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Bio Fuel/Food problems in Colombia The Middle East is not the only place where the battle to control fuel and energy sources has turned deadly. In Colombia, a governmental initiative to produce more palm oil for biodiesel has led to widespread violence, illegal seizures of family farms, and clear-cutting of tropical forests in an effort to secure more acreage for palm-oil plantations.

According to aid organizations working in Colombia, paramilitary gangs are seizing land for biofuel conglomerates that are seeking “green” profits, and using threats and violence to evict the legitimate owners. "The paramilitaries are not subtle when it comes to taking land," said Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid, in an interview with The Times of London. "They simply visit a community and tell landowners, 'If you don't sell to us, we will negotiate with your widow.'" Farmers Who Refuse to Sell to Biofuel Interests Pay with Their Lives

Some farmers who have refused to sell or surrender their land have been murdered. There are also stories of paramilitaries cutting off the arms of illiterate peasants and using fingerprints from the severed hands to create fraudulent documents that transfer land ownership.

Much of the land being targeted is collectively owned by indigenous people or Afro-Colombians and protected by federal laws, which the courts seem unable or unwilling to enforce.

The Value of Palm-Oil as an Economic Strategy

Palm oil, which is used in many foods and increasingly valued as fuel stock for biofuels, is often touted as the key to a more sustainable economy for Colombia and a viable alternative to coca (which is used to make cocaine) for many Colombian farmers.

The violence, illegal land seizures, and deforestation that have erupted in Colombia as a byproduct of the push for more palm-oil production, however, calls into question whether devoting more land to growing palm oil is really a sustainable economic or environmental strategy.

Expanding Palm-Oil Production in Colombia

Colombia is the leading producer of palm oil in Latin America and the fifth largest palm-oil producer in the world. In 2003, Colombia had 172,000 hectares growing palm oil. By the end of 2007, that figure is expected to reach 400,000 hectares, and President Alvaro Uribe is urging palm-oil producers to more than double their holdings over the next four years—to roughly 1 million hectares.

Uribe’s critics and some other concerned observers believe his push to expand palm-oil production has encouraged the violence, illegal land seizures, and increasing deforestation in Colombia.

 
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