In the north-western department of Chocó, near Colombia’s border with Panama, forcibly displaced people have established “Humanitarian Zones” in a bid to hang on to their land and livelihoods. These zones are occupied by groups who have joined together to remain on or near the collective land which they were forced to leave as a result of a major military campaign launched by the Colombian army and paramilitary forces against left-wing guerrillas in 1996. Although the security situation improved in 1999-2000, many of those displaced by the fighting have not been able to return to their land.

In Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó, the two communities in the department of Chocó on which this report focuses, private companies cultivating African palm for the production of biofuel started to establish plantations on the land soon after its inhabitants were displaced. The Colombian government has provided political and financial support to the development of African palm plantations as part of its effort to eradicate illicit crops, promote regional development, and, reportedly, to provide economic incentives for paramilitaries to give up their weapons in line with the government’s Justice and Peace programme.