Interview: A platform to halt deforestation in Colombia

Juan Pablo Castro is an expert on climate change mitigation and a senior manager at the Latin America office of Climate Focus B.V. in Colombia; photo: Juan Pablo Castro

Juan Pablo Castro is an expert on climate change mitigation and a senior manager at the Latin America office of Climate Focus B.V. in Colombia; photo: Juan Pablo Castro

A Dialogue and Information Platform has been set up in Colombia to support the implementation of Colombia's Low Deforestation Development Vision for the Amazon (Amazon Vision). Juan Pablo Castro, project lead at Climate Focus B.V., explains how the platform pools information, builds capacity and facilitates bottom-up policy coordination and implementation for sustainable land use in Colombia.

The goal of your project is to contribute to Colombia's Low Deforestation Development Vision for the Amazon. Could you explain what this vision is about?

The rainforest in the Amazon region is home to many species; photo: Juan Pablo CastroAmazon Vision is a policy designed by the Government of Colombia supported by the Governments of Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom to halt deforestation and bring it down to net zero by 2020 in Colombia’s Amazon region. This is a very ambitious goal. It works using results-based payments – so in order to get payments from Norway, Germany and the UK, the country needs to halt deforestation. Since this is a policy that has been designed top-down, our job now is to support it by helping to disseminate what it is about. We need to organise civil society around it by bringing actors with an interest in the Amazon region together so that they can discuss and, if necessary, provide feedback to redirect public policy towards the goal that has to be achieved.

How can a platform serve this purpose?

Historically, most people in the country do not know much about the Amazon region. It is a far-away region with little connection to where most of the population and urban centres are. However, it is a region that covers almost 40 per cent of the country’s land mass. Only 5 per cent of the population lives there, and it is an area with a history of little government presence. Armed conflicts, illegal groups and illicit crops show the major discrepancy between planned government action and what is actually being executed. Civil society and donor-supported programmes have partly filled the absence of state institutions. But they are often not optimally coordinated. Capacity building and support for actors on the ground are essential to reduce deforestation in the short term. The big communication gap between the policies planned at the central level and what is really happening in the region is the main reason why we decided to set up this project. And we are setting this up as civil society in order to organise civil society around the Amazon Vision policy.

You are setting up a coordination and information platform within your project. There are new platforms popping up every day. What is special about your platform?

 Radio Amazonia featuring podcasts; image: screenshot PIDThis platform is not only a web platform. It is both physical and virtual. The web platform increases visibility towards actors at the national and international level and contains a large amount of organised information. Under the physical platform, we facilitate a series of multi-stakeholder meetings and capacity building workshops. All of these are recorded and summarised so that information about these meetings and workshops is processed and made available. We also have a radio station called Radio Amazonia based on podcasts. We interview a variety of actors with an interest in the Amazon region so they can explain their view of the drivers of deforestation and how to stop it. Users can download these podcasts, so they can be distributed through community radio stations. This is very relevant in a region where there is no internet access.

Which other channels of communication do you use?

We have a team of NGOs that are part of the operational entities that make this platform work. These organisations are based in Bogota, Caquetá and Guaviare. The latter two are hotspots of deforestation, hence the importance of establishing project offices there.

Can you already see your activities having an impact?

Cattle ranging; photo: PIDYes! For example, cattle ranching is one of the big drivers of deforestation in the Amazon. We organised a meeting with producers and the community to discuss what they thought cattle ranging should be like so that it would not harm the environment and deforestation could be halted in the area. What came out of this was a statement from civil society that has been sent to the public authorities on how it sees cattle ranching working. It promotes pasture systems and ways of getting support and funding. This kind of process had never happened before. Now the Government has some indication from civil society of how it wants things to be done. It was a bottom-up process that provides feedback to government entities on their implementation of public policies in a way that matters to the people in the region – the ones on the front line to halt deforestation.  

How do you select which areas to tackle regarding deforestation?

Amazon Vision is constructed around five pillars, and we organised our platform around those five pillars. The consultation process feeds into that policy. And we create capacity in the areas where we see a need for it. The third pillar, for example, is on agro-ecological development, looking at products from the Amazon region that can be produced sustainably. There is a need to organise producers’ associations. Together, they can better produce and can sell their products in a way that makes financial sense. So we support them through capacity building workshops along the process. 

You also involve civil society in monitoring processes. How does this work?

We provide information on what is happening; we support the Government by informing civil society on how much money is being spent and which activities are being implemented under that specific policy. Civil society is able to have a point of view and assess if it is working or not; it is important for civil society to be informed about central government’s plans in the region. Historically, this communication has been absent, and policy coordination between different government entities is also lacking; for example, implementing measures on deforestation while at the same time implementing activities on infrastructure and mining are policies that collide. So we try to promote coordination and coherence in public policy implementation in the region. The way to do this is to inform and empower civil society in the region.

With an online media campaign, the project has also caught the attention of young people, who have created their own memes on the protection of the Amazon region; image: PID

How does the Government perceive your activities?

We work closely with the Amazon Vision team, and we try to help disseminate their work in the region and support their implementation plans. They have a big and challenging task ahead of them and need all the support that can be given. They are a small team open to informing the public, and they need help in doing so. We are gradually setting up a good partnership, and they feel that the platform can support them in implementing their policy.

What is your personal vision for Colombia?

Internationally, you see news about Colombia and it all seems positive. But there are still a lot of challenges and there is still a lot of work to do, especially in the land use sectors, respectively agriculture and forestry, which are the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Colombia. Social and ecological development often cannot keep up with economic development. We need to implement a coherent sustainable land use policy in Colombia, and we need to build sound business models that are financially attractive and sustainable. Our project is supporting both governments and civil society to reach this goal. 

Thank you very much!

Link to the web platform: http://www.pidamazonia.com/