Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Palm Oil Plantations and Migration

In Guatemala palm oil cultivation is taking over from subsistence farming, adding to pressure on people to leave. Many villagers have sold land to palm oil producers, residents and local officials say, helping to make Guatemala one of the world's biggest exporters of the versatile product in the space of just a few years. Supporters of the industry say it has created jobs and investment in an area where poverty and violence have long been the main drivers of migration. But critics say farmers have given up land that long fed them, with many then entering a state of co-dependency with palm oil companies that have become major employers, but do not pay well enough to stop people migrating.

Used in foodstuffs, detergents and fuels, palm oil is mostly produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, where environmental groups are worried that its planting has caused deforestation and habitat destruction. In the past few years, Guatemala has become the biggest exporter in the Americas, according to Guatemalan palm oil industry association Grepalma. Exports leapt almost seven-fold in the last ten years to 727,000 tonnes in 2017. Over one seventh of the area under cultivation in Guatemala is in Alta Verapaz, the remote, forested region.
"The work's a killer," said Dorrian Caal, "You have to get up at 3 a.m. and you get home at 10 at night, and with the little you're paid, it's not enough." Dorrian said he earned 60 quetzales ($7.80) a day working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. last year for local producer Industria Chiquibul, which has been listed as a supplier by international commodities purchasers including ADM and Cargill .
That would be below the 90 quetzales stipulated as the daily minimum wage for the agricultural sector in 2018. The National Council for Displaced People of Guatemala, a labor rights group, lodged a complaint with Cargill about the wages in 2016. Local farmer Jose Maria Ical said the company agreed to raise its wages to 91 quetzales after repeated workers' complaints.
Many sold land to Chiquibul in 2010 in the Raxruha area when the firm purchased plots through intermediaries who said they were ranchers. But access was later blocked to farmers' other allotments when Chiquibul's land was fenced off, he said.
"They virtually obliged me to sell," Ical added. Most of those who sold now work for the industry, he said.

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