Production of biofuels is expanding on land stolen from local Afro-Colombian communities, endangering Colombia’s rainforests, food security, water resources and regional climate
From Rainforest Portal, May 6, 2008
Plantation expansion for agrofuels remains a major threat to the lives, livelihoods and the environment of Afro-Colombian and other peasant communities in Chocó, Colombia. This is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, with large areas of rainforest now facing destruction.
The Chocó rainforests 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.
Communities and rainforests are under threat from palm oil and sugar cane expansion for agrofuels in other parts of Colombia, too, for example around Tumaco, near the border with Ecuador, in Santander and in Magdalena.
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. Serious threats and human rights abuses continue against communities settled in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó basin in Chocó. Community leaders who are opposing the planting of oil palms and supporting the communities holding legal land titles have been receiving death threats.
Local people are being harassed and even shot by members of the paramilitary and military forces. Since 2001, 113 killings, 13 forced displacements, many death threats and illegal land occupations have been reported. Last December, the Attorney General filed a case against 23 representatives of palm oil companies but this has not led to any real efforts to stop the expansion of palm oil and cattle ranching on community lands.
If agrofuels — growing food for fuel — continue to expand in Colombia, food prices are bound to rise and the nation’s food security erode as is happening around the world. Decisive government action is needed to guarantee the lives and the safety of community members and to ensure reparation for environmental destruction and the human rights abuses. The exiled community leader Ligia Maria Cheverra has summed up the situation:
“Our territory is being given to the palm oil producers. We need to stop every monoculture and the projects that are targeting our Colombia. This will affect the whole continent. Everything will be lost: the land, the water, the air, the animals, the people. What belongs to us is being destroyed. In Colombia those who speak out with a loud voice are being killed. Here only the ones who sell themselves are rewarded, and those who don’t are called guerrilleros.”
The government’s National Council for Political Economy and Social Affairs (CONPES) recently announced new policies to increase government support for agrofuel expansion with a view to turning Colombia into a major global agrofuel exporter. The human rights abuses in Chocó and elsewhere, and the accelerated destruction of rainforests and other vital and biodiverse ecosystems are the direct result of those government policies.