for the forests to be cut down to increase the grazing areas for cattle grazing.


Of the farmers surveyed mentioned that they plan to recover degraded areas. Of those, some 23% mentioned that they would do so in order to engage in sustainable crop production, 11% for subsistence crops, and the rest for cattle pasture. Additionally, 2% of those surveyed reported that they have plans to sell their respective farms.

Scientific evidence, facilitator of synergy in the territory

The support of entities such as Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, Patrimonio Natural, ONF Andina, and Corporación Ecoversa, was crucial for this research with farmers from 14 villages in the AMEM. The questions focused on three categories that can influence farmers’ propensity to conserve forests: characteristics of farms and households; land use and land cover; and farmers’ attitudes toward the means and incentives for conservation.


 “Thanks to the direct or indirect support of the entities present in the AMEM, this information was gathered right in the field, and not from satellite images, as it is often done, due to the unfortunate situation of public order. This close collaboration facilitated the availability of primary data, the construction of a methodology, and the flows of information between local institutions and researchers.”

Augusto Castro

Researcher, University of Copenhagen - CIAT


“It was the teamwork and the opportunity to take advantage of CIAT’s technical and human capacity, together with all the experience of the entities present in the AMEM, which facilitated the adaptation of a methodology that had been used for the study of agricultural adoption, and its successful implementation to one that facilitates the evaluation and adoption of conservation practices.”

Marcela Quintero

Leader of the strategic initiative in Ecosystem Services, CIAT

Reasons to conserve forests

Even though there is no single factor that determines a farmer’s propensity to conserve forest, the results of this study indicate that in AMEM the percentage of farmers willing to practice forest conservation is high. This may be related in part to the previous peacebuilding efforts such as those aimed at provide land titles (97% of those surveyed reported having a title to their property). Nonetheless, deforestation in the area continues, thus indicating that there are other factors that influence the farmers’ decisions about land use.

Generally, farmers are not opposed to forest conservation, as long as it is compatible with their priorities for development and for their livelihoods. The findings of the study also showed that the farmers who have carried out deforestation in order to produce subsistence crops are less inclined to conserve the forests.


“This study is, above all, a way of generating scientific evidence that can influence public policies, for example in scenarios that arise from the geographic overlap between priority areas for the post-conflict and for forest carbon conservation for climate change mitigation. That is where synergy can be created.

The methodology developed to conduct this study could also be useful for understanding farmers’ propensity to adopt forest conservation practices in the other 39% countries worldwide which are among those experiencing – or emerging from – conflict and which have the potential to conserve forests in order to mitigate climate change.”

Augusto Castro

Researcher, University of Copenhagen – CIAT

Water and bushmeat

Farmers’ main reason for halting deforestation is their interest in conserving the services that the forest ecosystem provides, in particular, water and bushmeat.

Enabling conditions

The strategies for reducing the causes of the conflict, including but not limited to programs for delivering land titles, could create the enabling conditions for forest conservation and thus, for the reduction of forest related greenhouse gas emissions.

Motivations and policies

Understanding the true motivations behind some farmers’ preference for subsistence agriculture over possible incentives for forest conservation remains crucial in the development of policies for the mitigation of climate change in conflict affected areas of Colombia.

The wheels of change have been set in motion, and the results of two other studies in which CIAT is participating are being prepared for publication. These studies aim to provide further scientific evidence that would make it possible to find common ground between the post-conflict scenario and the possibilities of conserving such a vital natural resource as the forests and the ecosystem services that they provide.