Land Grab and Oil Palm in Colombia

By Mark James

This article focuses on the effects of agrofuel production in the south-western department of Nariño, Colombia, as multinational firms cultivate palm oil on territories that legally belong to indigenous and ethnic groups. The two communities primarily affected are the Awá indigenous people and the Afro-Colombian population. Given the worldwide increase in demand for biofuels, foreign interest in agroindustrial production shows no sign of ceasing in its desire to exploit potential energy sources from countries in the geographical South, a move supported by central Colombian Government. The limitations and hazards of outgrower schemes have recently been exposed with the onslaught of bud rot, a fungus that has left vast quantities of oil palm in decay. This article suggests that the social, ecological, economic and political costs that this development inflicts on the area do not represent a sustainable nor ethically sound solution to a problem that must be solved with long term responses rather than myopic, plutocratic options. The uncomfortable neo-colonial undertones that accompany renewed international investment, as well as the lack of autonomy experienced by the autochthonous peoples of this region as a result of multinational company actions means that agrofuel production should be seriously rethought or discontinued in the region.

File: Mark_Maughan.pdf