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Kew – Colombia Bio Programme

The Colombia Bio programme, established in the country’s National Development Plan (2014–2018), aims to lead the transformation of the Colombian economy into one based on green growth. The country is seeking to make sustainable use of its natural capital and rich biodiversity, in collaboration with a range of national and international partners, including Kew.


Objectives and outputs

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.


Kew - Boyacá Bio: funded projects

1. Building a Partnership of Systematic Excellence

This project aims to build a scientific partnership between Kew neotropical plant family taxonomists and Colombian colleagues, our close collaboration culminating with a shared understanding of the key knowledge gaps and biological questions, and with new resources available to address those questions. Find out more.

2. Boyacá’s Páramo Plants for Life

The objective of this project is to collect field data on key páramo species and then use different scenarios to model the impact of climate change on their distributions and critical functions in the ecosystem, with the aim of estimating the potentially significant impacts on livelihoods of communities. Find out more.

3. Prioritisation of Useful Plant Species of Boyacá

This project is focused on the Boyacá region of Colombia and will deliver a catalogue and a prioritisation of the huge number of useful plant species of Boyacá, to boost the economy of the region whilst supporting livelihoods, food security and health. Find out more.

4. Understanding the páramo grasslands of Boyacá

This project has two objectives; one, to document the relationship between anthropogenic disturbance and Boyacá páramo grass communities, in order to develop land management strategies for ecosystem resilience; and two, to generate new knowledge on Boyacá páramo grass species, their identity and distribution, to underpin understanding of páramo ecosystems. Find out more.

5. A Seed Bank for Boyacá

The overall aim of this project is to strengthen Colombia’s capacity to collect, assess and legitimately exploit its plant genetic resources for the medium and long term economic benefit of the Colombian population. This project will initially focus on establishing expertise and capacity for conservation seed-banking of Boyacá flora, focussed on the Páramo biome. Find out more.

6. Boyacá’s ‘Forgotten Kingdom’

The objective of this project is to implement state-of-the-art biodiversity approaches to explore the unknown riches of the fungi Kingdom in Boyacá. We will develop a new protocol to study fungal diversity which is reproducible and easy to disseminate. Find out more.


Kew - Boyacá Bio: Relevant Outputs

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

Conservation

  • 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.



Further information

Keep up to date with our progress via the Kew Science Blog  and via our Twitter feed: @KewScience #KewColombiaBioBoyaca and #KewColombiaBio