Colombia deforestation increased 8% last year, environment minister says

A man rides a motorcycle on an illegal road made during the deforestation of the Yari plains, in Caqueta
A man rides a motorcycle on an illegal road made during the deforestation of the Yari plains, in Caqueta, Colombia March 2, 2021. Picture taken March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA, July 7 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Colombia increased by 8% in 2020, Environment Minister Carlos Eduardo Correa said on Wednesday, despite ambitious government promises to reduce forest destruction and plant tens of millions of trees.

The country lost 171,685 hectares (424,000 acres) of forest last year, an area twice the size of New York City, compared to a loss of 158,894 hectares in 2019.

Cattle ranching, the expansion of agricultural areas, cultivation of illegal crops like coca, unauthorized roads and criminal activities like illegal mining and logging were the top causes.

Correa said the country hopes to reach zero deforestation by 2030.

"We are making the greatest efforts in the fight against deforestation," he said, outlining a strategy which includes military operations, social investment, payments for environmental efforts and satellite monitoring.

Correa told Reuters in March he expected "very positive results" in deforestation reduction for 2020, despite increases in the first quarter and coronavirus complicating some efforts to prevent tree-felling.

Nearly 64% of the deforestation last year took place in Amazonian areas, Correa said during Wednesday's presentation.

Correa has said the government is targeting a 30% reduction in deforestation during President Ivan Duque's term, which ends in August next year. read more

That target compares to the 50% goal previously floated by Duque himself.

The government has said it will plant 180 million trees by the end of Duque's administration. It has so far planted just over a third of that goal - 63 million trees.

Colombia is the world's second most biodiverse country by square kilometer and home to some 10% of the world's flora and fauna.

Deforestation practices can be punished by up to 15 years in prison.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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Luis Jaime has worked at Reuters for more than 30 years. While he chiefly covers Colombia's armed conflict and the fight against drug trafficking from capital Bogotá, he also reports on politics, human rights, corruption, sports and the coffee industry, as well as companies in the energy and mining sectors. Before joining Reuters, he worked for Colombia's Caracol Radio network for five years. Contact: +573102107084