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Tropical lowland forests (economic use), Colombia

Main Contributors:

Daniel Ospina

Other Contributors:


This case is a ‘natural resource-use system’ of afro-descendant communities living in a collectively-own tropical forest territory, in the Chocó biogeographic region. This system flipped from a regime characterized by a diversified use of ecosystems, oriented mainly to subsistence and based on cooperative institutions (regime 1), to one centred on timber extraction, oriented mainly to the market and based of remunerated labour (regime 2). Regime 1 was in place for more than two centuries, not just for that population, but for virtually all the afrodescendant groups in de Colombian and Ecuadorian Pacific coast. However, in the last decades a change in the way these communities relate with the environment, as a result from the interventions from the State and big companies, has been documented. In this particular case, the shift seems to have occurred around the 1970s, after a series of biophysical and economic shocks that affected an already stressed system. One key driver was population growth, while two proposed external drivers of change were 1) the many social and production programmes designed by the national government that portrayed the local ways as inefficient and tried to replace them; and 2) the presence of big timber companies influencing a change in way ‘labour’ was viewed. The main feedback loop locking the system in this new regime is the one that links ‘timber extraction’, monetary income’ and ‘satisfaction of basic needs and desires’, and that now dominates over the one that links ‘agriculture’, ‘goods’ and ‘satisfaction of basic needs and desires’. This is further amplified by the almost complete disappearance of cooperative forms of labour, that where replaced by remunerated ones. The impact on the ecosystem is an increasing rate of timber extraction, and related with this, a change in the edapho-hydric conditions, that could in time lead to a change in the composition of these forests. Human well-being has been affected negatively as the current situation is of high dependence on timber prices and reduced food autonomy.

Type of regime shift

  • socio-economic

Ecosystem type

  • Marine & coastal
  • Tropical Forests

Land uses

  • Timber production

Spatial scale of the case study

  • Local/landscape (e.g. lake, catchment, community)

Continent or Ocean

  • South America


  • Chocó biogeographic region


  • Colombia

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Key References

  1. Del Valle JI & Restrepo E. (eds) 1996. Renacientes del guandal. “grupos negros” de los ríos Satinga y Sanquianga. UN–PBP, Bogotá DC.
  2. Escobar A & Pedrosa A. (eds) 1996. Pacífico ¿desarrollo o diversidad? Estado, capital y movimientos sociales en el Pacífico colombiano. CEREC-Ecofondo, Bogotá DC.
  3. Leal C & Restrepo E. 2003. Unos bosques sembrados de aserríos: historia de la extracción maderera en el Pacífico colombiano. ICANH–UN–Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín.
  4. Proyecto Biopacífico. 1994. Economías de las comunidades rurales en el Pacífico colombiano (Memorias del foro Las economías rurales indígenas, negras y mestizas en el Pacífico colombiano, Sena-Codechoco-PBP, Octubre 19-21 de 1994, Quibdó). MMA-PNUD-GEF, Bogotá DC.
  5. West RC. 1957. The Pacific lowlands of Colombia: A negroid area of the American tropics. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rough.
  6. Whitten NE Jr. 1986. Black Frontiersmen: Afro-Hispanic Culture of Ecuador and Colombia. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights.


Daniel Ospina. Tropical lowland forests (economic use), Colombia. In: Regime Shifts Database, Last revised 2013-08-25 21:53:08 GMT.
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