Colombia: Chocó Forest Restoration in Afro-Columbian Communities


This restoration project draws from Analogue Forestry, which is the name for forestry techniques that integrates the needs of local communities in the restoration of ecosystems, creating food security as well as economic benefits for their families. This project sought to counter the excessive and uncontrolled exploitation of the natural resources in the Chocó bioregion of Columbia among underserved Afro-Columbian communities which had long resulted in the loss of biodiversity and the impoverishment of the population in terms of income loss and food insecurity. Emerging from the framework of Law 70 in 1993 which adjudicated collective lands to Afro-Columbian communities, the rise of Community Councils in these effected municipalities have begun to implement plans for territorial administration. The project sought to provide training and technical knowledge for these communities to implement techniques of ecological restoration to reduce dependence on mining and provide incentives for diversification and provide for food security among the communities.

NOTE: Throughout this case study, the use of the term Analogue Forestry (AF) can be partially conflated with ecological restoration techniques because AF utilizes many practices that are indistinguishable from ecological restoration technique. Additionally, although AF maintains its own identity, it clearly draws from restoration ecology and the methods and guidelines promulgated by SER.

Quick Facts

Project Location:
Choco, Colombia, 5.252803300000001, -76.82596519999998

Geographic Region:
Latin America

Country or Territory:
Colombia, Ecuador, Panama

Tropical Forest

Tropical Forest - Moist Broadleaf, Tropical Forest - Seasonal Broadleaf, Other/Mixed

Organization Type:


Project Stage:

Start Date:

End Date:

Primary Causes of Degradation

Mining & Resource Extraction

Degradation Description

The primary subsistence activities today are the exploitation of natural resources and this occupies the majority of the population, alternating between activities in mining, fishing, lumber and subsistence agriculture. For centuries, mining has been the main productive activity in the region. Before the arrival of Spaniards, these lands were inhabited by different indigenous groups (Kunas, Emberas, and Waunanas). Due to the immense natural wealth of the mines in Chocó and the difficult climatic conditions, Spaniards brought over African slaves, and the indigenous populations were displaced. The history of Chocó is therefore intertwined with gold and platinum mining. In fact mining has proven time after time, to be the biggest incentive in the colonization of these lands. This reliance on mining has continued through the years, always controlled by foreign national and international actors. Yet, the fact that communities have gained control over their lands is a huge opportunity to change these historical patterns and allow local communities to benefit from the sustainable use of their natural resources.

Reference Ecosystem Description

The Chocó is located in the northwest corner of South America, along the Pacific coast of Colombia and parts of Ecuador and Panama. Its shores reach the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and at the east it borders the western range of the Andes. It extends from the mountainous area of Darién in Panama, along the length of the Pacific coast of Colombia, until Cape Pasado in the province of Manabí in northwest Ecuador, covering approximately 145,000 square kilometers. The three countries of the eco-region still possess nearly 58% of the total area as intact forest, especially in Colombia and Panama, and 46% with various levels of intervention. The Choco is one of the most important eco-regions in the world due to its biological and cultural diversity. It comprises lowlands, deserts at the foothills of the Andes, tropical rainforest and coastal areas, and the locations and combination of coasts and mountains create very diverse climatic patterns (annual precipitation between 2,000 and 13,000 mm, varying with the latitude and distance from the coast).
Some dominant types of land cover in the region are: swampland, scrub, humid pastures, wetlands, and alluvial forests, lowland rainforests (tropical rainforest), mountain forests, high plains, and arid forests. The eco-region has a significant number of endemic species: up to 400 types of trees and 800 vertebrates per hectare; seven to eight thousand types of plants and 100 endemic. In addition, migratory species like the humpback whales; hawksbill, leatherback, black, and loggerhead turtles, shorebirds and plovers, visit its coast each year for the purposes of breeding, nesting, feeding, and raising young, depending on the species. The area is also a centre of diversity and endemism of butterflies. Its population consists of communities descended from African slaves, indigenous communities (currently six: Tule, Embera, Eperara Siapidara, Wounaan, Awa, and Chachi) and mestizos.

Project Goals

From the outset the project sought to: 1) Restore ecosystems degraded by mining; 2) Recover and increase biodiversity in the collective territories of Afro-Colombian communities; 3) Foster nutritional security and independence for the local population; 4) Train the communities in the implementation of Analogue Forestry and other ecological restoration techniques; 5) Reduce the dependence on mining by providing incentives for productive diversification; 6) Provide support and build organisational capacity for the local communities through external NGO support.


The project does not have a monitoring plan.


According to the 1993 national census the population of the Colombian department of Chocó is 542,962 people, comprised of Afro-Colombian communities which are descendants of the African slaves brought over to work in the gold and platinum mines, and indigenous and mestizo communities. In 1991 the Colombian political constitution was amended. Among the reforms was Law 70, commonly referred to as ley de negritudes which recognize the rights of the Afro-Colombian communities. This law gave these the Afro-Columbian communities collective land rights and created community councils to administer collective territories. All mining communities involved in the Green Gold initiative are covered by Law 70 and thus hold collective title to their lands.

Description of Project Activities:
At the outset of the project the first effort was to conduct a participatory diagnoses of the ecosystems under consideration. These diagnoses were meant to establish farmers' needs and interests, their priorities when planting in their parcels, and their expectations from the projects and the commitments they were willing to assume. This is how the analogue forestry designs of the parcels were established. Then the teams conducted ecological evaluations and developed ecological descriptions of native forests in order to understand the main characteristics of the forests being restored to the farmers' parcels. "¨Once an ecological baseline was established, community nurseries were built so that the selected native species could be multiplied for later transplanting into each of the parcels."¨ The parcels for restoration were represented on a map and each map noted which species were planted."¨ This stage is the point at which Analog forestry designs were produced for each parcel and diverged from traditional ecological restoration practice. The designs specified which species needed to be planted where, and did so in a way that enhanced the ecosystem as an agro-ecosystem. The families' tradition of growing specific crops for their consumption was included into the design of each parcel; so that it would answer to their needs and to the project's objective of restoring biodiversity. All the families that were involved received technical assistance to develop their land use practices. Each family was initially trained in the analog forestry and restoration techniques and afterwards they received advice from local leaders trained on the use of the technique. The objective was to empower communities so they will lead the processes in each of their parcels. On occasion, it has been necessary to emphasize on the need of planting certain species which have no apparent value to them, but that have an important ecological value (for example they may aid in soil regeneration, or may produce shade which is vital for other species to grow, or may be vital in the natural succession processes)."¨ Community leaders have used this project and the technical assistance it implies, to promote the use of "Azoteas", a traditional form of growing plants on elevated containers in Chocó, to grow crops and medicinal plants. This contributes to the preservation of the community's culture and also to greater food security for the community. In 2007 more than 4000 trees of 21 different species were planted in the families' parcels and more than 5000 small trees were produced in the tree nurseries (including fruit trees, trees for timber exploitation, medicinal plants, plants for forage, amongst others). Four workshops on the commercial aspects of the project have been organized (two of them in 2007). In them, representatives from productive family units have learned more about productive chains and commercialization. "¨Training sessions for community leaders have also helped them improve their administrative skills (use of different software, reporting needs and accounting include some of the main topics that have been worked on).

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
1) The protection and restoration of lands. The communities of Condoto and Tadó are carrying out in the restoration of areas degraded by mining through the implementation of Analogue Forestry (AF). AF was found to be successful when implemented at different stages of vegetation coverage such as fallow lands, pastures, agricultural areas or agro forests, up to the formation of climax forests. In the most sterile soils of Condoto and Tadó, where mechanized mining has radically affected the fertility of the soils, vegetable species are introduced that fix atmospheric nitrogen and incorporate it in the recycling of nutrients. In other soils where the topsoil has not been affected as much, wood, fruit, and ornamental species are introduced, among others, to increase the biodiversity and advance towards the construction of biological corridors. 2) Health and Food Security The 90 Productive Family Units certified as having met the certification criteria for green metals have plantations of fruit and vegetable trees in and around their mines that complement their food security and independence. Furthermore the communities have an arboretum and seed bank in addition to 8 community nurseries. The seeds and cultivated seedlings grown there contribute to increasing the food security of more than 500 people, and are used for the further restoration of degraded areas. 3) Community Restoration The permanent presence of the leaders in the 8 communities where the AF projects are being implemented, includes organizing work performed by the Greater Community Councils and environmental education that touches on topics like land titles, Law 70 and management plans, among others, have contributed to further community strengthening. Analogue Forestry is implemented through a participative methodology that links the members of the community in planning, design, and implementation, creating spaces for participation that contribute to the creation of social capital. In the communities, 20 people have been trained as community leaders. Also, the Community Councils of Condoto and Tadó have advanced in the land management of nearly 143,000 hectares titled as collective lands or Afro-Colombian communities. 4) Employment and Income generation. The implementation of Analogue Forestry in the construction and maintenance of the nurseries and the arboretum and the restoration of areas degraded by mining has contributed significantly to the generation of jobs in the area.

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
In addition to the expansion of ecological knowledge in these communities, the project has expanded the sustainable management of the collective territories. Through the restoration of the degraded areas there has been an increase in income generation, biodiversity, as well as increased food security and health. The land management plans being enacted and discussed by the local communities further sustainable techniques for further expansion of the restoration efforts onto some 143,000 hectares under community management.

Long-Term Management

The project has expanded environmental education into all the affected communities and is actively educating the younger generation. The program is participated and trains community leaders to act as replicating agents of the program. Monitoring programs are also being established to what synergies between pioneering species and established ones exist, allowing for more adaptive management of the project

Sources and Amounts of Funding

Some of the funding for the project has been provided by the Analogue Forestry Network in Ecuador, and from the Friends of the Choco, as well as through international donations obtained through use of internet sites such as Global Giving.

Primary Contact

Organizational Contact