A community starting to grow

Work, education, sustainability: a success story in Colombia

Sustainable production of palm oil in one of the most legally and socially complex areas in Latin America. This is the challenge that Poligrow has been facing since 2008 in Mapriripan, a municipality in the province of Meta, in the heart of Colombia. It is taking a chance on the opportunity to bring development and work to a region off the radar for the farmers because of the nature of the terrain and the complicated disputes between landowners, in a country emerging from decades of civil war. Mapriripan itself was the setting for a clash between guerrilla fighters and paramilitary groups in 1997, which claimed the lives of 49 people. The product being grown – on land which at one time only grew illegal crops – is one which is the subject of controversy because of its alleged effects on health and on environmental conservation. The company is working in agreement with the Columbian government through the investment promotion agency ProColombia, and in 2011 founded Electrimapiri, a public service company, together with the Ministry of Energy and local authorities. For the first time in history, Electrimapiri guarantees the area electricity 24 hours a day. The aim is to reach 100% recyclable matrix and to put electricity on the grid for the group of villages not connected to other trunk networks.

The productive and social fabric is being engaged: around 6,800 hectares of land are being put to agricultural use, creating over 600 direct jobs, new employment for around 85 percent of the local adult population, who are starting to find reasons not to abandon the area they live in. An initiative that cannot stay confined to the economic engine, searching for the conditions to allow deeper roots to be put down in the context it is developing in. The Poligrow Foundation is responsible for establishing education grants, microcredit initiatives and literacy programmes: over 200 people have brought home a qualification, developing around thirty projects and activities in the area, and helping about forty family businesses. And vital to this is the attention paid to the environment: internal rules have been established which have enabled, for example, the creation of natural barriers to protect existing forests, preservation of areas of high conservation value, monitoring of watercourses through microvertebrate analysis, and creation of a nursery in order to repopulate the existing forest with important plants. The decision was made not to cut down any trees and to obtain certifications for every step of production by joining environmental non-profit organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance or adhering to the protocols of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.