Home > Colombia
Colombia Agriculture and Fishing Overview
Agriculture and fishing
The changing climate and diversity of habitats make Colombia suitable for the cultivation of most crops. Agriculture has been the basis of the economy, but other industries have increased in importance. However, close to a fifth of the population still works in agriculture. Coffee and bananas are dominant crops.
The need for a land reform is great. Early on, the concentration of ownership was considerable, and it has increased as illegal groups of threats and violence forced farmers to flee and take over their land. The former left-wing guerrilla Farc prevented many farmers from farming their land, but was itself a large owner of cattle. Drug cartels have also owned extensive land properties, and the right-wing militia has been supported by large landlords.
Coffee has long been the most important agricultural export commodity and Colombian coffee is considered one of the best in the world. There are over half a million coffee farms, which employ one third of the farm workers. They are largely a middle class in the countryside - something that is unusual in Latin America. Colombia is the world's third largest coffee producer.
The country's small farmers have difficulty competing with the low prices of large coffee producers and have instead focused on high quality coffee for well-order customers. Colombia's coffee district or coffee landscape, Eje Cafetero, was awarded World Heritage status in 2011 by the UN agency Unesco as a cultural landscape.
Colombia is also one of the largest banana producers in the world. The large American company Chiquita started its business in Colombia in 1899. A century later, banana production was threatened by the civil war in the country, and companies like Chiquita were pressed for money by the Farcgerilla and paramilitary high militia under threat of kidnapping and murder. Although Chiquita made large illegal payments to the militia and also delivered weapons to Farc, many workers were killed.
In a few decades, Colombia has become the world's second largest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands. Other new export products are sugar, tropical fruits and cotton. The growing demand for biofuels has given hope for increased production of palm oil and sugarcane. Some of the palm cultivations have been harshly criticized because they have been established by paramilitary leaders on land taken by small farmers through threats and violence.
The crops that are then grown for domestic consumption are mainly potatoes, rice, beans, maize, manioc (yucca) and a large number of vegetables and fruits. Livestock are raised for meat production on the vast pastures in the east. A major problem for many livestock farmers is that guerrillas and paramilitary militias operate in these areas.
Agriculture has problems with obsolete machinery, credit restrictions and a weak distribution system. Economic liberalization in the 1990s that abolished subsidies hit hard on the agricultural sector, and in recent years the country's free trade agreement with the US and the EU has created new difficulties for the peasants (see Economic overview).
Opponents of the US agreement believe that subsidized grain from giant farms risks knocking out small farmers in Colombia. Oxfam International, which works against poverty, criticizes the agreement as an unconditional opening for exports of rice, corn, wheat, barley, soybeans, chicken, beef and more from the US, while Colombia's sugar exports are conditional. According to Oxfam, the agreement was governed by commercial interests without taking into account the social situation of war-torn Colombia.
In recent decades, Colombia has essentially been the world's largest producer of cocaine (although Peru took first place for a few years from 2012). At most, close to 90 percent of all cocaine has come from Colombia. The crops are mainly found in areas along the coast towards the Pacific. Only in the state of Narińo, bordering Ecuador, are larger cocoa cultivars than in all of Peru. The fight against coca cultivation, especially through the military's aerial spraying, caused the area to shrink in Colombia for a number of years until it fell by more than two-thirds. However, aerial spraying was banned in 2015 because the pesticide was carcinogenic. This may have contributed to the growth of the cultivated area, reaching 171,000 hectares in 2017, which was a record level.
Areas inside the rainforests are used for illegal cultivation of cocaine, the raw material for cocaine. For poor farmers, working on coca farms has usually been the most profitable business. They have protested violently against the government's cooperation with the United States, Plan Colombia (see Modern History), which wiped out large coca fields before offering alternative cultivation. The aerial spraying has also killed other crops.
About half of Colombia's area is covered with forest. Nevertheless, forestry plays a small role for the economy. However, illegal logging is increasing, leading to soil degradation. The land then becomes unusable, which also degrades fresh water resources.
Colombia's fairly undeveloped fishing industry could grow significantly, as there is good access to fish in the seas, rivers and lakes. Shrimp cultivation takes place for export to, among others, Spain, France and the United States.
FACTS - AGRICULTURE
Agriculture's share of GDP
6.3 percent (2018)
Percentage of land used for agriculture
40.3 percent (2016)
Settlement between left guerrillas
Farc and ELN announce that they will stop fighting each other and instead concentrate on attacking the military.
The US is allowed to use military bases properly
Colombia and the United States sign an agreement that gives Americans the right to station personnel at seven Colombian military bases.
Chávez protest against intrusion
The Venezuelan president claims that Colombia has invaded the neighboring country, something Bogotá denies. The weeks before, Chávez has vigorously protested Colombia's plans for stronger cooperation with the United States in the fight against drug trafficking, and in particular a decision to allow the United States to use air bases in Colombia.
The intelligence service is designated for crime
It is revealed that agents within the Colombian intelligence service DAS engaged in intercepting telephone calls and emails to Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, government officials and journalists. The data has been sold to drug dealers and other criminal groups, right-wing militia and left-wing rebels. DAS has also been linked to the assassination of presidential candidates.
Farc prisoners released
The guerrillas release six prisoners, two former politicians held since 2002. This is in response to an open exchange of letters between Farc and a group of left-wing politicians and intellectuals who call themselves Colombians for peace.