9 November 2017

Colombia: megadiverse and still to be discovered

Mauricio Diazgranados reveals how Kew is contributing to the ‘green’ development of this country through capacity building and scientific research on its natural resources.

Arum lily, RBG Kew / Jeff Eden

Once considered a failed state

Not so long ago, Colombia was listed as a failed state. People were trapped inside cities because of the high risk of being kidnapped, and for decades armed confrontations affecting civilians happened almost every single day. As a Colombian scientist and field biologist, I learned how to carry out research under those conditions. Countless times I had dangerous encounters with the guerrillas, the paramilitaries and the anti-guerrilla forces. I was detained a few times, had friends kidnapped and even killed, and have personally faced death at very close quarters. 

The turning point

Today, Colombia is a different country. For the most part it is safe, probably safer than many neighbouring countries. Its economy is booming, with stable growth year after year. With the peace agreements between the Colombian government and revolutionary group FARC-EP (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army), tourism has flourished, boosting the industry and bringing further development across the region.

New environmental challenges in the post-conflict era

A combination of improved safety in many previously inaccessible areas and rapid development has, however, been a high price for the country’s natural resources. In less than two years, nearly 1.5 million hectares of natural ecosystems have been degraded (equivalent to almost two per cent of the total area) and the deforestation rate is rampant. Despite the celebrated government efforts to increase the national protected areas, the question now is how biodiversity can survive development.