Ecological Restoration

Challenges for Colombia

Wilson RamírezInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Carolina MurciaPontificia Universidad Javeriana Manuel R. GuariguataCentro para la Investigación Forestal Internacional, Perú Evert ThomasBiovesity International, Colombia Mauricio AguilarInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Paola IsaacsInstituto Alexander von Humboldt

In recent years ecological restoration has gained both national and international renown as a complementary strategy for conservation. Although Colombia has gained expertise from initial attempts, many challenges must yet be overcome.

Degradation and transformation in Colombia have affected its biodiversity and ecosystem services1 supply and quality

to such extent that concerns about the subject have surpassed the environmental sector and reached national and international politics. This situation calls for complementary conservation strategies that allow for an integrated management of natural resources. One of these strategies is ecological restoration, which is the process assisting the reestablishment of structural and functional properties of a degraded, ruined, or destroyed ecosystem using previous knowledge and its natural recovery potential2,3. Colombia has the experience of 50 years in ecological restoration and continues to include this strategy to manage its natural resources, as shown by large increases in projects and publications produced about the subject since the nineties. This trend is also evident in the recent commitment to the Latin American and Caribbean Initiative 20x20, which set the goal of restoring 20 million hectares in the region for 2020 and plans to reach ambitious restoration targets like 3.2 million hectares for Peru and 1 million for Colombia4. These goals, besides recovering degraded ecosystems, are opportunities to strengthen restoration practices because they allow for improving conceptual frameworks, developing new techniques, and consolidating collaboration networks between countries.

Despite the signed agreements, implemented programs, and investments, it is estimated that the restored number of hectares has not been enough to meet set objectives or compensate for deforestation rates. On the other hand, restoration is currently encouraged by the national government, the private sector, and NGOs, but disengaged from academia5 and local communities, causing a significant scattering of concepts, countless information gaps in ecosystems such as tropical dry forests, wetlands, and savannas, and a lack of belonging in the population6.

Based on biotic and physical parameters, national cartography indicates that the areas with restoration priorities are the Andes and the Caribbean. However, in order to make restoration efforts more precise, knowledge about altered ecosystem ecology, intrinsic species characteristics, territory conditions, and land ownership must increase. Also, the responsible entities should put forth more resources for restoration projects. Finally, albeit significant progress by networks such as the Ibero-American Society of Ecological Restoration and the Colombian Restoration Network, and the Restoration Plan of the country5, additional efforts should be made in order to strengthen policies related to restoration.

Restoration priorities

      Degraded zones where all variables accumulate: drains without natural vegetation, land use conflicts, mining, deforestation, intervened areas, small sizes and shapes.

    • HIGH

      Degraded zones where all variables accumulate: drains without natural vegetation, land use conflicts, mining, deforestation, intervened areas, small sizes and shapes.


      Zones lacking natural vegetation but without cases of mining, use conflicts, or deforestation.

    • LOW

      Degraded zones with small shapes and sizes of vegetation cover that are adjacent to intervened areas with deforestation.


      Zones that should have restricted use because forests and natural land covers of large shape and size are present.

Other paramo complexes
No information


1 To conserve before restoring because restoration is costly, very uncertain, and all the ecosystem components are not always be recovered7.

2 Consider restoration at a landscape level to ensure its success; integrate action and conservation programs to platforms of dialogue between different figures involved.

3 Use genetically diverse seeds that are adapted to the areas in restoration to ensure the viability and resilience of restored populations8.

4 Plan all the necessary financing of project phases, from baseline through monitoring9.

5 Include a participative social component to involve all the key actors of the territory in order to guarantee the sustainability of the projects10.

6 Magnify the biophysical, social, and economic dimensions of restoration projects so the integrated management of the territory is strengthened5.

7 Strengthen regional nodes of ecological restoration professionals that interact with local communities, academia, NGOs6, decision-makers, and industrial sectors.

8 Reinforce existing policies so restoration is visibly and actively incorporated as an integrated tool for land planning and use.

Number of hectares that need restoration and are outside of protected areas, by region.

Dada esta creciente preocupación, el país ha ratificado internacionalmente varios compromisos como el fijado para el Convenio de Diversidad Biológica (CDB), y su meta de restaurar para el 2020 al menos el 15 % de los ecosistemas degradados en el mundo. También es firmante de la Convención de las Naciones Unidas para combatir la desertificación (UNCCD), donde la restauración juega un papel determinante para mejorar la situación de degradación de tierras, y trabaja activamente en la estructuración del objetivo de restauración 3(b)(i) de la Plataforma Intergubernamental de Biodiversidad y Servicios Ecosistémicos (IPBES), la cual busca dar lineamientos desde la ciencia hacia la política. En lo nacional, el país ha lanzado el documento final del Plan Nacional de Restauración con lineamientos sobre el tema, también ha incluido en los últimos años una meta cuantitativa de restauración dentro de su Plan Nacional de Desarrollo (PND) y deja la restauración como alternativa explícita de compensación ambiental a megaproyectos licenciados en el Manual de Asignación de Compensaciones. En síntesis estamos en un momento en el cual la temática de Ecological restoration tiene un rol determinante en el escenario de la conservación tanto nacional como global.