Between 2005 and 2018, Colombia lost 3.3 million hectares of primary forest. The rate of deforestation spiked by almost a factor of two after the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which left a power vacuum that has been quickly filled by large-scale farming, local authorities, and illegal activity.

Why it matters

  • $85.4M Value of cattle exports, 2019
  • 23.4M National cattle count

Hectares of tree loss

Deforestation by region, 2005 - 2018
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Forest loss in context

Tree cover loss is typically measured in hectares. One hectare is equivalent to about 3/4 of a football pitch. In these terms, roughly 23,424 football pitches of forest have been lost between 2005 and 2018. This is equivalent to 32,821 kilometers, 20,394 miles, or three times the size of Jamaica.

A view of cattle grazing in Colombia.

Risk factors

Deforestation in Colombia has surged in recent years in the aftermath of the country’s 2016 peace agreement with the FARC.

The landscape in Buenavista, Colombia

Government efforts

After the guerrillas left the areas they controlled, a power vacuum was created and the government was unable to provide sufficient oversight. This led to a massive increase in forest loss through land-grabbing, farmland speculation, agricultural production, and illegal drug activity. Criminal groups that occupy these areas have continued with these activities, making it difficult for the government to clamp down on not just the illegal businesses but also on forest loss.


Colombia’s deforestation risks are closely tied to the country’s agriculture industry, particularly the beef and dairy sectors. In some cases, the land used for cattle ranching is illegally acquired, or animals are slaughtered or traded illegally.

Economic growth

While the government has to tackle illegal activity to reduce deforestation, it also has to regulate the industries behind the deforestation. However, as the cattle sector is important to the country’s economy, its expansion poses a big risk to eliminating deforestation. Most companies along the beef and dairy supply chains do not have commitments to curb deforestation.

Fires in Colombia, April 2020: Each yellow dot is a fire observed by NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.

Forest hot spots

Agricultural developers capitalize on the elevated fire risk during the dry season in the Colombian Amazon to clear tropical rainforests for cattle grazing.

What is the cause?

Fires are often illegally ignited during Colombia’s dry season as a cheaper means of clearing land for cattle grazing. The ash temporarily provides fertilization, but long-term soil erosion leads to more deforestation.

What is the impact?

Forest fires disrupt tropical ecosystems and endanger the 13,433 registered plants and animals in the Colombian Amazon. The soil and biomass of the Amazon stores an estimated 257 tons of carbon per hectare, which are released during forest fires and contribute to climate change. Impacts are amplified as fires frequently encroach on the 74 percent of the Colombian Amazon that is recognized as Nationally Protected Areas or Indigenous Reserves.

Where are the fires?

Forest fires in the Colombian Amazon have been primarily focused around Meta, Casanare, Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Bolívar, Córdoba, Sucre, Magdalena, Valle, Antioquia, Vichada, Guaviare, La Guajira, Vaupés and Caquetá. The Sierra de la Macarena National Park, Tinigua National Park, Chiribiquete National Park, and the Nukak National Reserve have also been impacted.


Homepage numbers: Tree cover loss (since 2005), Global Forest Watch; Deforestation* as a percentage of GHG emissions, 2005-2016, Climate Watch; National goal for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Climate Action Tracker.

Deforestation map: Tree cover loss by region (since 2005), Global Forest Watch; Value of cattle exports, 2019, International Trade Centre; National cattle count, Pro Colombia.


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