Caring for Palm Trees: The Gendered Politics of Plant Reproduction and Assisted Pollination in Colombian Oil Palm Plantations


I continued advancing in my doctoral research project. For two months, I traveled to Tumaco (Nariño, Colombia) to examine how a plant disease affecting the oil palm monoculture has impacted and changed the lives of local farmers, workers, and rural communities. The plant disease, called bud rot, interweaves
environmental, biological, economic, and socio-cultural dimensions. I had the chance to analyze these patterns more carefully through participant observation, archival research, and interviews. It is essential to mention that oil palm plantations in Tumaco are located in rural spaces, so I moved constantly between the city and the country during my fieldwork. It is possible to go to some areas by car, usually buses or taxis. Nonetheless, getting to many oil palm zones required fluvial transportation. Both terrestrial and fluvial transport is pretty expensive in Tumaco, especially the latter. I had to rent a boat, buy gasoline, and pay someone to drive.

I visited some oil palm companies, where I interviewed experts and plant scientists working on controlling, preventing, and eradicating bud rot. I learned about the most noteworthy measures companies have implemented to avoid bud rot spreading. Experts created a new palm species “capable” of resisting the disease. This new palm is a hybrid (OxG (Elaeis-Oleifera x Elaeis-Guineensis) that has then replaced the previous palm tree (Elaeis-Guineensis). However, like many crossbreed species, the hybrid requires human labor; it can only bear fruits if human hands spray synthetic hormones on its sterile female flowers.

Andrés Caicedo
Publication date: 
November 1, 2023
Publication type: 
Student Research