In Colombia biofuel projects are expanding in different parts of the country – though now we tend to use the term “agrifuels” rather than “biofuels”, since the processes used to make them are no more biological than many other energy sources.
On the surface the biofuels policy looks progressive. The Colombian government passed laws in 2001 and 2004 to stimulate production and marketing of biofuels.
Official policy claims that this accelerated programme will diminish vehicle emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, enhance environmental sustainability, maintain and develop agro-industrial employment and contribute to energy self-sufficiency.
Yet Colombian trade unions and communities in resistance are opposed to the agrifuels programme, for several reasons. It is by no means certain that agrifuels will solve the problem of energy self-sufficiency.
Columbia’s state oil corporation, Ecopetrol, has not explored new oil reserves, and existing fields are being handed over to multinationals.
The agrifuels component of the new mixed fuels is set at an upper limit of just 10 percent in the mix with petrol. So the multinationals will control the new product – even when both elements of the mix come from our resources.
The expansion of monocrops that are used as the base for agrifuels is being carried out by paramilitary groups. They assassinate “campesino” small farmers or drive them off their land to allow the corporations to take them over.
This has happened at towns such as Puerto Wilches and San Alberto, and all along the valleys of the Jiguamiando and Curvarado rivers.
Environmental studies demonstrate that burning agrifuels gives either little improvement in the emission of contaminant gases, or even brings a deterioration.
One study demonstrated that the Colombian agrifuels project has serious deficiencies. Motors using the mix increased fuel consumption by 2 percent and nitrous oxide emissions by 17 percent.
The other element to take into account is the grave risk that the country is running in terms of its food security and sovereignty. The massive tracts of land being seized for agrifuel monocrops mean that the country will have to import its food.
The lands earmarked for agrifuel production are already three times greater than the land employed in food production. These are the reasons there is such debate on the agrifuels programme in Colombia and such fierce grassroots and trade union resistance to the government’s plans.