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Colombia is a country of striking contrasts and outstanding natural beauty. Despite covering just 0.7% of the planet’s surface, Colombia is home to more than 10% of the world’s plant and animal species - including more birds (1800 species), more amphibians and more orchids than anywhere else. But the country’s long history of internal conflict has taken its toll on vulnerable communities, and on the environment.

Deforestation for planting crops and cattle ranching.

Why we’re involved

Latest UN figures show Colombia loses nearly 2,000 sq km of natural forest every year.

This is in a country where, incredibly, around a third of the plant species and 12% of land-based vertebrates exist nowhere else in the world.

Half of Colombia’s forests are in territories inhabited by indigenous or Afro-Colombian communities. Legally, these communities have the right to manage their own natural resources - but in reality, weak governance means they’re often powerless to stop the destruction of the forests their livelihoods depend on.

Native Emberá Indians live for the most part along rivers at village sites, etching out a living from subsistence farming, fishing and trading goods, Colombia

When indigenous people are displaced by conflict, their cultural practices and traditional systems of sustainable cultivation and use of natural resources are often abandoned. In their place come deforestation, illegal or unsustainable logging, single-crop plantations, and illicit crops like coca and marijuana.

Poor communities are also ill-equipped to defend their territories in the face of road building, mining, oil and gas development, and other infrastructure expansion.

Current policies compound the problem by supporting perverse subsidies and taxes that favour land uses such as cattle grazing and agriculture above conserving forests.

Cotton-top tamarin, Colombia

How we’re helping

We’re concentrating our work in two areas of Colombia - the Choco-Darien forests along the Pacific coast, and the Amazon. We’re also active in the northern Andes, where we’re helping people adapt to climate change.

Reducing deforestation - We want to minimise the amount of forest loss to protect the habitats, species and natural resources of the region. We’re doing this by promoting a compensation scheme that will make conserving forests more economically attractive.

Supporting indigenous communities - With the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), we’re helping the Awa indigenous community and other groups manage their forests on the border with Ecuador.

We’re helping local organisations and communities negotiate their rights to natural resources and to manage them effectively. Our aim is to safeguard the livelihoods of vulnerable groups, and to promote freedom and peaceful coexistence.

We’re supporting local people to manage freshwater supplies in the Guiza and Coello river basins, which will benefit 350,000 people. Their plans will create new protected areas and preserve the water quality and quantity of wetland areas.

Spectacled bear, Colombia

Sustainable development - We’re working with companies to improve their environmental and social standards in producing commodities like palm oil, biofuels and paper.

In areas where roads are being built, we’re ensuring projects incorporate important social and environmental concerns. We make sure local people are involved, and the negative impacts are reduced.

We’re also fighting illegal logging and promoting responsible forest management to produce timber and other forest products.

Useful links

How you can help