Colombia's oil palm development in times of war and peace: Myths, enablers and the disparate realities of land control

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    Between 1993 and 2015 the land planted to oil palm in Colombia increased fourfold, from 119,000ha to 484,000ha. This rapid growth coincided with a period of extreme armed conflict and displacement, with inequality in land distribution reaching the highest levels in Latin America (Oxfam, 2017). These occurrences spurred this inquiry into conditions on the ground in the palm growing zones and the political and economic forces promoting the crop. The theoretical underpinnings are derived from the literature on land grabbing, land control, land concentration and exclusion. Oil palm has been favoured by rural elites, conservative governments and right-wing paramilitaries in an attempted 'modernising' of the countryside through agro-industry. Neo-liberal ideas emphasising capital accumulation through the 'market' have minimised land reform efforts and impeded post-conflict land restitution. The paper is organised in three main parts. Part 1 introduces the crop and its importance, linked to oil palm's culture of continuous expansion. Relevant theoretical concepts are discussed, together with the background to land and violence in Colombia. Part 2 begins the more detailed analysis of the palm oil industry. A descriptive survey of historical beginnings, modern data availability and distribution of holdings is followed by a more nuanced analysis of industry-induced 'myths' and political 'enablers' through the Uribe years (2002-10) and the Santos era (2010-2018). In Part 3 the evidence for 'stolen land' is examined in representative oil palm locations. The findings are summarised in the conclusion.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)491-502
    JournalJournal of Rural Studies
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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