Sunday, July 03, 2011

the african biofuel wars?

The eviction of villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya's Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds. The delta, one of Kenya's last wildernesses and one of the most important bird habitats in Africa, is the flood plain of the Tana river, which flows 1,014km from Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean.

The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons – to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel. The delta's people are trying to fight their own government over the huge blocks of land being turned over to companies including the Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, which was this year granted a licence by the Kenyan environmental regulator for a 10,000-hectare jatropha "pilot" project. A UK-based firm, G4 Industries Ltd, has been awarded a licence for 28,000 hectares.

"This land ownership is giving us a headache. We know there are people who have sold our land when it isn't theirs to sell. They are criminals and we will fight them, with guns and with sticks," said Ali Saidi Kichei of Ozi village, which sent a delegation to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to demand a meeting with the Kenyan minister for lands. "We lived in paradise, in peace," he said. "Now what? No water, only salty water, land thieves and water thieves, and children with empty stomachs."

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