Palm oil industry expansion spurs Guatemala indigenous migration

Al Jazeera reports that the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations in Guatemala has intensified and sparked land conflicts, water shortages and labour disputes. Indigenous Q’eqchi’ communities in eastern and northern Guatemala are bearing the brunt of the problems.

  • Families do not have enough land to survive from subsistence and market agriculture.
  • The land in Q’eqchi’ territory is largely in the hands of ranchers, large landowners and mining and palm companies.

Q’eqchi’ families are now increasingly joining the US-bound exodus of Guatemalans.

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Thanks for sharing, @NickOttens. This is a good example of how large scale farming can create unintended consequences. Has anyone in the community experienced any other challenges that they would like to share?

We’d love to hear about your field experiences and different mitigation strategies you’ve used to deal with such or different problems.

Comment here or start a new discussion under the Challenges category.

I’m guessing that the expansion of agriculture in other regions is also driving migration patterns (happy to hear of additional examples). And certainly the “contraction” or failure of agriculture in other regions has led to similar trends; for example, the drought/desertification in Syria beget by climate change has been a key driver of out migration from that country.

In the case of Syria, this food instability and population outflow obviously led to one of the most tragic conflicts in recent memory - a multi-pronged civil war, the rise of ISIS and their caliphate, proxy involvement by the US, Iran, Israel, etc.

I’m curious if the community has other examples of population or demographic changes that have emerged from large-scale changes in agricultural/farming trends? To what degree is farming/agriculture catalyzing such change, driving conflict, etc.?

The problem is an old one and the one which eventually spurred the birth and development of Fair Trade practices and market.
Big firms eventually replace traditional, local products that sustain local population and replace them with more intensive and more valuable (for businesses) products, with farmers either forced to work at too low wages or driven out altogether. There’s a trend we need to consider about the increased automation of intensive colture which may increase the progressive migration from rural to urban areas. If we look at very long range we may see - in a limit case - an increasingly depopulated countryside with highly automated farming and overcrowded cities.

Thanks for your input, @Lorenzo! There’s another side to this rural to urban migration issue. In most cases, it is the men that migrate to seek employment opportunities in urban areas leaving women behind to suffer the double burden of unpaid domestic work in addition to the little income they get from working in the farm.

There’s another active discussion on the role of women in agriculture here.

@Lorenzo i think your future state is in fact highly likely. eventually mechanization and automation will reach all areas; even non-agribusiness farmers will utilize a suite of tools that will improve productivity. within that, however, is the question of whether food production will be continue on the typical course of centralization and consolidation and increasing impacts of agribusiness, or if alternative models emerge that still leverage technology. even if we see the latter, however, the increases in productivity would likely be so massive that we would still see the rural->urban trend accelerate, in my estimation.

but that’s just one component of one possible future - we’re hoping to map several, under various scenarios.