Agricultural development model is unsustainable
[Translated by Rudy Heller, CSN Volunteer Translator]
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Colombia’s agricultural problem is more of an unequal land ownership problem than it is a land misuse problem, warns Professor Tomás Enrique León of the Institute of Environmental Studies or IDEA.
It is estimated that 12.7% of Colombia’s land is arable and useable for agricultural purposes, but only about 4.6% are actually used for farming, which leaves a potential of about 9 million hectares (some 22 million acres or 35,000 square miles) available to expand the agricultural frontier. Part of this land mass has some less productive uses.
The unbalanced use of soil presents some specific regional issues: for example, almost one half of the Caribbean Plains could be used for agriculture but their use is constrained by the need for supplemental irrigation and careful use to avoid salinity.
Nevertheless, the region’s land is underused and is mostly used for livestock. Moreover, over 80% of the land is owned by less than 25% of the producers, giving rise to classic latifundia.
These considerations are presented in a study led by Professor León who believes that Colombia has enough agricultural land to achieve food security and to keep from invading rain forests and other territories whose soils are not appropriate for agricultural use.
“As things stand today, land management regulations, which should be a key State strategy to regulate how land is used, is nothing more than very good intentions by some isolated planners,” added Researcher León.
The Professor explains that the nation continues supporting drying of wetlands to convert them into prairies, burning of páramos (mountaintops above the timberline), extensive unproductive livestock operations in areas with good agricultural potential, differing types of crops grown in inappropriate soils and ultimately, the permanent invasion of forest reserves and national parks.
In addition, Professor León explains that deforestation can be seen as the model of agricultural development in Colombia, both because forests are being appropriated to include them in the agricultural frontier and because land uses are changing at a local level.
Factors that have contributed to deforestation in Colombia, listed in order of importance are: expansion of the agricultural frontier and settlements (73 %); production of lumber (12 %); burning of cord wood (11 %); forest fires (2 %), and illegal crops (2 %).
The subject of agriculture in Colombia will be prominent in the debates which will be held during the celebration of IDEA’s 25th anniversary. The subject will be lead by Professor Tomás León, and he will be joined by Carlos Augusto del Valle, of the Colombian Farm Bureau (SAC) and Jaime Forero, of Javeriana University.
The debates will be held between March 24 and 26 at the main auditorium of the School of Economic Sciences.
IDEA’s Director, Carmenza Castiblanco, has highlighted IDEA’s role during the past 25 years in the development of coherent environmental thinking in Colombia and in the search for solutions to environmental problems.
“We work in three main areas: training, research and extension. We must keep in mind that all environmental concerns are directly tied to the nation’s development and wellbeing,” she concluded.