“A bird in the hand is better than a hundred in flight”, goes the saying. However, various organizations dedicated to the conservation of birds and the places they inhabit in our country, and throughout the hemisphere, consider that in order to ensure the balance of ecosystems, sustainable economic growth, tackle climate change and ensure the well-being of people, the strategic thing is that there are not a hundred, but millions of birds flying.
Colombia is the country of birds. With 1,954 registered species, there is no other in the world that has this richness, which can be valued beyond its dazzling beauty. Birds are crucial for the sustainability of the country, since they provide invaluable ecosystem services and benefit the national production systems. Among these services are pollination, a determining factor for food production, seed dispersal and pest control.
Added to these contributions is a more tangible one that has taken flight in recent years in the country and that in times of pandemic became especially visible in the world: birdwatching. In the United States, for example, 45 million people bird and, of these, it is estimated that 16 million go on a trip to fly after their passion. In figures, this line of nature tourism moves 41 billion dollars a year in that country, according to data from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. In Europe and Asia, interest in birds has also grown and their followers come to this privileged region of the world to observe with fascination what we overlook or fail to capture in its real importance. In Colombia the numbers are more discreet, but they grow steadily. According to the Ministry of Commerce, bird tourism contributes nine million dollars a year, according to 2020 data. One million birders arrive in the country attracted by our biodiversity, to which is added internal nature tourism, which has also been strengthened. For all of us, Colombia has an offer that is difficult to match.
However, it is not enough to observe. Colombia must take action. The National Strategy for the Conservation of Birds (ENCA 2030) is the response of civil society to the challenge of strengthening and guaranteeing the conservation and sustainable management of the diversity of Colombia’s avifauna. After a year and a half of regional workshops with representatives of various communities, from productive, academic, ethnic and social sectors, and after consulting experts, the Strategy – led by the Humboldt Institute, the National Network of Bird Watchers (RNOA) and the National Audubon Society – entered its final editing stage. It is structured to offer courses of action, planning tools and formulation of public policy; incorporates nature-based solutions, speaks of the need to define new protected areas at the subnational level, recognizes the cultural value of birds, and includes a contemporary look at cities and biodiversity. But, above all, it reflects the love of Colombians for the birds that surround them and the call for them to be protected.
And what is the response of the State, of the national and local governments? In electoral scenarios such as the current one, those of us who work in favor of the environment and conservation always have at hand the question of concrete policies, defined actions and accountability, in this case in favor of birds and the multiple benefits that they bring us In order to overcome the easy environmental discourse, strewn with generalities, I left mine here, with the hope that whoever occupies the presidency next August will give a concrete response in the development plan and throughout his mandate: “If to the Presidency of the Republic, what programs and initiatives will it structure so that the bird tourism sector is consolidated and generates economic benefits for the country, the communities, as well as the public, private and communal protected areas that support it, and provide alternatives real to curb deforestation?
* Vice President of International Partnerships National Audubon Society