Nick Miroff has a great article in tomorrow’s Washington Post about palm oil in Colombia:
…the palm industry’s rapid expansion is yielding new evidence of a boom that benefited from the displacement of small farmers, indigenous groups and others by the armed conflict. Several of the regions where palm has spread during the past decade are places notorious for paramilitary violence and rural terror, like the north coast outside Cartagena, the Venezuela border region and the southeastern plains of the Meta department, where Mapiripan is located.
As the government and the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, now attempt to reach a peace accord to end the fighting, Colombia faces the painstaking task of trying to sort out what happened in Mapiripan and other places like it, and how to move forward.
Central to the dispute is a clashing vision of rural development, between the traditional model that has been partly destroyed by the violence and an agribusiness vision that promises growth, jobs and modernization through the spread of commodity crops like African palm.
I have visited Meta, Colombia a couple times myself, and picked up a few interesting tidbits on the palm industry. I need to report all this out one of these days, but in the meantime, here you go, yours at no extra charge.
Workers in the palm plantations, as Miroff reports, get about $25 a day, which doesn’t sound like much. But they work 30-day shifts, without a day off, so in fact they get about $750 a month — as much as a schoolteacher with a doctorate degree. Many are migrant laborers, traveling 20 hours or more from poor, remote areas to get to the plantations and later returning home with their pockets full.
Palm has become one of the big threats to monkey habitats. Colombia has some of the world’s greatest monkey diversity. Sadly, their protection is weak.
New palm plantations in petroleum-producing areas are being irrigated with produced water from oil wells. This could be a brilliant water disposal method or an absolutely horrible dispersal of carcinogens into the environment (and into the workplaces of those migrant laborers). We’ll know soon enough, I suppose.