Toward a New Sustainable Development Model for the Orinoquía Region in Colombia

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 Orinoquía in Colombia. Photo: Jessica Belmont Orinoquía in Colombia. Photo: Jessica Belmont

The Orinoquía region, Colombia’s last agricultural frontier, is home to 1.3 million people. The 12 ethnic groups inhabiting this area reflect the diversity of belief systems and worldviews that go beyond the stereotype of the llanero, as inhabitants of this region are commonly known.

This area of eastern Colombia, also known as the Eastern Plains, has a wide variety of ecosystems and species, not to mention the invaluable wealth of its still unknown biodiversity: 35% of the area’s species are unique to the region. Its wetlands account for 34% of the national total, demonstrating its enormous wealth of water resources.

All this natural and cultural capital supports the region’s economic development. Without its ecosystem services, it would not currently be ranked as the leading agricultural production area in the country. The departments of Orinoquía (Meta, Casanare, Arauca, Vichada) generate 7% of the country’s GDP and are the leading producers of rice, palm and livestock, among other agricultural commodities.   

This production is all made possible thanks to the ecosystem’s water, pollination and climate regulation services, among others, without which the scenario would be very different.
However, the natural ecosystems of the Orinoquía region are disappearing at an alarming rate - 200,000 hectares annually –  as a result of crop production that relies on unsustainable productive and/or extractive systems, which generate losses for the economy, the environment and society.

If a natural ecosystem is transformed into a monoculture, the flora and fauna that provide the population with food security, traditional medicine and crop pollination are lost. Monoculture also has an impact on water resources and the climate cycle.
Several reports indicate that natural systems around the world are degrading faster than nature can replace and restore what exceeds the earth’s biocapacity. These reports stress that if this situation is not addressed, value chains and food security risks will increase, at a high cost to the economy.

The pandemic has reminded us that our economies are closely linked to the health of ecosystems, but the economy still fails to recognize that human health, productivity and wealth depend on taking care of environmental health. 
For all these reasons, in the Orinoquía region, different visions of development must coexist in the same territory to generate sustainable well-being.

United by the Orinoquía region

On September 4, 2021, the Orinoquía Integrated Sustainable Landscapes project was officially launched, which will be carried out in the departments of Arauca, Casanare, Meta and Vichada. Financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project is implemented by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Colombia) together with National Natural Parks and Corporinoquía, under the supervision of the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

The World Bank will oversee project implementation and will also serve as the bridge for the investments of the Biocarbon Fund in Orinoquía  to achieve synergies that facilitate sustainable development in the region.

This project is an opportunity to strengthen the capacities of territorial entities in planning and sustainable land use, low-carbon agricultural production, the management and consolidation of the regional system of protected areas and other effective conservation measures in the region.

It is also an opportunity to establish dialogue roundtables with productive sectors and launch green businesses with a bioeconomy approach to leverage economic reactivation without jeopardizing the region’s environmental and social sustainability.
To avoid the risks of the past, the economic reactivation of the Orinoquía region  must be a green, resilient and sustainable reactivation in environmental, social and economic terms, and must consider the current and future impacts of climate variability.
Including the diverse visions of development is essential, as is generating wealth, including that of biodiversity and its ecosystem services. The bioeconomy can integrate these aspects of sustainable development. The GEF-funded project is a wonderful opportunity to do so!

Don't miss this video about this topic: (In Spanish)


Marcela Portocarrero Aya

Natural Resources Specialist at the Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice

Julian Lee

Environment Specialist

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