In the hamlet of Imbirí la Loma in Colombia’s southwestern department of Nariño, Yaneth Sosa and her family once struggled to survive as oil palm farmers. But their lives became dire in 2007, when blight killed off most of the African palm trees in Nariño’s Tumaco municipality, where the country’s palm industry is concentrated. Blight, known locally as la pudrición de cogollo, has plagued much of Colombia’s palm production since 2006. Like most monocultures, palm plantations displace indigenous flora and fauna, destroying the ecosystem’s resistance to blight. They are also undermining food sovereignty in the region’s Afro-Colombian communities.
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Several hours up the Tapaje River from the Pacific Ocean, the monotony of the lush green rainforest is broken when we round a bend and the remote village of San José comes into view. Most of the buildings on the riverbank are fragile wooden structures precariously perched on stilts. Afro-Colombian women busily wash clothes in the river while their children splash around in the fast-flowing brown water. The motorboat slows, glides past the women and pulls up to the crumbling cement steps that constitute the dock. There is little to distinguish San José from hundreds of other remote jungle villages in Colombia that have suffered from goverment neglect in the social and economic spheres. And, like many other rural communities, San José has also been devastated by the US-backed counternarcotics initiative called Plan Colombia.