Understanding the expansion of energy crops beyond the global biofuel boom: evidence from oil palm expansion in Colombia

Victoria Marin-Burgos*, Joy S. Clancy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
109 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The global palm oil market experienced a remarkable boom since the year 2000. Since palm oil can be used for biodiesel production, the global expansion of oil palm cultivation has been associated with the global biofuel boom. Biofuel policies—especially those adopted in the European Union (EU)—have been blamed for the socio-environmental impacts of oil palm expansion. We explore how the global biofuel boom interacts with national geographies and social-economic and political processes to produce country-specific trajectories of biofuel crops expansion. We analyse the expansion of oil palm cultivation in Colombia between 2000 and 2010 from a political ecology perspective.

Methods: The analysis is based on a framework that positions expansion of commodity frontiers within the ‘space-of-flows’ and the ‘space-of-place’. Through this approach, we identify the markets and geographies that define the country-specific trajectories of expansion of oil palm in Colombia, and their connections with general patterns of land control. The empirical analysis is based on primary data collected during fieldwork, and on an extensive review of secondary data about the palm oil sector and the socio-environmental effects of oil palm expansion in the country.

Results: The contemporary oil palm expansion in Colombia was not specifically influenced by the international biofuel market. Expansion was characterized by an increasing production of palm oil for biodiesel, to supply a policy-driven national biofuel market controlled by national palm oil producers. The evidence shows that this oil palm expansion proceeded through a variety of land control practices that constitute forms of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ and ‘assimilation’. These are embedded in contextual factors that include the agrarian history of Colombia, the armed conflict, and government policies.

Conclusions: Our study shows that the ways in which expansion of biofuel crops unfold in each producing country depend not only on the global biofuel market. They are also shaped by the country-specific geographies and political economies. Therefore, research and policies on the global expansion of energy crops should account for the complex and interrelated factors that mediate the specific ways in which the global demand for biofuels creates biofuel crop booms at country level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalEnergy, sustainability and society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Biofuels
  • Colombia
  • Palm oil


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