Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Capitalist's Sugar-Daddy

As stated in an earlier posting those in the bio-fuel industry are busy throughout Africa land -grabbing .

The Independent reports from Uganda that Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan President, is attempting to push through legislation that would strip the 75,000-acre Mabira Forest Reserve, on the north shore of Lake Victoria, home to 300 bird species as well as rare primates, and which plays a vital role in the country's eco-system, storing carbon and regulating rainfall , of its protected status. In 2001, a deal signed with the World Bank saw the government receiving £180 million to construct a hydroelectric dam on the Nile in return for guaranteeing the forest's protection but no longer protected if certain Ugandan politicians have their way .

The Mehta sugar corporation wants the reserve carved up so they can expand sugar cane plantations for biofuel production. The conversion of an increasing proportion of the world's food crops into bio-fuel is pushing up agricultural commodity prices and spurring new sugar cane plantations throughout Africa. And big profits for some . The Mehta family, among the richest in the country, have close ties to the Museveni government . In a report submitted last year to the environment ministry by the Mehta group, it was claimed that the area it wants is heavily degraded and of little environmental value. This was disputed by the National Forest Authority but the government responded by sacking the entire NFA board.

Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of rainforest scientists and NGOs, said the Uganda give-away could be part of a worrying new trend.

The RSPB said: "Slicing up Mabira would be an environmental disaster and makes no economic sense at all."

Care International warned the deforestation risked starting drought and flood cycles and a reduction in the health and volume of Lake Victoria.

Nature Uganda said "If a quarter of Mabira is chopped down, the effect on the forest will be far reaching, reducing the range of species, causing encroachment, erosion and siltation. There will be less water in our rivers, less rain, less carbon stored and fewer tourists."

Opposition MP Beatrice Anywar have pointed out that the plan makes no economic sense. Sugar yields in Uganda are among the lowest in Africa, while the destruction will hurt the tourism industry, which is among the country's biggest foreign currency earners, and destroy the best source of food and income for the people of the Buganda Kingdom, which surrounds the reserve.

Economists and Environmentalists are concerned the consequences of a headlong rush into so-called "green fuels" could be to increase greenhouse gases and push up food prices, effectively starving the world's poor.

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