Business & Economy

Colombia’s palm oil industry braces for El Niño

Barranquilla, Colombia, Jun 8 (EFE).- With drought on the horizon as a result of the climate phenomenon known as El Niño, a meeting here of leaders of Colombia’s burgeoning palm oil industry included discussion of steps to ensure an adequate supply of water.

Growers are improving the tarps used to keep the soil moist and finding ways to make irrigation systems more efficient, the executive director of the Fedepalma industry group, Nicolas Perez, said at the conference in Barranquilla.

“In palm cultivation there is a very important thing and it is that the effects of climate are not immediately reflected in production, instead there is a delay of between 18 and 24 months,” he said.

Jose Julian Monroy, superintendent of the experimental plantation operated by the Palm Oil Research Center (Cenipalma) in the northern town of Palmar de la Sierra, told EFE that he and his colleagues are working to help growers cope with the impact of El Niño.

“From Cenipalma we have been providing the palm growers information to prepare for that condition. One of those activities is to use water efficiently,” he said. “But there is another series of activities focused on soil management, to maximize the management of water via soil management that mitigates the processes of evaporation.”

Looking beyond this year, the industry may have to make more fundamental adaptations, according to Elkin Adrian Fierro, head of operations for Luker Agricola, an agri-business conglomerate.

“If these El Niño phenomena become repetitive, constant, and extended in time, I think that we must rethink agriculture and have more awareness about water management to become more efficient in the management of that resource,” he said.

An increase in the frequency and duration of El Niños is seen as a possible consequence of climate change.

Figures supplied by Fedepalma indicate that the palm oil sector generated more than 17 percent of Colombia’s rural economy in 2022, accounting for more than 200,000 jobs.

Palm oil is Colombia’s main agricultural product in terms of area under cultivation, nearly 600,000 hectares (almost 1.5 million acres).

Though the industry includes large companies, 72 percent of the roughly 7,000 growers have operations of less than 20 hectares. EFE hpc/dr

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