From emissions to solutions: Caquetá's path to a greener future
CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems
- Impact Area
By Martha Vanegas Cubillos
Nestled in the heart of Colombia lies a place of breathtaking natural beauty: the department of Caquetá.
The department is a vital part of the country’s Amazon basin and is filled with lush forests that teem with life. However, it faces an environmental paradox.
Despite the abundance of greenery, Caquetá is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to deforestation caused by livestock farming, which makes it Colombia’s third-largest producer of carbon dioxide.
Nonetheless, we find hope in the challenges and opportunities unique to this region. We witness a story of sustainability, livelihoods, and the pressing need for transformative change.
Agriculture and land use in Caquetá
The region of Caquetá is renowned for its vast natural ecosystems, which make up around 72% of its land. Nonetheless, this ecological gem is under threat from land use conflicts, primarily due to the extensive livestock farming.
With a predominantly rural population, the region faces the challenge of balancing agricultural expansion with the preservation of the environment. The primary agricultural activity in Caquetá is extensive livestock farming, which leads to low productivity.
While the region also cultivates crops such as plantain, corn, and cocoa, it still struggles with food insecurity. The lack of technological advancements, insufficient infrastructure, and limited access to resources impede progress and hinder competitiveness.
As a result, Caquetá’s contribution to the national gross domestic product has declined.
Livestock farming in Caquetá
The economy of Caquetá is primarily dominated by the livestock sector, which mainly focuses on cattle ranching for meat and milk production. However, the sector is facing challenges in terms of profitability due to traditional, low-tech, and extensive farming practices.
Most farmers work with small herds, lack organization, and struggle to access markets, which further adds to their difficulties. To overcome these challenges, the livestock industry in Caquetá needs to transform its production through silvopastoral systems, improved practices, and a commitment to zero deforestation. By adopting these strategies, Caquetá aims to become a major milk producer in Colombia.
The rise of cocoa production in Caquetá
The department of Caquetá has experienced a recent increase in cocoa cultivation. However, despite its growth, cocoa production is not fully realizing its potential due to several challenges, including aging plantations, pest issues, and marketing struggles, which are hindering the sector’s development.
The department is home to around 1,200 cocoa-producing families who are often organized into producer associations. These families operate diversified farms that also include sugar cane, beef and milk production, bananas, citrus fruits, wood, cassava, and more.
The domestic cocoa market is largely dominated by two large Colombian chocolate companies: Casa Luker and Nutresa. Although cocoa production has been increasing, most of the produce remains within Colombia, while the United States is the primary international market.
Inequities in gender and youth engagement
Caquetá’s socio-economic landscape reveals disparities in gender and youth engagement in the agricultural sector.
Women, constituting nearly half of the rural population, face significantly lower participation in the labor market and earn less due to their primary caregiving roles. Land ownership is skewed, with women owning less than 15% of land. For the youth, entering the agricultural sector lacks incentives compared to higher-paying activities in other sectors.
More research is needed to analyze gender and youth in food systems, particularly in cocoa and livestock. While some strides have been made in recognizing women’s roles in these sectors, there is still much work to be done regarding social and economic recognition.
Challenges and opportunities
Caquetá is at a crucial turning point, with its rich natural resources and unique challenges. Its significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions requires a shift towards more sustainable agricultural practices. Innovative approaches can help transform livestock farming and cocoa production, not only to reduce emissions but also to promote economic growth and improved livelihoods.
Although the road ahead may be difficult, Caquetá’s potential as a green leader is undeniable. The region’s abundant forests, once threatened by deforestation, now offer hope for a brighter, more sustainable future. By harnessing the green potential of Caquetá, we can create a thriving, balanced, and environmentally conscious community that serves as an inspiration for the world.
This blog has been written based on the report “Food systems, land use change and mitigation initiatives in Caquetá, Colombia” prepared as part of the One CGIAR initiative Mitigate+.
See more information on the CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems.
Photo credit:Thomas Gómez, PUJ/Mitigate +