Augsut 20, 2010

Biofuel demand driving Africa "land grab", says report

Biofuel demand is driving a new "land grab" in Africa, with at least five million hectares acquired by foreign firms to grow crops in 11 countries, a study by Friends of the Earth (FoE), an environmental group, has stated.

The contracts by European and Asian companies for land to grow sugar cane, jatropha and palm oil to be turned into fuel will involve clearing forests and vegetation, taking land that could be used for food and creating conflicts with local communities, Friends of the Earth said in the study.

Proponents of biofuels argue they are renewable and can help fight climate change because the growing plants ingest as much carbon dioxide from the air as the fuels made from them emit when burned. Critics say there is a risk of the crops infringing on land that could be used for growing food and that destruction of rainforests to make way for palm oil and sugar outweighs any carbon benefits gained from the use of such fuels.
"The expansion of biofuels ... is transforming forests and natural vegetation into fuel crops, taking away food-growing farmland from communities, and creating conflicts with local people over land ownership," Mariann Bassey, a Friends of the Earth Nigeria activist, said in a statement.

The report said Kenya and Angola each had received proposals for the use of 500,000 hectares for biofuels and there was a similar plan to use 400,000 hectares in Benin for palm oil. Rice farmers had been forced off their land for a sugar cane project in Tanzania, it added. "The competition for land and the competition for staple food crops such as cassava and sweet sorghum for agrofuels is likely to push up food and land prices," the study said.

Estimates of how much land in Africa is being farmed by foreign companies and governments, either for food or fuel crops, vary significantly. The FoE report focuses on 11 African countries in what it sees as a rush by foreign companies to farm there. In Tanzania, for example, it says that about 40 foreign-owned companies have invested in agrofuel developments. It argues that such activities are actually raising carbon emissions in many cases because virgin forests are being cut down.

The report concludes: "While foreign companies pay lip service to the need for 'sustainable development', agrofuel production and demand for land is resulting in the loss of pasture and forests, destroying natural habitat and probably causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions." (The Guardian)

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