THE PIEDMONT OF CAQUETÁ, THE NATURAL AND CULTURAL WEALTH OF SOUTHERN COLOMBIA
In the department* of Caquetá there’s a region called the piedmont, essential for its mega biodiversity, multiculturalism, and variety of ecosystems. It’s part of the Andean-Amazonian piedmont (foothills) one of the areas with the greatest wealth of water in Colombia. A large number of streams and rivers –such as the Orteguaza, Caguán and Yarí– are born and converge there, tributaries of large rivers such as the Caquetá, which belongs to the Amazon basin, lung of the planet.
*Department is an administrative subdivision, equivalent to a state or a region in other countries.
The 1,468,000 hectares of forest in the Amazonian piedmont are home to many endemic species (species found nowhere else in the world). Hence, this is a strategic area of great biological importance (2).
Its forests help retain large amounts of carbon that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere, generating a negative impact on climate regulation in the Amazon region and the planet itself. Currently, the department of Caquetá is one of the areas with the highest deforestation rate in Colombia, making it critical to implement actions to reduce it in order to preserve biodiversity, protect water sources, mitigate climate change, and guarantee better quality of life for the communities that live here. (1.3).
In addition to its biodiversity, the department of Caquetá has a great cultural variety as it is home to different indigenous peoples like the Murui Muinai (Huitoto), Koreguaje, Inga, Embera, Nasa, Misak, Pijao, Andoque and some Tucano and Piratapuyo families. There are approximately 10,000 indigenous people, and although they barely reach 1% of the department's population, they are key actors in the conservation of ecosystems (4).
A BIODIVERSE TERRITORY THAT WE DON’T KNOW YET
According to a study carried out in 2019 by the Humboldt Institute, the departments included in the piedmont area are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Only a small share has been reported and classified. In the specific case of the department of Caquetá, only 15% of the total existing species have been reported. This is a compelling reason to conserve its ecosystems and to have the privilege of continuing to discover the magic and biodiversity that this region harbors and that we have not yet fully discovered (5).
To get an idea of its biodiversity, a study carried out in 2007 in the piedmont identified the following species:
• 246 plant species such as orchids, palms, cedars, heliconias, araceae, and oaks, among others.
• 952 bird species, a number that corresponds to 51% of the identified bird species of Colombia.
• 187 amphibian and reptile species.
• 250 mammal species, of which 10% are threatened (6).
Some emblematic species of great ecological importance are: the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the black tinamou (Tinamus osgoodi), the chestnut wood quail (Odontophorus hyperythrus), the salvin's curassow (Mitu salvini), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the Caquetá titi (Callicebus caquetensis), one of the most endangered species in Colombia.
There are also plant species of great medicinal importance such as yagé (Banisteriosis sp.) and yoco (Paulina yoco), whose ancestral and sacred uses are still maintained thanks to the presence of various indigenous cultures in the region (1).
A DIVERSITY OF POWERFUL ECOSYSTEMS AT THE SERVICE OF THE TERRITORY AND ITS COMMUNITY
The piedmont is home to more than 29 ecosystems, from subandean forests to flatland ecosystems, such as gallery and riparian forests, cananguchales (forests where canangucha palms are predominant), and agroecosystems where conservation and productive activities coexist. These diverse ecosystems provide the entire Amazon region with multiple resources and a lot of the natural ecosystem byproducts benefit human populations. There are also known as ecosystem services. Some of the most important contributions are:
- Powerful source of water for the territory and its communities.
- Conserving biodiversity: by being a biological corridor, it connects areas or ecosystems between the highlands and the plains, allowing the transit of a large number of species.
- Protecting the soil: its forests hold the soil, preventing floods and avalanches in rivers during times of rain.
- Abundant source of food, raw materials and genetic resources.
- Its forests help mitigate carbon emissions generated by deforestation, helping to regulate local, regional, and global climate.
- The scenic beauty is considered an ecosystem service as it is linked to the conservation and enjoyment of the heritage —in terms of natural and cultural resources— which increasingly attracts national and international tourists (3, 7).
A RESILIENT COMMUNITY WITH GREAT POTENTIAL FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Caquetá has been built and rebuilt by different groups of people, both local and colonizing cultures. At the beginning of the 20th century, the government promoted migration to this area, attracting indigenous people and settlers to the region. Their arrival gave way to new, but inappropriate, production models. That was the case with livestock, which was developed through inadequate uses of natural resources. Historically speaking, productive and commercial activities have not only transformed the territory, but have also put different ethnic groups at risk. This was the case in the 19th century during the rubber exploitation that involved the extinction of some ethnic groups(8).
In the last decades, this territory was affected and transformed by an extended armed conflict caused by different groups like guerrillas, paramilitaries, and other criminal gangs. Hence, a couple of years ago, Caquetá was included as one of the prioritized subregions for the formulation and implementation of the Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial — PDET) derived from point 1 of the final Agreement for Peace (8,9).
However, environmental leaders and indigenous communities —who play an important role in conservation and who, despite violence, remain in the fight for their rights and the conservation of their territory— are currently being threatened by dissent, by the dynamics of drug trafficking that are still present in the territory, and by a weak institutionality. All these factors put their lives and the conservation of ecosystems at risk (9,10).
Having faced so many cycles of violence and impact on their ecosystems, the people of Caquetá have become a resilient community, with a strong capacity, and eager to transform their reality. They make the most of their potential, and, as guardians of powerful and diverse knowledge, they are striving to rebuild the spirit of work and collective well-being. Consciously, responsibly, and efficiently, they are taking advantage of their natural and cultural resources, which today they recognize as great treasures.
CONSERVATION, PROTECTION AND TERRITORIAL MANAGEMENT, THE KEYS TO PRESERVE A TERRITORY FULL OF MAGIC AND NATURAL POWER
The protection of the piedmont has been developing through different means of conservation, protection, and territorial statutes, thanks to the different efforts of the National Government, the Local Government, the community, and entities such as Fondo Patrimonio Natural through the Conservation and Governance Program of the Amazonian Piedmont.
- The National Government declared, within the piedmont of Caquetá, a Forest Reserve Zone (Law 2 of 1959) and two National Natural Parks in the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP):
- Alto Fragua Indi-Wasi National Natural Park
- Serranía de los Churumbelos Auka - Wasi National Natural Park
- The Local Government of Belén de los Andaquíes has created 9 municipal parks, amongst them La Resaca, Las Lajas, Parque Mauritia, and Parque Municipal Termales de la Quisaya.
- Corpoamazonía, the local region administration and the city hall, stated the Miraflores and Picachos Regional Parks. With allies such as the Fondo Patrimonio Natural, studies have been carried out to determine the areas of ecosystemic importance for water production. The objective is to generate management plans and influence different planning tools –as a complementary conservation strategy– in order to protect the “Conservation of Soil and Water of Caquetá District” (DCSAC.)
- The peasant and indigenous communities also have initiatives and forms of organization that contribute to the care of the piedmont and its ecosystems, including:
- Nine indigenous reservations.
- The Pato Basillas Peasant Reserve area in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, where the region's farmers combine their productive activities with the protection of the natural resources on which they depend.
- Two Natural Reserves of the Civil Society: El Arrullo and Villa Mery. These types of reserves are protected areas on private properties, which aim to promote sustainable development and the long-term preservation or restoration of natural ecosystems, through sustainable management.
- As part of the “Zero Deforestation Pact” initiative of the livestock union, a network of 36 new private reserves of the civil society are being created. Additionally, they have also signed conservation pacts.
The role played by national, regional, and municipal protected areas —and those that are organized by the communities— is of vital importance, as it generates significant progress; these areas become climate regulatory spaces and lands with supply of environmental services that improve the quality of life of the communities that live there (11).
Despite the efforts of protection, a territory with such biodiversity and wealth faces multiple threats that put ecosystems, water sources, and the livelihoods of the population at risk. In addition to the deforestation caused by livestock, there is the strong pressure of deforestation caused by wood extraction, the expansion of the agricultural borders, and the cutting of native species for planting legal crops —and others for illicit purposes. Other threats are: illegal and legal mining of gold, minerals, limestones, and construction materials, the projections of the national government regarding the exploitation of hydrocarbons, and the imposition of the use of transgenic seeds. All of the above are strong threats that create great concern in the local population (3,11).
A PROGRAM THAT PROVIDES HOPE TO AN UNMATCHED TERRITORY
The Conservation and Governance Program in the Amazonian Piedmont implemented by Fondo Patrimonio Natural - Foundation for Biodiversity and Protected Areas, is one of the programs developed in this region for the conservation of the Amazonian piedmont in the department of Caquetá. This program implements sustainable productive landscapes that reduce the pressure on the ecosystems and improve people's living standards. This is made possible through the design of sustainable productive systems, the promotion of value chains and strategies that encourage conservation, and through the best use of natural resources to ensure biological connectivity corridors and improve the incomes of the communities. For this task it relies on a network of local, national, and international allies that contribute to the work of protecting the Amazon piedmont.
In the framework of the Chapter Caquetá, Amazonian piedmont, Vozterra made an alliance with the Conservation and Governance Program, in order to make visible some of Patrimonio Natural projects in the region and raise awareness within the national and international public about the importance of these regional ecosystems.
For more information you can visit the website: https://www.patrimonionatural.org.co/
VOZTERRA - CAQUETÁ COMES ALIVE THROUGH FASCINATING PLACES IN THE PIEDMONT
The Caraño is an area of great importance for it is the water source that feeds the aqueduct of the municipality of Florence. Only forty minutes away from the capital of the department, there is an area of preserved forests that are home to very important biodiversity. The Conservation and Governance Program has carried out these two projects in favor of the conservation of this area:
- Conservation incentives: it promotes conservation agreements, among farm owners, that help guarantee the balance of these forests for water production.
- Quick biodiversity inventory: it was carried out with a group of biology professors and students from the Javeriana University and members of the community, in order to find out what species of birds, fish and insects inhabit the territory.
Fragua Delicia’s Farm and Los Pomos’ Farm. Silvopastoral systems and farms with closed production systems.
These farms, located in the municipality of Puerto Torres, are part of a pilot experiment in silvopastoral systems by the Conservation and Governance Program. Its purpose is to generate sustainable production models in order to better manage the environment by combining local knowledge, good productive practices, and technological innovation. In these farms, improvements have been made both in production and in the establishment of conservation agreements for the protection of the forest.
Closed production systems have also been implemented under the principles of sustainable production. It guarantees that the farm produces everything necessary for the well-being of the family, food production, and the breeding of minor species. Thus, the quality of life of rural households has been improved, circular economy experiences have been created, and low-cost technologies have been adopted.
Belén de los Andaquíes
La Resaca Municipal Park:
This is one of the nine natural municipal parks that make up the "Rural Environmental System" of Belén de los Andaquíes. It’s the result of a joint effort between the Mayor's Office and the community, in order to conserve biodiversity, guarantee the environmental supply (benefits/supplies people get from natural resources), and the proper functioning of ecosystems. This park protects La Resaca Creek, which in turn guarantees access to water for the inhabitants, since it is the basin that supplies the municipal aqueduct (7).
The Conservation and Governance Program of the Amazonian Piedmont has contributed to the protection of this park through various activities with the community such as: the laboratory for community innovation and awareness raising activities, environmental education, and participatory monitoring of biodiversity with a group of children. The latter, in coordination with Tierra Viva Foundation.
El Horeb, Nature Reserve and Ecotourism Paradise:
At seven km from Belén de los Andaquíes lies a private property which protects 100 hectares of humid forest, a part of the Sarabando River bed, and 125 water springs. This reserve offers responsible tourism services where visitors can appreciate the high natural value of the territory and the emblematic natural beauty of the region.
San José de Fragua
El Arrullo Natural Reserve of Civil Society
This reserve, comprising 22.45 hectares, is located in the San José de Fragua municipality. The land was acquired by its owners in 2010 and registered as a Natural Reserve of the Civil Society since 2014. Initially, the land kept some areas of secondary forest and other areas without vegetation due to deforestation. In the last seven years, deforested areas have undergone an assisted process of natural regeneration, with enrichment of native species such as chontaduro (Bactris gasipaes), achapo (Cedrelinga catenaeformis) guarango (Mimosa quitensis), and Patawa palm tree (Oenocarpus matawa), among others, giving life back to the terrain. * More information on the Conservation and Governance Program: https://www.patrimonionatural.org.co/proyectos/conservacion-y-gobernanza/
Agricultural frontier: It is the boundary of the rural land that separates the areas where agricultural activities are allowed from the areas of special environmental interest that must be dedicated to preservation, ecological restoration, or other management categories derived from environmental zoning.
Silvopastoral model: The silvopastoral model establishes the planting of different species of fruit trees and forage in order to better feed livestock and make live fences to separate and reduce paddock areas, therefore avoiding deforestation.
Agroforestry system: The agroforestry system is a form of cultivation in which there are at least two species of plants that interact biologically. In these systems, trees are combined with agricultural crops and / or grasses to increase and optimize production in a sustainable way.
Environmental services: These are the benefits that ecosystems provide to people (e.g., protection of biodiversity, collection and filtration of water, scenic beauty, etc.).
Sustainable productive systems: Set of activities to obtain goods or services to sell, using local natural heritage without compromising the enduring existence of natural ecosystems.
Value chains: The process of commercializing a product –from the raw material to the distribution of the finished product.
Assisted natural regeneration: A biological process of natural recovery of biodiversity and forest structure, in places that have been deforested. This process can be assisted with the sowing of some species to slightly speed up the process.
- Morales C., D. Fajardo y A. Bedoya. Patrimonio Natural. Programa de Conservación y Gobernanza. 2019. Caracterización Biofísica, Social y Cultural en el Marco de la Aplicación de la ruta declaratoria de Áreas protegidas para el Distrito de Conservación de Suelo y Aguas del Caquetá (DCSAC). (Unpublished internal document).
- Patrimonio Natural. 2020. Power Point presentation: Programa Conservación y Gobernanza en el Piedemonte Amazónico.
- Corpoamazonía., Humboldt Institute, SINCHI Institute. Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema de Parques Nacionales Naturales. 2009. Capítulo 3. Lineamientos generales para la ejecución del Plan de Acción Regional en Biodiversidad en: Plan de Acción Regional en Biodiversidad del Sur de la Amazonía colombiana 2007 – 2027. Mocoa, Putumayo.
- Panche Chocué LM December 14, 2018. Así avanza la construcción del capítulo indígena del PDET para la región cuenca del Caguán y piedemonte caqueteño. Grupo Semillas Colombia. Recovered from https://www.semillas.org.co/apc-aa-files/353467686e6667686b6c676668f16c6c/as-avanza-la-construccin-del-captulo-indgena-71-72-1-8.pdf
- Humboldt Institute. March 20, 2019. En principales núcleos de deforestación habría más de 46 mil especies por conocer. Recovered from: http://www.humboldt.org.co/es/boletines-y-comunicados/item/1330-en-principales-nucleos-de-deforestacion-habria-mas-de-46-mil-especies-por-conocer.
- Restrepo, JH & LG Naranjo. 2007. Chapter 4: Diversidad de flora y fauna. Pp. 26-33 en: L. G. Naranjo (Ed.): Escenario de conservación en el piedemonte Andino – Amazónico de Colombia. CD Rom. Cali: WWF – Parques Nacionales – Instituto Humboldt.
- Patrimonio Natural. 2019. Estrategias de intervención en el DCSAC para fortalecer la gestión ambiental. Documento técnico 3. CPS & G-C-197 de 2019. (Unpublished internal document).
- Gomez. LL 2019. La gestión ambiental en el Programa de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial (PDET) de la Cuenca del Caguán y el Piedemonte Caqueteño. (Tesis de maestría). Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Bogotá.
- CEJIL. May 11, 2018. Riesgo de extinción de pueblos indígenas de Colombia queda evidenciado ante la CIDH. Recovered from: https://www.cejil.org/es/riesgo-extincion-pueblos-indigenas-colombia-queda-evidenciado-cidh
- Ciro, A. 2019. La violencia en Caquetá que recibe la disidencia de Márquez. La Silla Vacía. Recovered from: https://lasillavacia.com/silla-llena/red-sur/la-violencia-caqueta-recibe-la-disidencia-de-marquez-71434
- Fajardo D. y Morales C. Patrimonio Natural. February 2019. Análisis de actores clave en el marco de la aplicación de la ruta declaratoria de áreas protegidas para el Distrito de Conservación de Suelos y Aguas del Caquetá. – DCSAC. (Unpublished document).
The Caquetá Exoticá collective is a group that is passionate about highlighting the biodiversity and natural beauty of the Caquetá department. Camilo Castaño, its founder, is passionate about birds, which he captures very well with his exclusive photographic eye. We thank Camilo and the Caquetá Exótica collective for their support in the development of Caquetá: Amazonian Piedmont. Thank you for your collaboration on the field, sharing your passion for bird watching, your help from home with the identification of the various callings, and your impeccable photos of the beautiful birds that we listened to and observed during our visit.
The Chapter Caquetá from the VozTerra platform has been possible thanks to the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the Conservation and Governance Program in the Amazonian Piedmont, launched by the Patrimonio Natural Fund, in partnership with VozTerra. Its content is responsibility of VozTerra and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of USAID or the United States government or the Natural Heritage Fund.