Colombia: Ecocide for Fuel

The expansion of agrofuel mono-cultures, mainly for biodiesel, is threatening the lives, livelihoods and lands of Afro-Colombian and peasant communities and indigenous people

by Almuth Ernsting,

Below is a new email alert against human rights abuses and deforestation in Colombia which are linked to palm oil, much of it now grown for biofuels.

This email alert is supported by the the Colombian Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, a human rights organisation which has been supporting communities in Curvarado and Jiguamindo. It calls on the Colombian government to

  • protect the human rights of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant communities affected by large-scale monoculture plantations;
  • immediately restitute the ancestral land to Afro-Colombian communities and indigenous people affected by monoculture plantations, such as the Curvaradó Afro-Colombian communities affected by palm tree plantations and call on the Government to implement the 169 Convention of the International Labor Organisation and the Order of Provisional Measures of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in favour of the `humanitarian refuge’ zones of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó;
  • stop further deforestation and exploitation of large-scale palm tree plantations in the Curvaradó river basin and elsewhere in Colombia;
  • guarantee the reparation of human and environmental damages generated by the imposition of large-scale monocultures and human rights violations by State Forces;
  • recognise and respect local civilian initiatives aimed at protecting the environment, such as the recent creation of Biodiversity Zones;
  • review Colombia’s biofuel policy and the impacts of large-scale monocultures in general on communities, human rights and the environment, including the impacts of rainforest destruction on climate change, and impose an immediate moratorium on biofuel developments from large-scale monocultures, including from oil palms.

For a full background, see: Please forward this alert widely. Thanks.

Action Alert:
Protest Destruction of Colombian Rainforests and Murder to Feed Automobiles

It is gravely unethical and ecologically devastating to expand production of biofuels at the expense of ancient primary rainforests, biodiverse grasslands, local communities and their food sovereignty.The Colombian government is embarking on a massive expansion of oil palms, sugar cane and other monocultures for agrofuels and other markets at the expense of rainforests, biodiverse grasslands and local communities. Sugar cane monocultures are being expanded in the Cauca Valley, whilst hundreds of thousands of hectares are being turned into oil palm plantations in the Pacific region, the eastern plains and the Caribbean region.Palm oil expansion is linked to large-scale rainforest destruction and to serious violence and human rights abuses. NGOs have documented 113 killings in the river basin of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó, in Chocó region at the hands of paramilitaries who are working with plantation companies to take over land which legally belongs to Afro-Colombian communities. The paramilitary groups operate with the support of the 17th Colombian Army Brigade.

Following a campaign of violence, forced displacements and massacres since 1996, Afro-Colombian and other peasant communities have recently returned to their land, but have found much of it planted with oil palms, even though the communities hold legal land titles. They have received repeated death threats from paramilitaries. So far, the government has done nothing to protect the communities and their land rights.

The expansion of agrofuel mono-cultures, mainly for biodiesel, is threatening the lives, livelihoods and lands of Afro-Colombian and peasant communities and indigenous people, not just in Chocó, but elsewhere, including in Tumaco, Magdalena Medio, Vichada, Meta and the Amazon regions. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, 200,000 people are displaced every year in Colombia, totalling some 4 million over the past 20 years – the second highest rate of displacement in the world – with land expropriation in excess of 6 million hectares. The root cause of many forced displacements relates to land issues including the drive to expand monocultures and other agro-business.

The Chocó forests which are being destroyed by palm oil expansion are some of the largest remaining coastal lowland rainforests in the world and are amongst the most biodiverse forests on Earth. They are home to 7,000 to 8,000 species, including 2,000 endemic plant species and 100 endemic bird species. Even before the current palm oil and agrofuel expansion, 66% had been destroyed.

Please write to the Colombian government and ask them to protect the rights of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant communities affected by large-scale monoculture plantations, to stop further deforestation for oil palm plantations, impose a moratorium on further palm oil expansion and on the country’s biofuel programme, which is a major cause of monoculture expansion, and to protect the land rights, the food sovereignty and the environment on which local communities depend.

This email alert is supported by the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) in Colombia, a human rights organisation which has been actively supporting local communities in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó.

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8 years 5 months ago
Dear Climate and Capitalism staff, I submit to your consideration this article. Please, feel free to use it according to your convenience. Fernando Márquez Oil palm: not a silver bullet against global warming A recent report from Colombian oil palm growers points out their interest in certifying by means of a distinctive stamp, the environmental quality of crops and products, such as oil and biofuels that they export to the European Union. The announcement took place after the publishing of an article on The New York Times (January the 15th of 2008) announcing a possible ban on the import of these products due to the environmental damage they produce. Several studies have discredited what, according to biofuel producers, are the environmental earnings derived from their usage, as the supposed reduction of greenhouse gas emission due to the reduction on fossil fuel usage. The growing of cereals –as the article keeps on– for transforming them into biofuels can lead to a considerable environmental damage. Not only because of the chopping down of native vegetation to plant grains instead, but also for the usage of fossil fuels as diesel in tractors used to harvest them. Moreover, these crops demand nitrogen fertilizers which involve mainly natural gas and huge quantities of water for their production. Already, the deforestation and drying out of peatlands, -ecosystems formed by the accumulation of organic matter from plants with an increased moisture retaining capacity- in Southeastern Asia, mainly to grow palm, accounts for up to 8% of the global annual carbon dioxide emissions, said Adrián Bebb, member of the “Friends of the Earth” environmental group. In Indonesia, according to The New York Times’ report, more than 18 million hectares of forest, or 44 million acres, have already been cleared for palm oil developments. Environmental groups say these developments are endangering wildlife species as the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger, besides placing enormous pressure on indigenous communities whose survival depend on the sustainability of the forest. The Real Society, a British scientific academy, declared that requirements for using a certain biofuel percentage are not enough and that instead, specific goals should be traced for reducing fossil fuel emissions. According to the National Federation of Biofuels, the reason of the ban emerges from the old rivalry between soya growers, especially from the United States, and palm growers from developing countries, as the Asians, African and Latin Americans, who have begun influencing the global biofuels market. For “Fedecombustibles”, a Colombian biofuels federation, there is no reason to be alarm since Colombia is prepared for these kind of situations and even seems be a step ahead of the new provision that might be imposed by the European Union”. The Federation also acknowledges that such measure goes against practices used in Indonesia for enlarging cultivated area with oil palm, which extended from 2.5 to 6 million hectares in just ten years (1995-2004), a process resulting in forest destruction, high carbon dioxide emission and rural population’s displacement.” Although a great variety of stamps and certifications exist, they offer only a partial guarantee; none of them certifies that oil palm products imported and consumed in Europe fulfill the international standards guaranteeing the fundamental rights of those working or inhabiting production areas. None guarantees that land for palm oil cultivation has been acquired rightfully, so putting a stamp on their products will merely be a decoration that will not remedy the social and environmental burden derived from oil palm intensive cultivation, unless all, governments, growers, processors and buyers really work together towards this target. During the second semester of 2007, the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture ordered the restitution of a 18000 hectares farm to the peasant communities in the oriental plains of the country, communities that are being expelled from them by illegal armed groups. It is not hard to believe that these lands, already sowed with palm, will have to be sold at ridiculous prices to whoever is currently occupying them unless its owners, peasants, are able to pay large sums of money for the improvements done, “sale” that will “legalize” the holding of those lands. Added to the environmental questioning and communities displacement resulting from the intensive cultivation of oil palm, there is a much more serious issue: the impact on the right to food of a large number of people, which has arisen recent and strong pronouncements from specialists and organizations, among them Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special Rapporteur on the Right for enough and healthy Food. We cannot forget that 854 million humans suffer from serious malnutrition around the world, every 5 seconds a child aged less than 10 dies from hunger and every 4 minutes someone goes blind due vitamin A deficiency. The CBC, (Coordination Belge pour the Colombie) together with the HREV (Human Rights Everywhere) hired a study entitled “The flow of palm oil Colombia-Bélgica/Europa: A study from a human rights perspective” by Fidel Mingorance, which contains a detailed analysis on the implications of biofuels production in Colombia. Due to their relevance, some paragraphs have been transcribed literally from this document. This publication, directed to Belgian audience, unveil commercial practices related with biofuels’ production, not widely well-known but with a strong influence on populations and lands that are seek to improve by growing oil palm. This shows how responsibility does not only lay on the Colombian government and growers, but also on European buyers ignoring the death, destruction and displacement sequels emerging from oil palm developments and production in our country. This is the real reason behind prohibiting and demanding a quality stamp, a late act of contrition from those promoting and financing these developments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Colombia exports mainly raw oil, which accounted for 71% of overall exports in 2005, since its refining is cheaper in Europe than in Colombia. Refining a ton in Colombia will cost US$60 while the cost in Europe will be a bit lower than 40 dollars. COLOMBIA: A BIT OF HISTORY “In Colombia, government promoters of an agroindustrial model… Read more »