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Enlisting the dairy industry to end Colombia’s deforestation crisis

Colombia has seen rapidly increasing deforestation, especially in areas of the Amazon rainforest. This deforestation has had a profound ecological impact on this, the world's second most biologically diverse country, which has forest covering more than half of its territory and provides a home for 10% of the world's species. However, a big step against this trend has been facilitated by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), who have persuaded two giants of Colombia's dairy industry to join the country's zero-deforestation movement.

The dairy company Alpina and the national association of milk processors Asoleche have signed the landmark "zero-deforestation dairy value chain agreement" after an outreach blitz by WLE/Alliance staff and partners. This successful campaign involved active engagement with the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development under the Sustainable Land Use Systems Project, with support from the multi-stakeholder platform Secretariat – which the Ministry invited WLE/Alliance to manage.

While the beef and dairy sector is one of Colombia's largest employers, it has traditionally also been a major contributor to deforestation. In 2019, the government aimed to change that when it signed the zero-deforestation agreement with companies in the sector. Initially, the agreement had very few major dairy sector signatories. Alpina in particular was hesitant to sign when first approached, unsure of what impact such a commitment may have on its supply chain operations. However, after the Secretariat explained the connection between the dairy supply chain and deforestation and Alpina's potential role in the zero-deforestation movement, Alpina agreed.

Alpina's involvement, in turn, contributed to Asoleche's decision to join the movement. The producer association's signature was of particular importance to the zero-deforestation movement. Asoleche has 28 affiliates producing about 1.5 million liters of raw milk annually. Working with Asoleche will enable the Secretariat to reach out to all association members, potentially bringing more players into action. Contacting smaller producers through Asoleche has already proven productive. The Secretariat prompted dairy companies in the Department of Caquetá, which has one of the highest rates of deforestation in Colombia, to sign the agreement in March 2021.

The commitment by Alpina and Asoleche and many other signatories to the zero-deforestation dairy value chain agreement will support Colombia's efforts to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050.