Protecting Colombia’s tropical forests

How more land tenure security helps reduce deforestation in the Amazon region

Forest conservation is an essential element in meeting climate change goals. But to reduce deforestation, understanding the local context and addressing the right underlying issues is critical.

Swaantje Marten works on Tetra Tech’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Project for the TEFOS programme (Territorios Forestales Sostenibles) in Colombia, funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). In this blog, she explains how the programme aims to reduce deforestation in the Amazon – and why it is crucial to understand the views of those living in forest areas. 

In a historic commitment, the Colombian government pledged at COP26 to halt deforestation by 2030. Key to these efforts is helping people in the Amazon develop livelihoods that avoid felling trees to make space for cattle-grazing and crop farming – two of the most common land uses in the area.

But the insecurity of landholdings for much of the population hinders this shift. Ranching and crops can provide a quick return on investment, making them attractive to land users who feel uncertain about how long they will be able to use their land for.

TEFOS aims to increase tenure security by establishing a land registration system and helping land users adopt more sustainable livelihoods. It will also strengthen the justice system to ensure land use regulations are respected and to tackle the big corporate interests behind deforestation.

In January, Tetra Tech surveyed land users in four municipalities in the Colombian Amazon. A key aim was to understand the extent to which landowners feel insecure and to provide other data for ongoing programme monitoring and evaluation. The results show that nearly a third of respondents said they are worried they could lose their land use rights in the next five years.

River in the Amazon region of Cartagena del Chairá – one of the locations for our survey.

The most common reason for insecurity is the actions of armed groups, which continue in many rural areas even after the 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas. Crucially, a large majority – 61 per cent – said they would change the way they use the land or invest more money in it if their tenure was more secure, highlighting the programme’s potential to influence future land use.

According to our survey, adherence to land use regulations is currently low, with 71 per cent of respondents saying people in the area do not follow these closely. This is another important finding for TEFOS and underlines the importance of communicating land use rights and responsibilities to land users.

The survey confirms the link between perceptions of tenure security and land use, indicating TEFOS is addressing the right issues. It also provides a wealth of data on attitudes to land use in the deforestation hotspots, and a baseline for judging the programme’s success.