Colombia is famous for its rich, biodiverse forests that are essential to the livelihoods of many local and indigenous communities. Since 2018, Colombia's Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Minambiente) has been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under the UN-REDD Programme and the European Union (EU) through its Sustainable Local Development (DLS) programme to promote community forest management in eight departments in the country: Antioquia, Bolívar, Cauca, Chocó, Huila, Putumayo, Tolima and Valle del Cauca. This work is part of the implementation of the Comprehensive Strategy for Deforestation Control and Forest Management (EICDGB).
The strategy proposes the development of community forest economy as one of the crucial steps to reducing pressure on forests, slowing the progress of the agricultural frontier and improving the quality of life of rural people that live or depend on forest ecosystems.
However, the development of a community forestry economy must overcome a number of technical, institutional, legal and financial barriers. In order to analyse how to address these barriers and ensure the sustainability of community processes, pilot initiatives have been undertaken since 2018, involving the respective environmental authorities and community organizations. These initiatives included an analysis of the actual costs of using timber products (e.g. procedures set by the environmental authority, logging and cutting processes, transport, primary processing, etc.) and have shown that the costs related to transport and the Compensatory Rate for Forest Use for Wood (Tasa Compensatoria de Aprovechamiento Forestal para Madera - TCAFM) both contribute the most to the total cost structure.
The cost analysis has been complemented by market research and financial analysis, estimating expected profitability under a legal forestry business that considers wood, along with non-wood forest products, sustainably produced agricultural products, and/or the sale of other additional goods and services such as the production of native plant material in community nurseries.
Information on cost and sales prices informs the business plans in each pilot initiative and validates the need to develop differential marketing strategies and financial or tax incentives so that the country’s community forest management stays feasible and sustainable. These cost-benefit analyses of community forest management initiatives also facilitate comparison with other economic sectors in the country which often have incentives (e.g. livestock and agriculture).
These activities represent an important step, however, the lessons learned so far indicate that the main barrier is the need for financial resources and instruments that can alleviate the initial costs that communities must invest in order to ensure sustainability.
Options for addressing the financial barriers include the use of carbon tax resources, institutional arrangements to facilitate access to soft loans by community associations that do not meet mortgage standards, tax exemptions (e.g. TCAFM) and/or the simplification of the procedures for obtaining permits/authorizations.
Support networks also need to be established with commercial stakeholders, the private sector and financial institutions to foster different sources of investment, risk reduction and/or long-term profit growth.
Community forest management is an opportunity for the development of rural communities in Colombia, within a framework of sustainability and combating climate change. Pilot initiatives represent a great tool to test and overcome the existing barriers, as well as to highlight the existing opportunities that lead to significant socio-economic and environmental benefits.