A mystery multinational linked to Colombia's dairy deforestation

25.10.2019

Illegal land clearances in Amazon national parks are being driven by the dairy industry; now, the government is targeting the rogue cattle ranchers supplying a global corporation

Dairy producers are believed to be behind rising illegal deforestation at the Tinigua and Sierra de la Macarena national parks. Photo: Adobe Stock

Dairy firms, including a multinational corporation, are helping to fuel widespread illegal deforestation in the Colombian Amazon as cattle ranchers continue to clear thousands of hectares of protected forest.

The National Parks of Colombia (PNNC) – the government agency responsible for managing protected areas – has raised the alarm about illegal deforestation in the Amazon department of Meta linked to the dairy industry.

The agency said four dairy companies, among them a multinational corporation, had been purchasing milk from large-scale cattle ranchers linked to rising illegal deforestation at the Tinigua and Sierra de la Macarena national parks, both located in Meta. PNNC found over 40,000 illegal heads of cattle at the two protected areas.

PNNC director Julia Miranda has asked public prosecutors to investigate cattle supply chains in the area. Miranda has claimed that PNNC has the names of the dairy companies buying milk from the ranches linked to illegal deforestation.

For the past few months Earthsight has tried to identify the dairy companies at the end of these supply chains. In response to a freedom of information request sent to PNNC, the agency said it had “informed the competent authorities about illegal activities, among them cattle ranching in protected areas. 

These authorities, as a result of their investigations, are the ones able to determine the names of the companies promoting these activities in the area.”

Earthsight then sent a freedom of information request to Colombia’s public prosecutors’ office (FGN). After re-directing the request internally, FGN replied in October that a criminal investigation on illegal deforestation for cattle ranching at Tinigua and Sierra de la Macarena was indeed ongoing. The agency declined to disclose the names of individuals being investigated.

“The question is which companies buy this milk and meat, and how [do] they monitor their supply chains?” Miranda told Colombian news outlet Semana Sostenible.

Tinigua and Sierra de la Macarena are biodiverse hotspots home to jaguars, otters, three-toed sloths, macaws, cougars, brown woolly monkeys and brown spider monkeys, among other threatened species.

While Colombia as a whole saw deforestation levels drop 10% last year from the 220,000 hectares (ha) lost in 2017, several protected areas have seen forest loss, mostly driven by extensive cattle ranching, accelerate.

In Tinigua alone, deforestation more than doubled between 2017 and 2018, from 4,000ha to 10,500ha Tinigua and Sierra de la Macarena were the two most deforested protected areas in Colombia last year.

Additionally, San Vicente del Caguán and La Macarena, municipalities in Caquetá and Meta that border the protected areas, were the two most heavily deforested municipalities in 2018, accounting for 20% of total forest loss in the country.

The demobilisation of the FARC armed group in 2016 following a peace agreement with the Colombian government is seen as a major factor behind a surge in deforestation, especially in the Amazon. 

With the FARC no longer controlling large areas, land values have skyrocketed, prompting land grabbers and landowners to move into previously inaccessible areas.

Most of the land grabbing seen since the peace agreement has been linked to extensive cattle ranching, including for milk and cheese production, in Caquetá and Meta.

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