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5 June 2023
Författare: Jesica López

Understanding challenges and prospects of suitable cattle ranching practices in the north Colombian Amazon through stakeholder involvement and group modelling

Photo by Ric Matkowski on Unsplash

As part of my PhD research, I explore how social systems push ecological systems beyond tipping points, using the case of extensive livestock production practices in the northwest Colombian Amazon that is causing deforestation, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity.

Expanding pasture areas for cattle ranching by cutting down natural forests has resulted in the loss of natural vegetation cover and ecological damage to the forest. The principal causes of fragmentation, according to the National Environment Ministry, include i) expansion of grasslands for land acquisition, ii) bad practices of cattle ranching, iii) not-planned transport infrastructure, iv) crops for illicit use, v) illicit extraction of minerals, vi) illegal logging and vii) the expansion of agricultural borders in not allowed areas[1]. Cattle ranching is the main driver of deforestation and degradation in the Colombian Amazon. As livestock populations grow in the Amazon region, so does the amount of land needed to grow pastures to feed them, which can compromise the Caquetá and Yarí river basins, where the case study of her research is located.

Since the signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC in 2016, there has been a significant increase in efforts to explore and identify opportunities for sustainable livestock and land use in connection with local beef production and consumption in the Colombian Amazon.

In my research, it is imperative to shift away from conventional livestock practices and identify the key players needed to identify and deliver deforestation- and conversion-free livestock supply chains. This will help understand the ”nature-positive” alternatives and reduce deforestation in the Amazon region of Colombia. The need to transform from conventional livestock practices and to understand which actors are essential to work and engage to identify and deliver deforestation- and conversion-free livestock supply chains is crucial.

The “nature-positive” alternatives, preferably, are the ones that seek agricultural production that optimises food production, enhances rural livelihoods, and protects and restores the natural environment. They are the premises behind the regenerative livestock practices. In general, regenerative agriculture practices could serve as an adaptative governance setting that could help to implement a profound transformation needed to meet the challenges of persistent land use changes and rural poverty, aggravated by the growing consequences of climate change.

The data collection was obtained from a series of seminars supported by Focali-SIANI collaboration online and a final in person workshop executed by Lund University during the second half of 2022 in Colombia. My research focused on catalysing collaborative efforts and interregional dialogue for innovation in the livestock sector in the Amazon region. Primarily, I aimed to engage stakeholder perspectives towards integrative solutions and identify key components for transitioning from extensive livestock activities towards a regenerative approach, while exploring for plausible and future emerging bioeconomy opportunities.

Systems science based participatory modelling for sustainable and regenerative cattle. Workshop Medellín December 2022.

Photo: J.López

The seminars were divided into three strategic themes: i) landscape fragmentation, ii) regenerative livestock and iii) bioeconomy perspectives with focus in the livestock sector. The workshop discussed the challenges and opportunities of cattle practices to reduce deforestation using models based on regenerative principles held in Medellín, Colombia, with representatives and participants from organizations working in regions including Amazonas, Orinoquia and the Andes.

Stakeholder participatory workshop

For the workshop, systems science based and stakeholder participatory groups modelling processes were used. This was an exchange to discuss the challenges and opportunities of conventional cattle ranching practices to be transformed towards regenerative principles and sustainability approaches in the long term. The newly elected Colombian government prioritise creating an economic model, over the next for years (2022-2026) for progress that conserves nature and recognises that biodiversity is the basis of the main drivers of economic and social development.  To shift policy thinking, A massive social and economic efforts will be required.

During the workshop, main discussions mixed different concepts of landscape ecology, regenerative cattle, sustainable cattle, conservation cattle practices, zero-deforestation, and conservation/production agreements. All in all, the discussions and debates attempted to find pathways towards the “nature-positive production” action track that the SLSC proposed in 2019. Some of the questions raised by the experts and participants were: What is the “most” nature-positive production technique? What is that we call regenerative? What do we understand as sustainable cattle?

In conclusion, as one of the Regenerative Agriculture experts in the room said, we cannot talk about regenerative cattle if it is used as an excuse to depredate the ecosystems of the Colombian Amazon region. Instead we can possibly talk of regenerative livestock as a possible practice to improve and try to restore some economic, social and ecological services damaged by past and current conventional livestock.

Way forward and recommendations

To successfully transition towards sustainable practices in Colombia’s cattle sector, including non-conventional livestock practices, it is crucial to prioritise enhancing the roles and capacities of local and sub-national governments. This can be achieved by providing them the support and resources they need to fulfil five critical recommendations.

  • To accelerate the transition to regenerative, agroecological production as an essential component of future sustainable and resilient food systems that operate within safe planetary boundaries.
  • To support smallholder farmers to increase their productivity through regenerative agriculture, which offers them yields stability while reviving degraded land.
  • To connect the role of the Sustainable Livestock Board in Caquetá (department) with the action tracks of the Sustainable Livestock Solutions Cluster (SLSC, 2019) and to create broad-based multi-stakeholder coalitions that develop, model and implement cohesive and integrated measures promoting the consumption and production of affordable, healthy diets within safe planetary boundaries from humane and regenerative farming methods globally.
  • Real mental change. Shifting the perception – from people and nature seen as separate parts to interdependent social-ecological systems.
  • Establish a committee in the Amazon region to examine the possibilities, challenges and implementation of transformational approaches (e.g., regenerative agriculture) and create Bioeconomy markets in the agricultural frontier to benefit regional land and food system reforms, tackling the reduction of deforestation.

1. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible & Instituto de Hidrología, meteorología y estudios Ambientales (IDEAM) (2020). Resultados del monitoreo deforestación: Primer trimestre 2021. Retrieved from: