Kew – Colombia Bio Programme

Transforming the Colombian economy into one based on green growth by assisting the country to make sustainable use of its natural capital and rich biodiversity.

Mountains in Colombia

Colombia is known to be one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Nevertheless, the current knowledge on inventory and monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems does not fully reflect this richness, being incomplete in certain regions. Counteracting this situation, the nation-wide ‘Colombia Bio’ programme has been recently established by the Colombian government with the main aim of making sustainable economic use of Colombia’s biodiversity resources. This programme offers a unique opportunity for Kew and partner organisations in Colombia to undertake primary research on biodiversity and ecosystem services in parts of the country as yet completely unexplored. The ambition of this exploratory research is to enable long-term plans for the conservation and sustainable use of Colombia’s natural capital to be established.

Kew Science will be involved in a significant number of research projects over the next 4–5 years (from 2017) under the umbrella of the Colombia Bio programme

Regional background

  • Colombia is the second most diverse country in the world with over 30,000 plant and lichen species.
  • With an estimated 4,270 species of orchids alone, Colombia ranks first in the world for orchid diversity.
  • 6,383 endemic species (the UK has fewer than 100 endemic species).
  • More than 300 types of ecosystems.
  • 53% of the mainland is still covered with natural forests.
  • 422 plant species are threatened, and Colombia’s dry forest ecosystem has lost 98% of its original range.

Programme background

The primary aim of the overarching Colombia Bio programme is: “to know, value, conserve and sustainably use biodiversity in the country, contributing to sustainable and socially inclusive development. A view on biodiversity is proposed from the current changing context, in which there are variables such as climate change, food crisis, deforestation and a temporary situation where the country seeks peace and with this, the recovery of large territories which for years could not be explored.”

To this end, the programme consists of five elements; the first three involve primary research which Kew will contribute to. The programme covers:

  • Bio Expeditions: These expeditions aim to increase knowledge on species in places that reveal information gaps, including levels of taxonomy, of which there are very few records in the country.
  • Bio Research and Development: This element plans to leverage qualified research with high added value, from bioprospecting to the development of bio-based products.
  • Bio Products: This area of work will introduce a large product and service portfolio with high added value at a national and international level based on the country’s biodiversity.
  • Culture Change: The aim is to generate awareness in the Colombian population regarding the vast biodiversity value chain, and foster appreciation for biodiversity itself.
  • Institutional Change: Work in this area focuses on undertaking a complete analysis of the value chain in order to issue recommendations that guide the country towards a more competitive and sustainable use of its biodiversity.

So far 7 of the 32 regional governments, working with the national government’s Administrative Department for Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias) have committed funds for a range of anticipated Colombia Bio projects, from scientific expeditions to the creation of science centres, the development of eco-tourism, and R&D into biotech and agribusiness innovations. The regions are Bolívar, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Meta, Nariño, Risaralda, and San Andrés. Of those, Boyacá, Nariño and Cundinamarca have already initiated their regional Colombia-Bio programmes.

Within the Colombia Bio programme, a UK-Colombian match-funding partnership between Colciencias and UK BEIS will be supporting a number of bi-national projects over the next five years, with delivery organisations in both countries working together on each project to facilitate training/capacity building.

Kew’s role in the programme

While some of the seven regions are yet to confirm the nature of the Colombia Bio projects that they will want support on, Kew is already acting as the delivery partner working alongside a number of UK and Colombian institutions for two of the regional-level initiatives recently launched – “Biodiversity Expeditions” in Boyacá and “Scientific Eco-Tourism: Social Innovation in the Nature Reserve of La Planada” in Nariño. Within these two initiatives, Kew will be working on a range of projects as detailed below. Information on Kew’s involvement in each new regional bio-economy initiative and the relevant projects will be updated here as each are launched.

The Boyacá focused projects will provide the following outputs and outcomes:

Plant and fungal inventory

  • Identification and naming
  • Targeted collection of plant material for research and analysis (supporting R&D), including material for priority species (threatened, new, endemic, high-priority useful species)
  • Useful plant and fungal species research (for food, fibre, medicine, etc)  
  • DNA barcoding for targeted groups of fungi


  • Species conservation status assessment (new species, endemic species, species targeted for strategic conservation status evaluation) via field and collections data
  • Site conservation prioritisation via field and collections data
  • Ecosystem services assessment
  • Seed collection and processing for long-term conservation and research (prioritising useful, endangered, endemic species; crop wild relatives)
  • Seed biology/storage behaviour research (of target species)

Institutional capacity building

  • Innovative approaches to high-throughput plant identification
  • Spatial analysis integration and capacity building
  • Training and capacity building in emerging genetic research techniques

Data management

  • Establishment of permanent plots for long-term monitoring and quantitative analysis
  • Integration of data into national and international data platforms
  • Support for establishment of platforms for online access to biological collections: Integration into national (e.g. SIB, SIAC) and international data platforms including Kew’s global Plants of the World Online Portal, Useful Plants and Fungi Portal, Tropical Important Plant Areas, Plant and Fungal Trees of Life, etc.

Diazgranados M. et al. (2019)

ColPlantA: Colombian resources for Plants made Accessible (PDF)

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh are working together to improve knowledge of Colombia’s flora and its uses, and make this information more widely available. A critical element is a Kew-led project to make information on the rich diversity of Colombian flowering plant species available through a single online portal: ColPlantA.