Cattle ranching and palm oil plantations in Colombia © 2011 Paul Smith

Working Group:
Land-Use Change (Orinoquia)

The Orinoquia region of Colombia constitutes the second largest savanna system in South America and is considered the last agricultural frontier in the country. While the area is still well-preserved, it is also at the beginning of what could be a rapid expansion of large-scale agricultural development including palm oil, rubber and exotic species plantations, as well as annual crops such as rice, maize and soybeans.

More Info

Working Group Summary

Informing Decision Making in the Orinoquia

In the past other regions of Colombia experienced agricultural booms, like the one currently overtaking the Orinoquia, with little or no planning for land-use changes and associated energy and communications infrastructure. This resulted in loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Right now, there is a unique opportunity to avoid a similar development path in the Orinoquia. To inform decision-making, the Land-Use Change (Orinoquia) Working Group is synthesizing the potential ecological, social and development effects of expanding agricultural commodities and related land-use changes at the landscape and regional scale to identify what the consequences of different land-use scenarios might be for nature and people.

The Challenge

Development in Colombia’s Last Frontier

The Orinoquia is the last great agricultural frontier of Colombia and is a key region for future economic and social development of the country. Although the region is still relatively intact and has not undergone major development, historically the main productive activity has been extensive low density cattle ranching with minor impact on biodiversity loss. Recently, however, oil exploration and exploitation activities have increased.

Today the region is becoming an epicenter of different sectors of agro-industry such as palm oil, soybeans, maize, rice, forest plantations and cattle. Government projections indicate a potential 278 percent increase in the area dedicated to annual crops, and the region is currently undergoing a process of accelerated changes that is not entirely known or understood by its inhabitants, the scientific community and key decision makers.

Inquiry Activities & Updates

Realizing the Opportunity

With large agro-industry developments, new infrastructure, roads, towns, and industrial areas, are needed. Decisions are currently being made regarding the future of the region and information needs to reach key actors urgently. Right now, there are several mechanisms and processes under development or implementation that can influence the way the region is developed that need to be properly informed with the best available science, including:

  • the master plan for the region (Plan Maestro de la Orinoquia), being led by the National Planning Department, which is also responsible for developing national policy documents to organize investments and priorities by relevant ministries;
  • the Orinoco Macrowatershed Plan, being led by the Ministry of Environment and Alexander von Humboldt Institute, in an effort to guide water resources development;
  • various land use management plans, which in Colombia are organized in a hierarchical manner, from watershed to municipal management plans;
  • agendas of international cooperation agencies, many of which are being organized around a huge plan for the post-conflict, and where rural development is a focal area; and
  • laws to promote public-private alliances to boost agricultural development in key areas, some of which are located in the Orinoquia region (ZIDRES).

The Land-Use Change (Orinoquia) Working Group aims to ensure these mechanism and processes rely on the best available knowledge of the region, and that any decisions made consider possible trade-offs between development activities and natural resources and livelihoods by:

  • compiling and synthesizing baseline information regarding the effects different expanding agriculture commodities in the Orinoquia could have on different values, including biodiversity, socioeconomics, water quantity, use and quality, carbon storage and soil health, and land tenure;
  • adjusting and developing predictive scenarios for the expansion of the main agriculture commodities and infrastructure;
  • identifying and analyzing possible spatial conflicts and impacts on nature and people derived from land use changes, which may be resolved with appropriate large-scale and local landscape planning;
  • developing decision support tools to evaluate tradeoffs for different development scenarios and inform decisions.
  • informing the master plan for the region (Plan Maestro de la Orinoquia, Plan Macrocuenca Orinoquia), as well as pilot studies within ZIDRES areas.

The Team

Land-Use Change (Orinoquia) Working Group