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Territorial conflicts in Tibú and the oil palm expansion, Colombia


Different conflicts have arisen in Tibú, a town in the Catatumbo region as a response to land expropriations for the development of huge projects and their contaminations ( water pollution and soil erosion).

The plantation of oil palm in Tibú started in 2001 as part of a broader national attempt to eradicate and substitute the cultivation of coca in the region of Catatumbo. The involved farmers created the Association of Palm Smallholders (Asopagdos). Seeds and technical assistance were provided by the integrative business partner “Hacienda Flores”, owned by Carlos Murga, ex-Minister of Agriculture. The smallholders signed contracts committing to the Hacienda, which force them to sell to the Hacienda all their fruit during 25 years and to take responsibility for credit (which means that the association will keep the land in case the farmer cannot pay back). The business partner was unilaterally imposed. Since the Hacienda has the monopoly, the smallholders have little to none influence on the prices.  [1] Due to large amount of land needed for growing oil palm, local communities have been displaced and traditional crops have been removed, rising the prices of basic food. In addition, many of the workers on the oil palm plantations are children since they are 12 years, which leads to higher school absenteeism. [2] The roads are in very bad condition, which slows down the transport to and from the plantations.

In 2010, the dutch embassy invested 455,000 USD  in a project started by Fedepalma, Oleoflores and some other palm oil farmers, with the aim to create a chain of “sustainable palm oil”, a growing niche in the international market. Since then, they have been mediating between national producers and Unilever. The multinational started to buy Colombian oil certified by the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).

By 2012, the first certified plantations were already in place in Tibú (480 out of 1000 smallholders). Yet, the continuous expansion of oil palm plantations is seen as a threat to food sovereignty by the locals, who are constantly pressured to sell their lands for ridiculous prices. Nowadays, most of the food consumed in the region is imported from the neighbouring country of Venezuela.

The “Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz” (Inter-church Justice and Peace Commission) has pointed at the detrimental environmental and socioeconomic impacts of expanding palm oil monocultures, which displaces indigenous communities supported by the national government. The plantation of oil palm is destroying the ecosystem – due to high input of fertilizers, deforestations and so on- and at the same time causing conflicts between some families who benefit from it and the locals. The majority consider that the profits from oil palm are only made by outsiders [3].

The national plan to substitute coca for other crops did not provide the local smallholders with improved livelihoods nor enhanced their food security but concentrated the benefits on the hands of large agribusinesses. Nowadays, the majority of the population in Tibú live in conditions of poverty [3]. The Catacumbo area has a long history of conflicts, given the proximity with the border with Venezuela and its richness in oil, a resource which has been exploited for the last 50 years, and other minerals –i.e. coal and coltan. In addition to oil palm, other crops, such as rubber, are expanding and, hence, increasing the pressure over land. The FARC are still present. The farmers living in the region have been demanding the creation of a “Zona de Reserva Campesina” (Farmers Reservation Zone) for a long time with little results. For instance, 14,000 peasants went on the streets on June 2013, and 6,000 blocked the main road to Cúcuta, but the Protected Area was not granted.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Territorial conflicts in Tibú and the oil palm expansion, Colombia
State or province:North Santander
Location of conflict:Catatumbo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Mineral ore exploration
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Palm oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Colombia is the 4th largest producer of palm oil in the world. Palm oil plantations occupy around 500,000 ha of the country, and were introduced to substitute coca, but it also replaced rice, maize and cocoa plantations. Yet, Colombian oil is not competitive with Malaysian and Indonesian ones, and 70% of the production is used for national consumption. All the production belonging to Hacienda las Flores is transformed into biofuel.

Palm oil occupied more than 14,000 ha in Tibú in 2012 [4].

Project area:20,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:36,500
Start of the conflict:01/01/2001
Company names or state enterprises:Asogpados Dos from Colombia
oleoflores from Colombia
Fedepalma from Colombia
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Agriculture
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:ASAMCAT (Peasant Association of el Catatumbo)
Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz
Grupo de Investigación en Derechos Colectivos y Ambientales (Gidca)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Desertification/Drought, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Global warming, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
New strong claim for a ZRC, peasant reserve area, and opposition to extractive industries.
Proposal and development of alternatives:New strong claim in 2013 for a ZRC,large peasant reserve area, and opposition to extractive industries.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Problems have been ongoing for a long time, and no solution has been implemented besides on paper. The locals situation remains the same, and there have been no significant changes.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Law 160 approved in 1994 on peasant reserve areas (ZRC)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] UNDP, 2014. Catatumbo: Análisi de conflictividades y construcción de paz

[2] Campesinos de Tibú, víctimas del conflict ambiental

[3] Ortega, JM., 2015. Los conflictos culturales en Colombia: Caso Tibú. Universidad de Granada

[4] Uribe Kaffure, S., 2013. Transformaciones de tenencia y uso de la tierra en zonas del ámbito rural colombiano afectadas por el conflicto armado. El caso de Tibú, Norte de Santander (2000-2010). Estudios Socio-Jurídicos, 16(1), pp.245-287

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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Catatumbo Resiste

Meta information

Contributor:Clàudia Custodio
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:311



Source: Agronews

Worker in Tibú cutting the fruit of oil palm

Source: Agronews

Oil palm expansion in Tibú, Norte de Santander.