The GRAIN report says its research shows show that governments and biofuels firms in developing countries are collaborating to push hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and peasant communities off their land.
GRAIN said: “The numbers involved are mind-boggling… an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale."
Brazil, largely by way of the state-owned oil company Petrobrás, has cut deals for ethanol imports and technology transfer with a range of African countries, from Senegal to Nigeria, Mozambique to Angola
Viscount Energy (China) Memorandum of understanding with the Ebonyi state government in Nigeria to establish a US$80-million ethanol factory in Nigeria using both cassava and sugar cane.
21st Century Energy (USA) Plans to invest up to US$130 million over the next five years in the production of ethanol from sugar cane, maize and sweet sorghum, and later to manufacture biodiesel from cottonseed and cashew nut residues in Cote d’Ivoire.
Bioenergy International (Switzerland) Plans to set up a 93,000-hectare jatropha plantation with a biodiesel refinery and an electrification plant in Kenya.
Sun Biofuels (UK) In association with the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), has acquired 18,000 hectares of top quality agricultural land for jatropha production.
AlcoGroup (Belgium) Bought South Africa’s NCP Alcohols, Africa’s largest producer of fermentation ethanol, in 2001.
MagIndustries (Canada) Acquired a 68,000-hectare eucalyptus forestry plantation and is constructing a 500,000-tonnes per-year wood-chipping plant near the port city of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo. The wood chips will be shipped to Europe for use as biomass.
Aurantia (Spain) Investing in oil-palm plantations and possibly four biodiesel refineries in the Republic of Congo.
Dagris (France) Investing in the development of biodiesel production from cottonseed oil in Burkina Faso through its local oil processor SN Citec.
SOCAPALM and Socfinal (Belgium) Plans to expand its 30,000-hectare oil-palm plantation in Cameroon .
Rather than improving energy security, biofuels will create a new problem of food insecurity, for the price of the national staples, cassava and palm oil, will almost certainly rise substantially when agrofuel production is under way. This year South Africa is running a deficit in its maize production, instead of the expected surplus. In only the last six months the “ethanol effect” (that is, the extra demand from the ethanol producers), combined with a drought in Southern Africa, have caused maize prices to skyrocket, with a percentage increase four times the level predicted in the Biofuels Strategy. As maize is the country’s staple food, the poor are suffering most.
There is evidence elsewhere that leads many to believe that agrofuels may, in part, be a smokescreen for the investors’ real agenda, which is to obtain land. The agrofuels sector, which is only a few years old, is almost entirely unregulated. In the confusion investors are obtaining large chunks of land for nominal fees. One ministry of energy official confided in an off-the-record briefing: “It is possible that the whole thing is being abused by night-flyers, since the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.” By the time the government wakes up to what is happening, many more of the country’s precious natural resources will have been destroyed .
just more of the same.
“Southern Africa has the potential to be the Middle East of biofuels”, said Andrew Owens, CEO of the UK’s Greenergy at an agrofuels meeting in Cape Town.
But as in any other sector of agribusiness, corporate profit with agrofuel crops is best assured when these plantations are on the most fertile lands, close to major transportation routes. Millions of small farmers still occupy these lands. In Tanzania, the prime minister is fast-tracking agrofuels to accommodate a Swedish investor looking for 400,000 hectares in the Wami Basin, one of the country’s major wetlands, to plant sugar cane for ethanol. The project will inevitably displace local small-scale rice farmers. In Liberia, a UK company, Equatorial Biofuels, acquired Liberian Forest Products (LFP), which holds management agreements and permits covering over 700,000 hectares of land for the cultivation of oil palm. In Ethiopia, where land pressure is high, over 1 million hectares are being granted to agrofuel corporations to grow mainly jatropha, a potentially invasive species that is being introduced on a large scale without proper environmental impact assessments .
Bio-fuels will not improve the lot of the vast majority of African people for various reasons:-
First, the poor simply cannot afford them because they do not have money to buy energy, but rely on wood, charcoal and dung.
Secondly, it makes no sense for rural families to replace their sustainable and food-secure agricultural systems and forests with foreign-owned industrial plantations and in the process become cheap and dispensable labour.
Thirdly, the privatisation of the land that is the source of Africa’s wealth will undermine any chance that Africans have of determining their own future.