The great hydrographic basin of the outer Magdalena River is the most important river system in Colombia. It provides the connection among three major cities: Bogotá, Medellin and Cali; more than 66% of the Colombian population is settled here, where 86% of the country’s GDP is generated. Moreover, it accounts for more than 1.5 million hectares identified as soils highly suitable for commercial reforestation.
However, in spite of its natural potential, for years the basin has suffered from human activities that have caused serious environmental degradation. Between the 1970s and 1990s, about 4.6 million hectares of forestry ecosystems were destroyed. Traditional extensive cattle ranching, mining, and industrial agricultural activities also affected negatively on soil erosion, diminished the fishery resources and deteriorated the coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. The low productivity of grazing, lack of alternative economic activities and demographical increase added pressure to the social situation, generating spiral of violence and irreversible environmental damage.
The Corporation Autonoma Regional del Rio Grande de la Magdalena (CORMAGDALENA) initiated a commercial reforestation program – PRC, with local landowners in 2000. As the project evolved, FINAGRO, A.W. FABER CASTELL & T.H. Reforestation S.A.S and ONFI joined as partners in project implementation and management. The vision of PRC is to set up a public-private associative scheme for forestry business that generates environmental, social and economic benefits for participating landowners, the private sector entities, and the state.
The PRC program encompasses reforestation of 4,400 hectares of land traditionally devoted to extensive cattle grazing in the north of Colombia, in the lower part of the Magdalena River basin, called Magdalena Bajo Seco. The covered region includes six municipalities: Santa Bárbara de Pinto, Plato, Tenerife, Zapayán, Pedraza and Piñón and is one of the most deforested areas in the country.
The program has become the first example of public-private partnership for forestry business in Colombia. It has changed the traditional development approach of forestry initiatives and enables the participating landowners to move from receiving donations, credits or subsidies from the government to internalizing the concept of forestry business and perceiving plantation as their own business, while receiving payments for emission reduction.
Environmental and social benefits:
The implementation of PRC’s associative scheme among investors, entities and landowners has resulted in the reconstruction of social cohesion and the strengthening of security in the region, which was severely affected by population displacements due to the economic crisis and the armed conflict in Colombia in the 1990s. The program has produced direct and indirect economic benefits, generating intensive employment (for each 1,000 hectares reforested in PRC, 80 permanent jobs are created in the countryside, 5 times more employment than if the area had depended on stockbreeding) and improving the living conditions of the local community. The social and economic benefits proved the program to be a viable alternative for the low-income landowners in the region, who have seen their income from livestock activities dwindle over the past years due to a cycle of overgrazing, land degradation and droughts on top of the negative impact from the regional armed conflict.