Inspiring Women of Geospatial Science at TNC

Deissy Arango

Conservation Information Manager for TNC in Colombia

Deissy Arango

One of the powerful aspects of maps is their ability to show all kinds of people the impact that different land-use practices can have on the land, both positive and negative. People from all walks of life—farmers, government officials, scientists, Indigenous peoples, and more—can look at one map and see the potential for opportunity.

TNC’s Deissy Arango sees this in a team project in her native Colombia. TNC staff and the Amazon Conservation Team designed and implemented the Agroforestry for Conservation project focused on southern Colombia’s Caqueta region. It seeks to improve the quality of life for farmers and Indigenous peoples in five Caqueta communities by supporting sustainable forest and farmland practices.

“To visualize this, we conducted a spatial analysis so stakeholders could recognize the condition of their land and understand the implications of avoided CO2 emissions when these sustainable practices are adopted,” Deissy says.

In the Colombian Amazon and Caqueta region, the rapid conversion of forest to other land uses is having huge impacts on climate and natural ecosystems. In 2019 alone, the Colombian Amazon lost over 98,000 hectares (242,163 acres) of forest to land-grabbing, mainly for mining and livestock grazing.

Through GIS, Deissy and her team identify areas where sustainable farming practices can lead to carbon sequestration and avoided emissions. Initially, they gathered data with tablets, satellite imagery, interviews, and camera traps. Now, trained community members are also able to collect data.

“We established community agreements to begin sustainable farm planning, including establishing areas for conservation, restoration and production,” Deissy says.

The project has been challenging in a region of Colombia with a history of violence, refugees, and illegal armed groups. “You can still notice a feeling of mistrust by the farmers and Indigenous communities to new proposals, even the use of technologies such as cameras, drones, GPS or other devices to take information.”

And some rural areas have little or no access to drinking water, electricity, and health care. “Hence, it is necessary to work articulately with regional organizations so that the results will be integral and durable.”

Deissy, who grew up in Colombia’s capital city of Bogota, advises young women to be diligent if they follow their passions in science.

“I tell girls and young women that if there is passion, discipline, dedication and a certain degree of planning, everything can be achieved. I recommend developing skills such as communication, empathy and teamwork, because every day we are talking with all kinds of people, those who are indispensable to science and life.”