Biofuels threaten global indigenous tribes

Issue 

Below is an April 30 statement by Survival International (SI). Visit <http://survival-international.org>.

Demand for biofuels is destroying tribal peoples' land and lives, according to indigenous representatives at the current United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) meeting 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. Five million hectares, much of it indigenous people's 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 told SI. "If there is a plantation, our land will be destroyed."

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

SI's director, Stephen Corry, said: "The biofuels boom doesn't just have consequences for the environment, global food prices or orangutans — 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."

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