Deforestation levels in Colombia surprisingly fell in 2018 for the first time since a 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas that triggered a spike.
According to Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano, 197,000 hectares of forest disappeared in 2018. This is a 10% decrease compared to 2017, when Colombia lost almost 220,000 hectares of forest.
The announcement came as a surprise as the same minister said in December last year that his department had registered a 48% increase in deforestation.
But according to the IDEAM, the meteorological institute that has been measuring deforestation since 2012, the minister’s previous claims were false.
Deforestation in Colombia
Amazon region most problematic
The prevention of deforestation has proven most difficult in the Amazon region where the FARC held authority, held back economic development and imposed strict environmental regulations until a ceasefire in 2016 that led to their demobilization and disarmament a year later.
The state has had major difficulty taking over control in former guerrilla territory, led to major spike in environmental crimes, including deforestation.
More than 70% of the deforestation took place in the Amazon region this year compared to 65% last year.
In total, Colombia’s Amazon forest lost more than 138,000 hectares in 2018, or equivalently 534 square miles of rainforest.
The region did register a a 4.1% decrease in deforestation compared to 2017.
The eastern plains, one of Colombia’s main cattle ranching regions, saw deforestation spike with 21.3%.
The Pacific region saw deforestation levels drop a spectacular 44% from 13,474 to 7,454 hectares.
Where most deforestation was registered
Lozano was almost quicker to take the credit for the surprise drop in deforestation levels almost than he was quick in blaming the government of former president Juan Manuel Santos for the increase he reported in December.
The truth is that most deforestation generally happens in February and March when dry season allows cattle ranchers to burn down forest to expand their territory. The administration of President Ivan Duque was not yet in office then.
In fact, Duque has been criticized for refusing to commit to lowering deforestation levels.