Guatemalan palm plantation offers environmental, social, economic benefits

By Erin Voegele | July 14, 2008
Palmas del Ixcan, a subsidiary of Houston-based Green Earth Fuels LLC, is developing an environmentally responsible, economically sustainable and socially just palm oil plantation in Guatemala. The project will serve as a model for future plantation development by providing a needed influx of income into the region, while stemming harmful clear-cutting farming practices that have claimed a significant portion of primary-growth rainforest.

On May 21, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala James Derham and Gregory Bafalis, president and chief executive officer of Green Earth Fuels, sowed the plantation's first palm seeds. "The environmentally responsible and sustainable practices being implemented at the Palmas palm plantations are quite remarkable," Derham said. "It is impressive that an American company has taken such a strong leadership role in the environmental and economic stability of Guatemala, setting a very high standard for other palm oil producers in the region to follow."

To eliminate future destruction of primary-growth rainforest, Palmas del Ixcan has allocated $3 million to establish a private reserve. According to Green Earth Fuels Executive Vice President Jeff Trucksess, the company is using satellite imagery to identify primary-growth forest within the plantation. "If it's primary rainforest, it stays, and we want documentation to stand by that," Trucksess said.

The Palmas del Ixcan plantation is also designed to provide sweeping economic and social benefits to the region. The project will provide an estimated 4,000 jobs, establish a savings and loan program for employees, offer resettlement packages to squatters, supply land and materials to build schools, create markets and wastewater management facilities, and provide services for public roads and fuel for villagers' machinery.

A 4,000-hectare (9,884-acre) Independent Producers Project will provide additional economic and entrepreneurial opportunities to those living in the region. This growers' co-op provides an opportunity for community members to become independent producers. Individuals can work their own piece of land and sell products to the company's crushing facility to earn extra income. "It's a way to improve the economics of the local people and give them the opportunity to work for themselves instead of just working for somebody else," Trucksess said.

"This Palmas project is just another example of the further advancement of our fully integrated business model," Bafalis said. "We are committed to ensuring global stability by incorporating economically viable, environmentally appropriate, and socially beneficial operations and management procedures into all aspects of our company's holdings."
Palmas del Ixcan will continue to develop palm plantations and extraction plants in Guatemala over the next five to 10 years. Construction of the first extraction plant is slated for August 2009, with oil production to begin in 2010.
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