Palm oil mounts ‘new offensive’ in Colombia while workers decry labor conditions

first_img*Interviewee names have been changed and the palm oil company name omitted to protect sources.FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the editor of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page. Agriculture, coca plantations, Conflict, Deforestation, Development, Drug Trade, Environment, Featured, Forests, Habitat Loss, Industrial Agriculture, Oil Palm, Palm Oil, Plantations, Rainforests, Trees, Tropical Forests Article published by Morgan Erickson-Davis Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsored Demobilization of the FARC and other militant groups are opening vast areas of Colombia to new development.Colombia is Latin America’s biggest palm oil producer. Researchers expect the industry will be expanding into these new territories, and are worried about how Colombia’s native ecosystems will fare against new oil palm plantations and how communities will be treated by the industry.Advocacy organizations say Colombia is facing a grave security crisis for human rights defenders, unionists, community activists, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, with more than 120 social leaders reportedly killed so far in 2017.Mongabay traveled to Magdalena Medio to talk with oil palm plantation workers; they reported dangerous working conditions and deadly retribution from anti-union organizers. MAGDALENA MEDIO, Colombia – It is a usual hot and humid day at one of the oil palm plantations in Magdalena Medio, Colombia. Beneath the two-story canopy of the plantation, Francisco Calderón* sweats while carrying a wobbly 12-meter (40-foot) iron pole he uses to slice the precious fruit free. The work is long and back-breakingly arduous.The sheer weight and length of the pole makes balancing it an art. Calderón tightens his muscles and once more steers the pole towards the palm fruit to show the practice that has been damaging his body for more than two decades.As most of the plantation workers affirm, almost nobody reaches their full pension age working the palm trees. They say the hard task of cutting and lifting clusters of palm fruit damages one’s shoulders and back and makes plantation work impossible past a certain age.Colombia produces more palm oil than any other country in Latin America, and is the fourth-largest producer worldwide after Indonesia, Malaysia (together the two countries produce around 83 percent of the global supply) and Thailand. According to federal census data, Colombia had nearly 466,000 hectares of oil palm planted in 2015 – but as much as 16 million hectares of land is regarded as suitable for cultivation.Calderón deftly uses a long pole to harvest fruit from an oil palm tree. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.Palm oil is produced from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.Currently, most oil palm grown in Colombia is done so on land that had already been deforested by the cattle industry. But monocrop agriculture such as oil palm cultivation can be very hard on the environment and conservationists worry industry expansion could threaten the country’s ecosystems, several of which are among the most biodiverse in the world.Conflict can also be a byproduct of the palm oil industry, with accusations of land-grabbing and even murder reported in many areas around the world where plantations are expanding. Such is the experience of Calderón, who says he knows of several co-union workers who were assassinated allegedly because of their involvement in palm oil workers’ unions.“To be a unionist, in this country and zone, is very difficult,” he says.Calderón, who is legal representative of a local palm workers union, is 48 and has already been working 28 years in the sector. Due to the heavy work, he could not continue in the plantation after a certain point and was reassigned to do a different task. His job now is to sit at a desk conducting quality control of oil palm fruit harvested at the plantation. Despite it being a reprieve from back-breaking labor harvesting fruit, Calderón says he is bored at his current position and laments he still has 14 years to go until his pension kicks in.Labor conditions: “The risk is permanent”Walking through an extraction plant in the Santander department is a hellish experience. Ticking, sizzling and hissing sounds of glowing hot machines dictate the rhythm of the work and the sweat drips from the foreheads of the plant workers who wear jean jackets, protection boots and helmets. A digital thermometer shows the temperature – 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit).“The plant is 55 years old,” Calderón says. “It’s an obsolete plant, the risk is permanent.” About 60 to 80 workers are active on a daily basis in the extraction plant, where the palm fruit is cooked and where the palm oil is extracted. The oil is exported all over the world and ends up in many consumer products as biofuel, shampoos, snacks and toothpaste.Clusters of fruit from oil palm trees are cut from trees and collected in an ox-drawn cart. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.Oil palm fruit is transported by truck to the palm oil processing factory. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.A palm oil production factory in Magdalena Medio, Colombia. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.One of the faces between the rusty metal machines belongs to Antonio Ranchero*. “[The company*] needs to improve the security situation because accidents do happen.” A colleague of his reveals a hand that got stuck in a machine; he can no longer feel half of it. Calderón refers to the palm oil extraction plant as a “time-bomb” while he stands on a rusty platform just above a sweltering and humming machine.The work in the extraction plant is hard, risky and exhausting, but plantation work has an even worse reputation. Laura Palanca*, who currently works in reception for the same palm oil company, explains how she was bitten by a venomous snake hiding in a tree while working on an oil palm plantation about a year and a half ago. She says she still suffers from health complications.Most women who work at the plantation are tasked with pollination and herbicide application. Like at the factory, working conditions in the plantation are described as unbearable.“The temperature is really high,” Lyda Monterrey* says. The 45-year-old single mother of two does not wear a respirator or facemask as she sprays the palm fruit, saying is makes her work more difficult. She explained that a mask in front of her face would just fill with sweat. Monterrey said pollinators need to spray a daily quota of 10 hectares of palm trees. She believes the herbicide she sprays on the palm fruit affects her lungs, but she prefers not to wear face protection as it slows her down.Payment is also an issue. Despite working at the plantation,Monterrey says that she is not able to afford the education of both of her children at the same time.A plantation worker applies herbicide to an oil palm tree. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.Oil palm trees border the factory. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.Daily quotas set the tone on the plantation, according to workers interviewed by Mongabay, with different quotas for different tasks. They said each plantation worker is obliged to harvest a minimum of around 1,600 kilograms of palm fruit per day. The advantage of working on the plantation, the workers say, is the bonus payment they get if they harvest more than the quota, which gives them an additional bit of income above the minimum wage.But despite the hard work required on the plantation, Calderón says the company only values healthy workers.“The objective of the company is not to have sick workers,” Calderón says. “They are a cost, they become a burden, but we as workers give our lives to this company. We enter at a young age while healthy and we do not think that it is well earned, after giving your life to this company, to be thrown on the streets where nobody will give you work because you left your job as a sick person.” While both Palanca and Calderón were given desk jobs after they became physically unable to perform plantation work, they say they were forced to take a pay cut in their new positions.According to Ximena Alexandra Gómez, with labor protection group Corporación Justicia y Libertad, most workers in the sector do not possess fixed contracts and lose their jobs after having health problems. union pressures won contracts for its workers. But Calderón says a worker whose health becomes impaired may simply be stuck in a lower-paying job.“If one gets sick he receives two punishments. One is the disease and the other is the impairment of the salary,” according to Calderón, who after a lifelong career in palm oil says he now makes about $9 a day. Since all that is grown around his village Puerto Wilches is oil palm, food needs to be imported from other regions and is relatively expensive. To make ends meet, he sells eggs and clothing after a hard day’s work.The palm oil production company that was visited for this report did not respond to requests for comment.Palm oil in post-conflict ColombiaResearch by the government-run National Center of Historical Memory (CNMH) indicates palm oil and forced displacement often go hand-in-hand in at least five Colombian departments. CNMH found violence was aimed both at farmers who had land that was suitable for oil palm cultivation and at union leaders fighting for decent labor conditions and who were considered liabilities by palm oil companies.Calderón says “dark forces” are present in the area and that palm oil is the only industry offering jobs in his region, but that residents are fighting for their rights. “There are still no sufficient guarantees,” he said.A new wave of palm oil expansion may be on the horizon following successful peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After 52 years of guerilla fighting, the FARC officially handed over its weapons to the UN in June 2017 and shifted its identity from an armed group to a political party.“In the peace agreement with the FARC they [are] talking about formalizing and opening up 7 million hectares to give Colombia the big push,” says Daniel Hawkins, director of investigation at the National Syndical School (ENS). “Where you had heavy FARC presence in the past, but now [that] they’ve demobilized it’s gonna open up [the land] for possible use for palm oil.”An oil palm plantation. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.Large territories that formerly were under the control of FARC guerrillas are now safe to enter. Conservationists worry this might mean a big push by agro-industry, including the palm oil sector.“That’s all gonna be in the departments of Meta, Casanare and Guaviare,” Hawkins said. He added that he didn’t expect much more activity in the Magdalena Medio region, where Calderón lives. “If you look to the Magdalena Medio region, there is not really much in terms of possible extension, because you already have heaps of palm oil there.”One region of particular concern is Colombia’s eastern plains – called the Altillanura. Comprising around 4.5 million hectares, the Altillanura’s acidic soil and conflict with the FARC had made it an inhospitable place for industrial agriculture. But along with FARC demobilization, advances in agricultural technology that could make acidic soil more suitable for crops is also making the region a hotspot for potential agroindustrial expansion.“[We believe] that there is a new offensive of monocrops due to the process in Altillanura lands and other parts of the country where these activities could not enter before because of the conflict,” said Pedro Arenas, director of the Observatory of Crops Declared Illicit, an international network of civil society organizations.Another opportunity for palm oil is to take over where an illicit crop has been grown before – the coca bush, which is the main ingredient of cocaine. After decades of war on drugs yielded insufficient results, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and the United Nations are approaching coca cultivation and its marginalized farmers through a development angle. In 2016, a U.S. government report found Colombia had at least 188,000 hectares of coca crops – the highest in two decades.An ox peers from beneath the fronds of an oil palm tree. Photo by Bram Ebus for Mongabay.One of the key parts of coca reform is voluntary crop substitution, by which legal crops are grown on fields once used for coca cultivation. Monocrops, as oil palm, have been suggested as substitute crops. Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicate that around 79,800 hectares of palm oil and 11,900 hectares of rubber had been planted via alternative development projects by 2014. The projects are undertaken by the UNODC and other international stakeholders, as well as national and regional Colombian authorities.As peace negotiations with Colombia’s second guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), are under way, more land stands to be secured for new investments like oil palm plantations. Meanwhile, advocacy organizations caution Colombia is facing a grave security crisis for human rights defenders, unionists, community activists, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, with more than 120 social leaders reportedly killed so far in 2017.“They catch us between two waters … you fight and you die fighting, or you will die from hunger,” Calderón says. “It’s that simple. That’s why we feel the strength to continue. If one day we die with our boots on, we are defending our work and dignity.”last_img

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