Colombia, palm oil and conflict

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Colombia is infamous for its global leadership in coca cultivation. Few, however, know that it is the leading producer of palm oil in the entire Americas. Inequalities and conflicts, moreover, are common to the two poisonous cultures, and sub-cultures.

 

Inequalities and conflicts

Access to land and its distribution in Colombia is as unequal as in any other country in Latin America. Only 704 farms, with an average size of 49,135 hectares (ha) each, control half of the country’s arable land. However, the other half is managed by 2,046,536 farmers, with 17 hectares each. (1) Even 1% of landowners occupy 81% of the country’s land! (2)

‘La falta de acceso a la tierra es una de las causas estructurales del conflicto y que también la concentración se ha agravado en el conflicto.

(Laura Gómez, gerente de Derecho a la igualdad, Oxfam)

The imbalance has worsened radically over the past few decades. And it could perhaps be tempered, at least in part, by the peace agreement with the campesino revolutionary guerrillas, FARC. Indeed, the intention of the agreement is to‘allow the return and redistribution of land, in favor of those who have been expropriated and their rightful owners,’ explains Oxfam’s Laura Gómez.

Indeed, the peace agreement signed in November 2016 between the FARC(Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the government includes land reform. In which there is provision for the restitution to campesinos of 3 million ha of land and the formalization of property rights over another 7 million ha. (3)

Land robbery and palm oil

Land robbery, so-called land grabbing, is precisely the cause of inequality and armed conflict in Colombia. As human rights lawyer Jhenifer Mojica explains, she points out the spatio-temporal coincidence between paramilitary groups’ bloody raids and land grabs as early as the late 1990s.

7.1 million people have been deported from their lands. But why? Certainly not for nothing, even violence requires substantial investment in weapons, mercenary salaries, and political corruption. Additional investments are required for deforestation of virgin forests, detour of waterways. Still others for the purchase of the plants and agrotoxics required in large measure, to destroy the fervent wild flora. But why?

Oil palm is the new gold for the powerful in a Colombia that in fact dominates production in the Americas and expresses 5.8 percent of global production (Faostat data, 2014).

Thus it is not coca but bloody tropical fat that animates land robberies, deportations of local and indigenous tribes, and murders of defenders of their rights. The documentation is extensive, as always it is just a matter of wanting to look (4) at the horrors that palm oil causes, in Bogota as in the rest of the planet.

‘Large-scale economic projects such as the production of palm oil, that legalise forced displacement and have consolidated an unequal, discriminatory, exclusive and undemocratic rural economic model contribute to the fragility’ (5)

Dario Dongo

Notes
(1) Source: Censo Agropecuario 2014 (data released and disaggregated in 2016). See the Oxfam report‘Radiografía de la desigualdad,’ at https://www.oxfam.org/es/informes/radiografia-de-la-desigualdad
(2) In contrast, the 1% controls 77% of the crops in Peru, 74% in Chile
(3) This is the most onerous part of the agreement, with a planned allocation of 37.400 billion euros. For the process of land restitution and formalization, technical assistance to farmers, productive projects, food security. With the further aim of reducing poverty and income gap between city and countryside
(4) Also very interesting in this regard is the short film Frontera Invisible., by Nico Muzi (Argentina 1980), which shows the story of entire communities trapped in the middle of the world’s longest war, where ‘palm oil fever’ aimed at producing ‘green’ fuel has supplanted farmers and indigenous people, razed natural habitats and concentrated land in the hands of the ‘rich’
(5) Report ‘Reconquering and dispossession in the Altillanura’, published by the NGOs Somo (NL) and Indepaz (COL).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.