Biofuel’s dark side

Turns out palm oil is not only displacing wildlife habitat (i.e. orangutans in Borneo, amongst others), but also small farmers in South America.

“Four years ago Colombia didn’t produce a litre of biofuel. Today, because of our administration, Colombia produces 1.2m litres per day.” Investment in new installations would continue to boost production, he added.However the lawlessness created by four decades of insurgency in the countryside has enabled rightwing paramilitaries, and also possibly leftwing rebels, to join the boom. Unlike coca, the armed groups’ main income source, palm oil is a legal crop and therefore safe from state-backed eradication efforts.

Farmers who have been forced off their land at gunpoint say that in many cases their banana groves and cattle grazing fields were turned into palm oil plantations. Luis Hernandez (not his real name) fled his 170-hectare plot outside the town of Mutata in Antioquia province nine years ago after his father-in-law and several neighbours were gunned down. When he and other survivors were able to return recently, they found the land was in the hands of a local palm producer.

“The company tells me that it has legal papers for the land, but I don’t know how that can be, as I have land titles dating back 20 years,” said Mr Hernandez. He suspects palm companies collaborated with the paramilitaries. “I don’t know if there was an official agreement between them, but a relationship of some sort definitely exists.”

A government investigation reportedly found irregularities in 80% of palm oil land titles in some areas. “If there have been abuses and the titles are shown to be false, then the land needs to be returned and all the weight of the law needs to be brought down on those that are responsible,” said Dr Castro, of the producers’ association.

Christian Aid is funding an effort to protect peasants who are trying to reclaim land from the paramilitaries, said Dominic Nutt, who has visited the plantations. “It is the dark side of biofuel.”

From Guardian Unlimited

Until they begin mining Helium-3 on the moon, it may really be a good idea to try using one’s bicycle more, and wearing more layers when it gets cold rather than turning up the heating.

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