The Cultivation of the African Palm in Chiapas

The Cultivation of the African Palm in Chiapas

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By Onésimo Hidalgo Domínguez

Due to the characteristics of the crop and deforestation, the soil is exposed to sunlight and rain, which leads to its erosion, compaction and impoverishment. Palm cultivation contributes to climate change due to deforestation and with it global warming.

There are agricultural crops that are replacing traditional production in Chiapas, products coming from abroad and that are being promoted by the Mexican and Chiapas government in function of transnational companies and that little by little are having a negative impact on the life of the communities indigenous and peasant women. On this occasion, collecting information from various sources, we will write about the African palm.

The African palm is also known as oil palm, because edible oil is extracted from it, but it also has various uses, such as; For food and medicinal products, fiber manufacturing, the sap is used for the production of wine, broom manufacturing and the palmaste is used for livestock feed. This plantation is originally from East Africa, but at present its sowing and cultivation has been extended to various parts of the world, to such an extent that in 1997, there were more than 6.5 million hectares planted in countries such as: Malaysia (which generates 50% of world production), Indonesia, Nigeria, Guinea, Thailand, New Guinea, Philippines, Cambodia, India, Solomon Islands, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Gambia, Liberia, Senegal, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Togo, Uganda, etc. In Latin America, countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname, Guyana and Mexico. Some 4,000 hectares are planted in Mexico, and Chiapas is the only state where it is grown. In 1997 about 3,000 hectares were planted. (The Bitter Fruit of the Oil Palm. World Movement for Tropical Forests. August 2001. For more information you can check the website:

The cultivation of the African palm has spread worldwide, because for those governments of indebted countries it represents the possibility of introducing foreign exchange from the export of the palm; represents a profitable investment for the international business sector (the companies that dominate the world market for African palm are: Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Kenkel, Cognis and Cargill), due to cheap labor, cheap purchase and / or rent of the land, due to the lack of effective environmental control, due to the great possibilities of financial support from multilaterals, due to the short time between sowing, growing and harvesting, and due to the wide market that is increasingly expanding. Worldwide.

The cultivation of palm is presented by governments and companies as the solution to various problems in the field and in the regions where they are installed, they argue, that it will generate employment, wealth, infrastructure, education, etc., even in various countries where the programs are rejected, businessmen promise a series of projects and social programs, to win the support of the local population.

Palm production has its socio-environmental impacts due to the form, the model and who implements them. In most cases, it is the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations Development Program who promote it or are large transnational companies that seek its sowing and benefit from it, because it is a profitable export-oriented crop.

The negative impact is that their planting usually requires and demands large tracts of land, stripping it from peasants and indigenous people, generating resistance from them and as a consequence, violating their right to land tenure, violating the most elemental rights to the inhabitants of rural communities, the loss of traditional crops and with it the loss of food sovereignty, the destruction of the community economy based on collectivity and the destruction of ancestral cultures. It generates the disappearance of tropical forests and with them various types of trees and fine woods, the disappearance of a series of animals that inhabit these regions and the destruction of biodiversity in general; with the use of agrochemicals and fumigations, they affect the health of the inhabitants of the areas.

Due to the characteristics of the crop and deforestation, the soil is exposed to sunlight and rain, which leads to its erosion, compaction and impoverishment. The cultivation of palm contributes to climate change due to deforestation and with it to global warming, coupled with this, there are other deforestation processes and as a consequence the lack of rain. In countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, it is the palm companies themselves that promote, in most cases, forest fires, because with this they prepare the ground for planting.

As the recompositions of big capital are taking place at the international level and the investment of transnational companies that push a policy of substituting traditional crops for other products according to their interests, Chiapas plays an important role as a producer of raw materials ; Then the credits destined to produce the unknown by the peasants are oriented and pressed as an official policy and this is how they begin to grow African palm, eucalyptus, camedor palm, rubber, maranon, sesame, zempoalxochitl flower, cardamom, macadamia, vanilla, plum, coconut copra, mamey, watermelon, etc. Just to give an example, in the 1990-91 agricultural cycle, Chiapas ranked second nationwide in corn production, with an annual sowing of 313 thousand 500 hectares, producing one million 647 thousand 476 tons of corn (Crops Annuals of Mexico. INEGI. VII Agricultural Census 1997. Page 269). After the signing and implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Mexico, the United States and Canada, Chiapas occupies the third place nationally, due to the introduction of corn from the United States, and with it the benefit that Gets Monsanto Company, World's Largest GM Corn Producer; and with this also comes the reconversion of Chiapas agriculture.

In Chiapas, the sowing of the African palm began to be promoted during the period of Governor General Absalon Castellanos Domínguez (1982-88), in the municipalities of Villacomaltitlan, Escuintla, Acapetahua. Mazatan, Acacoyagua, Tapachula; But due to the diversity of climates it has, in the 1990s it began to be promoted in other regions and municipalities such as Salto de Agua, Playas de Catazaja, Chilon, Tumbala and Palenque. In 1997, only in the Chiapas Coast some 3,000 hectares had been planted, which supplied the product to the oil extraction plants located in Villacomaltitlan and Acapetahua.

According to the Statistical Agenda of the Secretary of Finance of the State of Chiapas of the year 2000, in Tapachula alone there were 7,816 hectares planted, of which 890 were for irrigation production and 6,926 were temporary. Of all of them, those that were in production were 2,748 hectares, of which 890 were irrigated and 1,858 were rainfed. The total production volume at that time was 39,362 tons; of them 13,350 came from irrigation sowing and 26 thousand 12 from rainfed; in total they were generating a capital of 18 thousand 807 million pesos annually (Pages 449 and 456)

In his annual report, in 1998, Governor Roberto Albores Guillen stated that his government sought support for the production of oil palm, to which it invested 31 million 100 thousand pesos, with which it served 5 thousand 700 hectares. And his expectation was that in 1999, he hoped to be able to support another 5 thousand 50 hectares, with which he intended to cover the oil deficit in the country, which in that year was 800 thousand tons. He informed that in addition to the two existing extraction plants in Chiapas, he tried to install two more in the same places, and established an agreement with an industrial company that can produce the product (Annual Report of the State Government, 1998. 179)

Chiapas being an eminently agricultural State, it has been one of the most affected by the crisis that is being experienced in the countryside with the fall in the prices of coffee, corn, sorghum, pineapple, beans, etc., which has generated a constant migration of farmers to the north of the country, the United States and Canada; These phenomena are used by the local and federal government to articulate a discourse for the promotion of the sowing of African palm in Chiapas. To convince them to change their planting of crops, they are told that "it is no longer worth planting corn and beans because they do not have a good price, now the alternative is the African palm", thereby forcing farmers to accept the Certification Program of Ejidal, Solar and Parcel Rights (PROCEDE), otherwise, they will not obtain credit (this is a generalized complaint from the peasants of the communities); later the peasants rent the land from the producers and become wage earners on their own land, which is deforested, eroded and contaminated with agrochemicals when there are pests to combat.

Actually the interest of investment in cultivation is the variety of the climate, cheap labor, even due to its condition of being a border state with Central America, undocumented labor is used and cheaper than Chiapas, there are abundant resources for this, they report good profits. Another important thing to note is that on several occasions the Guatemalan Consulate in Tapachula has intervened to pressure the owners of the crops to force them to pay the wages of Central American day laborers that have been denied.

In Chiapas it is not new that the previous and current governments promote the planting of African palm, nor is it new that the Malaysian Embassy in Mexico constantly visits the Chiapas Coast, knowing that the businessmen of that country are the ones who control palm production and the world market.

However, not everything is "honey on flakes", because as the products of the field fall into crisis, the palm market has also begun to have its problems, because the production of palm oil worldwide, it begins to have competition with other products that also produce oil, such as sorghum, sunflower, peanuts, corn, soybeans, etc. Even more complicated is the production of the palm, when it begins to be produced genetically modified, which will bring new problems and effects on the population that produces and consumes it.

A policy of transnational companies to lower prices is to promote the expansion of planting in a massive way, knowing that African palm oil is cheaper than soybean, sorghum or sunflower oil, thereby achieving a massive consumption of palm oil. palm oil and force other companies to lower their prices, making palm oil the benchmark for setting international prices.

Of course, this has also had its repercussions in Chiapas, since the Acapetahua producers in 2000 began to report that they were "... at the mercy of the voracity of the buyers, who are the owners of the extraction plants, who they pay what they want per ton. " In addition, they claimed that "being the government the main promoter ...", it should be the rector of the guarantee prices. On the other hand, in the times of the government of Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro and Roberto Albores Guillen, in the northern region of Chiapas, in Palenque, Salto de Agua and Playas de Catazaja, the peasant groups that benefited from these projects were those of Solidaridad Campesino Magisterial (SOCAMA), the paramilitaries of Peace and Justice, and those that today are called the Union of Indigenous Agricultural and Forest Communities (UCIAF) and other groups of peasant affiliates of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which also fell into crisis because They were not prepared to control the pests that fell on them, but also the proliferation of rats that in most cases ate the plant.

The sowing of African palm in Chiapas and other parts of the world, of course, will not improve the living conditions of the peasants, nor will it improve the environmental situation, nor is it the option to get out of poverty, on the contrary, it serves to enrich people. the most powerful businessmen at the international level, to the detriment of the poorest and environmental degradation.

However, it is not the sowing of the African palm that is the problem, but the industrial model that implements it for the benefit of transnational companies; because it is possible to plant the plant and harvest it environmentally manageable and if it can satisfy the needs of the farmers, but it has to be in a sustainable, manageable way, without affecting the farmers, but rather that it strengthens them, and it can be promoted in the logic of peasant development, not in business profit.

* Onesimo Hidalgo Domínguez
Excerpted from the "Chiapas al Día" Bulletin No. 293
[email protected] -

Video: Smart Farm - Oil Palm Tree Farming (July 2022).


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