Biofuels threaten lands of 60 million tribal people

April 30, 2008

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Demand for biofuels is destroying tribal peoples’ land and lives, according to Indigenous representatives at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), meeting currently in New York.

A report presented to the UNPFII refers to ‘increasing human rights violations, displacements and conflicts due to expropriation of ancestral lands and forests for biofuel plantations.’ One of the report’s authors, UNPFII chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has said that if biofuels expansion continues as planned, 60 million Indigenous people worldwide are threatened with losing their land and livelihoods.

Palm oil is one of the most destructive crops used for biofuels. Millions of Indigenous people in Malaysia have already been affected by palm oil plantations, and millions more in Indonesia, where over 6 million hectares of oil palm have been planted, mostly on Indigenous territory. In Colombia, thousands of families, many of them Indigenous, have been violently evicted from their land because of palm oil plantations and other crops.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Colombia all plan to expand their palm oil plantations. Indonesia has announced plans for plantations in Borneo, projected to displace up to 5 million Indigenous people, and 5 million hectares, much of it Indigenous land, has been set aside for palm oil in Papua. Colombia is planning 6.3 million hectares of plantations, which could affect more than 100 Indigenous communities.

‘If the government take our land, what will we have left?’ an Indigenous Papuan leader said in an interview with Survival. ‘If there is a plantation, our land will be destroyed.’

Other crops for biofuels include sugar cane, soy, corn, manioc and jatropha, a plant native to Central America. The Guarani in Brazil have lost much of their land to sugar cane cultivation, while the government in India is targeting 13.5 million hectares of what it calls ‘wasteland’, much of which is actually Indigenous land.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘The biofuels boom doesn’t just have consequences for the environment, global food prices or orang-utans – it’s having a devastating effect on tribal people too. The companies feverishly promoting this industry have been perfectly willing to push aside tribal people in their hunger for land.’