Agrofuels in Latin America Germán Velez is an activist from the Grupo Semillas (Seeds Group), a Colombian non-governmental organisation that works on environmental issues with local communities (http://www.semillas.org.co). The Colombian government has decided to promote agrofuels on two fronts. One is by replacing part of petrol consumption with agrofuels made mainly from sugar cane. It’s turning into a highly profitable business for the sugar barons. Their activity is concentrated in the Cauca river valley in south-west Colombia. It suits the government well, for Colombia has a problem of sugar overproduction. It produces more than 1.5 million tonnes of sugar and exports at present no more than 200,000 tonnes. So the government has passed new legislation that requires fuel to have 10 per cent ethanol by 2009. This means that the sugar barons will be able to sell a large part of their produce to the ethanol manufacturers. At the moment, the sugar plantations are concentrated in the Cauca river valley, but the idea is for them to spread to other regions. This is all happening at the expense of panela (a kind of sugarloaf), a staple peasant food, which was largely made by small farmers. In fact, sugar production by smaller farmers is disappearing altogether. The government is also planning the large-scale production of agrofuel from cassava. This will be on the Caribbean coast. And they’re looking at other crops, like maize. One of the arguments that they use for the introduction of GM maize in Colombia is that they need it for agrofuels. The other big agrofuels front – on which the government is putting even greater emphasis – is the introduction of oil palms for biodiesel. Oil-palm plantations will be planted in the tropical area of Chocó along the Pacific coastline, along the Caribbean coastline and in the central-eastern area of Llanos. Colombia already has 300,000 hectares of oil palm and we expect another 2 million hectares to be planted over the next five years. To achieve all this, the government has introduced two big changes. One is a new forest law, which was approved recently. It promotes investment in the extraction of tropical timber, forestry projects and oil-palm plantations. It’s a closed project that goes from the destruction of forest land to the planting of oil palms to the sale of environmental services because of the carbon sink function of the oil palms. With our country in the midst of a civil war, these projects play another important political function. Paramilitaries and drug-trafficking groups have taken over six million hectares of land through the violent eviction of peasant families and indigenous groups. It is on this land that they are setting up these forestry projects. The government now wants to pass another law – the law of agrarian development – that will enable the invaders to get titles to the land that they illegally occupied. Really, it should be called the law of counter-agrarian reform. Many groups are opposed to it. This law will pave the way for the investment of huge amounts of capital. The idea is that Colombia should put an end to peasant agriculture, which is inefficient and uncompetitive, which does not bring in foreign exchange and is not creating progress in the country. The objective is to hand over all the land to efficient and competitive producers. The government is also providing the new owners with a support system of incentives, tax breaks, subsidised credit and so on. They say that Colombia is a country with a vocation for forestry and perennial crops and that it can’t compete abroad with food crops. Last year we imported eight million tonnes of basic foodstuffs. It’s a national disgrace, but that’s not how the government sees it. They want us to export tropical crops – coffee, fruit and so on. The biggest star of all will be palm oil. So we will import basic foods from the USA and export agrofuels. That’s the future they plan for us.