Between 1985 and 2018, Amazon lost on average two million hectares of forest per year. Colombia ranks fourth after Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru in reducing forest cover area.
Thanks to the second Collection of the Amazon 'MapBiomas' platform, it is now possible to learn unpublished data on the transformation of Amazonian forests in the last three decades. This tool, developed by the Amazon Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information Network (RAISG), gathers information on plant cover, as well as trends and changes that occur annually in the Amazon Biome.
The analysis shows that between 1985 and 2018, there was a loss of 72.4 million hectares of natural plant cover, an area equivalent to the territory of Chile. In addition, a growth of 172% is reported in areas dedicated to agriculture and livestock in 33 years. On average, agricultural activity increased by almost 2 million hectares per year with an annual area variation of 5.2 percent per year.
Brazil accumulates 90% of the total loss of forest, followed by Bolivia with 5.3%; in third place is Peru with 2.3% and Colombia with 2%. The remainder is divided among the other countries that make up the Amazon region, however, the Biome still maintains 83.4% of its natural plant cover.
Colombian Amazon: 3% less forest
In Colombia, the Gaia Amazonas Foundation was in charge of carrying out the analyses and found that in the last 34 years there was a loss of 1.4 million hectares of forest, it means that the forest cover was reduced by 3% to 2018, in relation to the forest that existed in 1985. According to the data collected in the second collection of maps, Colombia is the fourth Amazonian country with the greatest loss of forest area after Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru where there is also evidence of an expansion of agricultural coverage.
For the same period, the transformed areas have doubled: agricultural coverage increased by 97%. That means that in the eighties there were 1.6 million hectares and in 2018 the areas dedicated to these activities reached 3.2 million hectares, an area equivalent to half of the department of Antioquia, in Colombia.
At the departmental level, Caquetá (33%), Meta (32.7%), Guaviare (18%) and Putumayo (12.4%) concentrate the greatest loss of forest in the Colombian Amazon in the period analyzed. These same territories have the largest increase in hectares with agricultural cover.
In the eighties and until the mid-'90s, the transformation of the forest surface in the Colombian Amazon did not exceed 0.6%. In fact, about 80% of this region could be classified as virgin forest in a primary state with very little human intervention. However, the situation gradually changed and it is now known that, in the period analyzed in the tool, there was an average reduction of 2% per year, parallel to the growth of the agricultural colonization fronts of Caquetá, Meta, Guaviare, and Putumayo departments.
As Adriana Rojas, Geographic Information System Coordinator of the Gaia Amazonas Foundation, explains, there is a direct relationship between the loss of forest cover and the increase in areas with agricultural coverage: "In Colombia, this transformation is especially concentrated in the foothills of the departments of Caquetá and Meta; information that coincides with the monitoring of forests and carbon carried out by IDEAM. However, this new input makes it possible to monitor year after year over the past three decades and produce more complete analyses about the dynamics and causes of these changes".
Indigenous Territories and Protected Areas, the key to protect the Amazon
The results show that forests have been conserved considerably in the Indigenous Territories or Protected Areas. By 2018, more than 50% of the forests throughout the Amazon were under one of these protection figures, a figure that for the Colombian Amazon exceeds 70%.
The Indigenous Territories, which currently house 58% of the forests in the Colombian Amazon, have lost only 0.19% of the forest cover in the last three decades, or 47,500 hectares. The Natural Protected Areas, which today occupy 10.7 million hectares in the Amazon of the country and concentrate 24% of the forests of this region, present a similar case; in 33 years, the reduction of forests was 62,500 hectares, this corresponds only to 0.5% of the area in 1985.
For Andrés Llanos, advisor of the Geographic Information System of the Gaia Amazonas Foundation, this monitoring work reveals the fundamental role that protection figures and local communities have in the conservation of forests, "a role that must be strengthened by the national government, with permanent monitoring strategies, resources, and incentives. In addition, greater recognition of local communities as the main allies in the fight against deforestation, as they are the custodians of these forests for present and future generations".