In this article, environmental journalist Jordi Albacete, reports how a local group in Colombia swapped logging for reforestation.
In 2013, in Huila, southwestern Colombia, Tiberio Bocanegra voluntarily gave his chainsaw to the authorities. This was his way of abandoning 22 years of illegal logging. He was not the only one, he was accompanied by 34 of his companions. The authorities promised them alternative jobs to deforestation. In addition, former loggers feared being intercepted by the police or the security forces of the Autonomous Corporation of the Alto Magdalena (CAM). After delivering his chainsaw, Bocanegra and his companions created an ecologist association: Los Castores [The Beavers]. The name was decided upon after Bocanegra saw a documentary about the devastation of these rodents on the forests. Five years later and after qualifying for public programmes for sustainable development, Los Castores demand more investment for subsistence agriculture and beekeeping.
Forest Governance and ilegal logging in Colombia
After years of conflict, Colombia is committed to implementing the objectives of sustainable development, including protection of indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations. The Colombian government implements forest governance through programmes such as the Environmental Bubble to curb deforestation and covenants as a Pact for Legal Timber, for authorities to control the extraction of wood.
In addition to the European Union, which imports Colombian wood, the government carries out the programme Community Forestry with which civil society presents local reforestation projects. In 2017, Los Castores proposed planting 80 hectares south of Huila with oaks, cedars, laurels and yellow wax palms. The proposal was accepted by the Ministry of Environment and the European Union, but still lacks the funds to develop.
With this type of proposal, Los Castores aim to redeem the 9,000 hectares of forest that devastated a biological corridor of intertropical zone between the Andes and the Amazon. This corridor includes the Natural Cave of the National Park Guácharos,the first protected area in Colombia since 1960.
One of the victims of this intensive logging was the black oak (Colombobalanus excelsa), in Huila, which came to be decimated. This species, unique in the Americas, can reach 50 metres high and is listed in the Red Book of Plants (2006) as Vulnerable. In addition, it is a great carbon sensor, according to the researcher Parra Aldana. Its wood is used in agricultural fences and in the production of charcoal.
The example of Los Castores is shown as a case of success of Colombian forest governance. In their first three years they stopped cutting 10 thousand trees. However, Bocanegra still faces challenges in his new way of subsistence; last year he ran out of honey because pesticides for coffee pests ‘frightened’ the bees from his farm. Nevertheless, he hopes to continue cultivating the land and to tell his grandchildren that making peace with nature is worthwhile.