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Water risks in the coffee growing area eco-region

To understand the identity of the landscape as the result of a dialectic relationship, symbiosis, and parasitism, a dialogue must be set through culture and describing the territory as:

  • A mining west, as land of Indian reservations and afro-Colombian people
  • The Magdalena center region, as land of hammocks, chinchorros and shoals
  • The coffee growing area as land of chivas, bamboo, and yarumo trees
  • High mountain area as land of Andean tundra’s and volcanos

In this biodiverse but deforested, plural-cultural and mestizo territory, characterized for being a tropical Andean area occupied by close to 3.7 million people, heir of a coffee growing culture, most part of the people will have to face climatic threat, due whether to extreme climatic events which will translate into lack of water and natural disasters, or due to an increased temperature, which will result in loss of biodiversity as a consequence of ecosystem fragmentation.

The Andean region of Colombia has bimodal climate, with dry and rainy seasons which change with the equinoxes and solstices and conditioned by El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), that irregularly periodic climatic variation which has intensified floods and droughts both during the El Niño in summer /winter when they are dryer and La Niña when the contrary occurs1.

Territorial issues

The water patrimony of the eco-region has three Andean tundras reloading areas:

  • Tatamá
  • Caramanta
  • Los Nevados National Natural Park

There are also Andean high forests with its highlighted areas of Roble, the Alto del Nudo and the Nevado del Ruiz –also known as the Mesa de Herveo– which compromise infiltration and biodiversity and also impacted by bad land use and deforestation processes.

In regards to aquifers, besides the extensive Magdalena valley, as a great reservoir, there are the valleys of the La Vieja River near the Cauca River, whose underwater potential is linked to the Quindío glacis, the Risaralda Valley, and the Santágueda region.

On the other hand, although the plentiful rain of eastern region of the Province of Cauca offers a surplus water patrimony susceptible to hydropower exploitation, they also have the most degraded basins such as the Chinchiná, Otún, Quindío, and Combeima Rivers, which hold capital cities located over alluvial fans.

There is a high drought threat at the Cañón del Cauca, which is more evident between the municipalities of Irra and La Pintada due to the impervious character of the rock, deforestation and the harshness of the mountainous area.

Area of high productivity

From the ecosystem perspective there are lands of notable productivity in the high cordillera between the municipalities of San Félix and Roncesvalles, in the valleys of the Center Magdalena, La Vieja, and Risaralda, and in the coffee growing area from the south of the municipality of Neira to the Province of Quindío, thanks to the variety of landscapes and mountain Andean climates with volcanos, high plateaus and tropical valleys, although most lands are young with average fertility and slightly acidic.

After the 20s the coffee growing area became very important, but in the 70s the water and land became ill-fated due to the green revolution, linked to the introduction of single-crop farming without shadowing vegetation and use of fertilizers. Later in the 90s, there was even more pressure over the ecological structure and more natural disasters due to climatic events. Then, in the year 2000, the deforestation was expressed in land use conflicts where the use of land for grasslands was 4%, coverage reached 49% while the forest potential was 54% and the forest areas fell to 19 %2.

Climate change adaptation actions are urgent

As the high basins –2,000 meters above sea level (MASL) – and low and warm areas –under 1,200 MASL– are impacted by deforestation, the agricultural sector needs to rethink the productive model from the ecological perspective, implementing agroforestry and silvopastoral practices to solve the issue.

And for land located between 1,200 and 1,800 MASL, the reference point needs to be the Coffee Cultural Landscape which is on the UNESCO heritage listings for the benefit of 47 municipalities and 411 rural communities which demand organic coffee growing under shadowing vegetation, where besides reasserting the rural economy they should also try to impose clean production and added value to the offer of cultural goods and environmental services in order to control the productive chain.

In general, to mitigate the threat of climate change, the authorities need to prioritize territorial planning and basin reforestation, by implementing strategies that solve land use issues and the capacity of the land using economically viable reconversion productive models, supported by social appropriation of the land.

In the meantime, the current development plans need to implement science and technology policies based on culture to bridge the productivity gap, controlling the expansive use of lands. Besides they should also generate trust using social governance practices and transparency and rebuild the social fabric making cultural identity and social and human development the pillars of development.

[1] Global warming in Colombia

[2] Water, a public asset

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