Article / January 21, 2021

Sustainable Timber in Colombia

Colombia is home to tremendous biodiversity, with much of it contained in its forests. Trees still cover around 50% of the country—a lofty level of conservation that is complicated by illegal logging and growing domestic timber consumption. 

However, there’s an opportunity for more trees to be planted, and sustainable timber production will lead the way forward. As a sustainable timber powerhouse, Colombia has the potential to support biodiversity and livelihoods, while facilitating private-public collaboration. 

Past Pollination of Colombia’s Forests

Looking back on the history of the Colombian timber industry, as well as all of the external influences that drive it, paints an interesting picture—one that is influenced by the country’s geography, people, and the global market at large. 

Not only is Colombia rich in biodiversity—some of the highest levels in the Amazon—but it has an abundance of unexploited forest resources, making up almost 54% of the continental territory

It’s estimated that Colombian forests directly support the livelihoods of more than 1,000,000, some of whom have played a role in the country’s illegal timber industry. As of 2006, more than 42% of the timber produced in Colombia was illegal. However, since then, several efforts have been influential in curbing that percentage. 

In 2009, Colombia was the first country to introduce an Intersectoral Pact for Legal Timber (PIML)—which set an example for the Latin American region. While there were only 24 organizations to sign on initially, in 2017 that number had grown to 70 public and private organizations, with collaboration between the Colombian Ministry for the Environment and Sustainable Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

With awareness from actors that a healthy forest can have a significant contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recent years have focused on not only legal timber, but also sustainable timber that has the potential to eradicate poverty and fight hunger.  

Underneath the Current Canopy

Since the signing of the Pact in 2009, sales of Colombian legal timber has grown from just $500,000 in 2011 to $13 million in 2018. While the potential of a thriving sustainable timber industry is clear, it’s still facing several barriers. 

Similar to other environmentally-conscious products, with its added costs and requirements, sustainable timber is still finding its footing in the market, especially when compared to illegal timber. 

Fortunately, with the country’s growing portfolio of green businesses, more major public works are making use of sustainable timber, and efforts are in place to help local consumers recognize the benefits of sustainable timber, too. 

Not only does a harvester face an approval process that is financially taxing, costing companies tens of thousands of dollars to transition to the legal side of timber, but it can be just as draining from a time standpoint.  

The largely under-resourced Regional Autonomous Corporation of Sustainable Development (CAR) is responsible for promoting sustainable development and natural resource management in 27 jurisdictions—including the approval of sustainable and legal timber operations. 

Many of its jurisdictions are relatively remote, meaning that a “quick” approval can still take 14 months and many approvals take upwards of three years. 

Fortunately, varied efforts and both domestic and international support are tackling some of these issues and already beginning to shape the future of sustainable forestry in Colombia.

 

Future Felling

As the past several years have brought more awareness of climate change to the global stage, there has been a subsequent recognition that deforestation contributes to global warming, while biodiversity has the potential to promote climate resilience.

Colombia is home to around 3,000 plant species and 400 bird species, second to only Brazil in terms of biodiversity. Selective cutting, like that which is promoted in the sustainable timber industry, can maintain high levels of flora and fauna and act as a conservation tool that can help in the development of standards for paths and stockyards—other areas with significant deforestation impacts.  

Because of the positive impact selective cutting has on carbon emissions, some of these sustainable timber projects also have the potential to benefit from schemes like REDD+, which may be seen in coming years. 

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has played a role in Colombia’s early deforestation efforts, by supplying funding and other resources. The United Nations-backed framework will continue to minimize deforestation and support sustainable timber production, along with the social and environmental benefits that come with it. 

Other efforts supporting forest-dependent communities consider that those who sell timber in its final form receive much more than the harvester—as much as 3000% more. With harvesters and their community in mind, Chocó University of Technology is making efforts to curb discrepancies in price between raw timber products (which makes up around 70% of Colombian timber sales) and higher-value items, like doors and raw furniture.

Community collaboration is complemented by governmental partnerships with international actors, leading to funding designated to support the intersection between local communities, biodiversity, and climate. 

Not only will sustainable timber help make Colombia’s ambitious goal of zero deforestation by 2030 possible, but it has the potential to branch off into so much more. Colombia’s potential as a producer of sustainable timber can contribute to supported levels of biodiversity, growing public-private collaboration, and vibrant communities that benefit from a place in the global market. 

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