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Colonialism and the Green Economy: Villagers Defy Pressure to Forfeit Farms for Carbon-Offset

Submitted by on January 14, 2013 – 6:21 pmNo Comment

by Daniel C Marotta and Jennifer Coute-Marotta  (Truthout)  All names are fictitious as sources requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Anonymity and people’s  requests that no pictures be taken were prerequisites for attaining interviews.  No one wanted to go on record in connection to a new, politically charged, government program.

…Truthout interviewed Consuela as part of an investigation into the growing biofuel industry, and she talked with dignity and defiance about the reasons why she and her village refuse to plant African Palms for biofuels on their land.

Biofuels are fuels derived from plants, with African Palm and Jatropha the two main biofuel crops in Chiapas. African Palm is a plant used widely as a foodstuff, especially in the developing world, while Jatropha is not. While the use of food crops for biofuels has been connected to increases in food prices and shortages, non-foodstuff biofuels should be implicated, too. Productive agricultural land is a scarce resource, and the more humanity relegates to biofuels, the less goes to the cultivation of food.

Biofuels are increasingly being viewed as a “green” source of energy as depleting oil and gas reserves are becoming harder to find and extract. Mexico plans to have 15 percent of its national demand for aviation fuels sourced from biofuels. Additionally, the country is laying the groundwork for a biofuel exporting industry. In Tapachula, an exporting city on the coast, a new industrial zone was created in which a biofuel refinery was recently built. It is sandwiched between a coffee packing plant and an oil refinery.

…Not only can the fuels be used and exported, the plantations themselves may be able to generate carbon credits. One ton of carbon “sequestered” in the palm trees as they grow would be equal to one carbon credit. The Mexican government could then sell those credits on the market to private entities interested in offsetting their carbon footprint. In an effort to spur this new economic frontier, Chiapas has been subsidizing farmers and landholders to plant African Palm or Jatropha plantations.

…Consuela is opposed to biofuel plantations on grounds that they ruin the environment and a way of life. Yet, Juan Ignacio believes that opposition to biofuel plantations based on the preservation of an indigenous identity is a moot point.  Through intercropping, or the growing of foodstuffs between rows of African Palm, the identity of indigenous farmers can be preserved while at the same time offering a source of income that could lift them out of poverty. The issue is made worse, though, he asserted, because the Mexican government is not explaining intercropping, or at least the extent of opportunity it could bring to the indigenous people who are presented with a contract to convert their lands to plantations for biofuels.

…When the African Palms start growing, there is plenty of space between the rows. Farmers receive the subsidy while at the same time growing their own food. But after a few years, the palm trees grow high and the crowns fill out enough to block sunlight from sufficiently reaching the crops growing in between. The lack of sunlight, along with the degradation of the soil through intense chemical use, makes it so their crops can no longer grow.

… But as long as there is a market for carbon credits, indigenous people like those surrounding Consuela’s village will continue to lose out. As long as societies in the Global North continue to seek offsets for their carbon footprint, instead of learning ways to reduce it, communities in the Global South will continue to be forced into changing their way of life for the sake of “sustainable development.” And this will continue to happen regardless of the dubious effectiveness of these projects in the mitigation of climate change. READ MORE and MORE (Lords of the Blog)

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