Palm oil from African palm plantations that are spreading through Latin America is big business and a growing headache. Really, we are all at the mercy of megacorporations which have their tentacles everywere.
BUT in Mexico, some farmers have rebelled.*
According to an article in La Jornada-Veracruz, campesinos are destroying palm oil trees in Veracruz because of low prices. They prefer to plant maize, citric plants, beans and papaya.
Below you can find my translation of the article.
Coatacoalcos, VER. Producers in four municipalities in southeastern Veracruz are cutting down their oil palm plants in order to return to traditional crops since the price of oil palm is very low. The large plantations of palm oil in the municipalities of Jáltipan, Chinameca, Oteapan and Mecayapan are being converted back to [traditional crops], since producrs have not seen any benefit to maintaining oil palm plantations.
Since 1996, the oil palm has been the object of a very ambitious (Mexican) federal program, and since 2003, a method of sustainable development for the oil palm has been sought, but national prices have not risen. Although palm oil is one of the products for which demand has grown internationally, this hasn't translated into benefits for campesinos in the region who continue to fight poverty and marginalization.
In the mountainous zone of Santa Martha the producers are fighting to subsist with what they get from their sales[of oil palm products], but it doesn't compensate for what they invested to maintain this plant. Although a processing plant for oil palm was established in the zone, the price which the product is bought [from the local producers] is 1200 to 1500 pesos a ton while the international price is fixed at US$793 [9650 pesos] a ton.**
Esteban Valles Martínez, coordiator of the producers of southern Veracruz indicated that these hardly competitve prices are obliging many families to return to more profitable crops. He revealed that in these four municipalities the producers are kocking down the palm trees to cultivate maize, beans, papaya and some citrus.
The leader of the palm oil producers indicted that the federal goernment also should have a price stabililzation policy for some agricultural products, since many of them are sold at a low price to national industries and then resold at double or triple the price....
At present palm oil is the second most consumed oil in the world and is used as a cooking oil and for manufacting bakery products, cakes, candies, ice cream, salsa, frozen and dehydrated meals and for creamers without dairy products for coffee.
Supposedly in an effort to convert coca plants to a non-narcotic crop, African oil palms have been planted on large farms in Colombia, not only for the products mentioned above, but as a biofuel. This has backfired in several ways. For one thing, instead of helping campesinos, it has seriously hurt them and their land. It is linked to right-wing paramilitary groups and narcos. [See this Guardian Article and this article from CIP Americas Program.]Furthermore, at present, Colombian palms are being destroyed by disease which is turning into "a technological disaster, an economic disaster and a social disaster, according to the superintendent of one of the plantations [ see this LA Times article].
*Naturally, this kind of news doesn't make the NY Times because that paper doesn't seem to have a clue about the problems of agroindustry or much else in Mexico. Today Tom Friedman decided to opine on Mexican economics. He personifies the ignorance prevailig at the Times. Would someone please take him by the hand and teach him something real?
** A situation similar to coffee wherein the producers are at the low end of the pay scale.