Saturday, January 08, 2011

Biofuels are broadly defined as liquid, solid or gaseous fuels that are predominantly or exclusively produced from biomass. The main types of biofuels include biodiesel, ethanol, or purified biogas derived from crops, plant residues or wastes. All of these can be used as a substitute or supplement for the traditional fossil fuels used for transportation, domestic, and industrial uses.

Investors are targeting many areas of land which are perceived as being ‘unused’ or ‘marginal’ in terms of their productivity and agricultural potential. With interest in allocating such areas for biofuel increasing, the security of land tenure and access or use rights on the part of local resident communities across rural African landscapes is potentially at risk. Land tenure in rural Africa is often characterised by a high level of insecurity, as a result of the colonial legacy of centralised ownership of land by the state, coupled with weak mechanisms for accountability and enforcement of land rights. As the commercial potential of marginally productive rural lands increases across Africa due to growing interest in biofuels, the risk of large-scale dispossession of customary lands belonging to farmers and pastoralists may increase.In addition, expansion of biofuel production may lead to other negative impacts such as environmental damage, for example due to deforestation or industrial pollution, and indirect impacts from rising food prices where food crops are cultivated for biofuel production. As a result of these manifold factors, there is widespread concern about the adverse impacts of commercial biofuel production in rural Africa.

A special TMF funded programme reveals some shocking findings which the villagers, who are the land owners faced some sort of being ‘conned’ through a hail of promises of employment creation, construction of schools and health centres that proved futile. Local politicians emphasisied that if the villagers wanted development in social services, and alleviate poverty, they should give the land to these investors. According to Athumani Mkambala the Chairman of Muhaga village Kisarawe district Coast region, the biofuel investors arrived in October 2006 and made a series of promises purporting to develop them in the forms of construction of deep well, building of hospital structures and schools and improvement of roads. The said promises have never been fulfilled even partially. The investor’s sites are different from the villagers’. This means that they have all better facilities that include clean water, medical facilities and good infrastructure – drivable roads.

Tanzania gave a green light to biofuel investors without formulating a proper policy framework to guide development of the sub-sector. In the absence of guidelines on how the investments should be established, the projects undertaken so far have resulted into more problems that it was expected. The Global Change Course Students of 2010 (Action aid Tanzania) who recently made a field research in the Kisarawe and Rufiji districts where a huge chunk of land has been grabbed by biofuel investors for producing biofuel have advised the government to stop allocating land for biofuel production without a policy that ensures food security and that is implemented.

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