biofuel


Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land …

No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security

Much of the money is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa’s largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.
… Emergent’s clients in the US may have invested up to $500m in some of the most fertile land in the expectation of making 25% returns.

Africa land grab and hunger map (click to enlarge enough to read)

“These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors.”

“The scale of the land deals being struck is shocking”, said Mittal. “The conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up food prices and increase the risks of climate change.

Research by the World Bank and others suggests that nearly 60m hectares – an area the size of France – has been bought or leased by foreign companies in Africa in the past three years.

“Most of these deals are characterised by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms,” says the report.

“We have seen cases of speculators taking over agricultural land while small farmers, viewed as squatters, are forcibly removed with no compensation,” said Frederic Mousseau, policy director at Oakland, said: “This is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat to global security than terrorism. More than one billion people around the world are living with hunger. The majority of the world’s poor still depend on small farms for their livelihoods, and speculators are taking these away while promising progress that never happens.” (The Guardian)

Africa biofuels land grab map (click to enlarge enough to read)

THIS NEW scramble for African land has visited a multitude of problems on ordinary Africans and set the stage for ecological crisis and widespread hunger.

As many critics have pointed out, African governments have falsely claimed that land available for sale is unused. As journalist Joan Baxter writes:

Some defend the investors’ acquisition of land in their countries, saying it is “virgin” or “under-utilized” or “uncultivated” or “degraded” land…This suggests they know precious little about the importance of fallows and the resilience and diversity of agroforestry systems, or about sustainable agriculture and the knowledge base of their own farmers.

Communal land, small farmers and even entire villages are often displaced in the drive for land purchases. The Oakland Institute think-tank released a report on the African land grab, which points out:

Experts in the field, however, affirm that there is no such thing as idle land in…Africa…Countless studies have shown that competition for grazing land and access to water bodies are the two most important sources of inter-communal conflict in [areas] populated by pastoralists.

According to Michael Taylor, a policy specialist at the International Land Coalition, “If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion. Anybody who has seen these areas identified as unused understands that there is no land…that has no owners and users.”

In other words, as activist Vandana Shiva puts it, “We are seeing dispossession on a massive scale. It means less food is available and local people will have less. There will be more conflict and political instability and cultures will be uprooted. The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security. The food availability of the planet will decline.”

In fact, because much of its food is produced for export, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where per capita food production has been declining, with the number of people that are chronically hungry and undernourished currently estimated at more than 265 million.

Nations with large amounts of land sold or leased to foreign owners are often food importers, and their inability to feed their own populations is exacerbated by the displacement of food producers who grow for local use. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that Africa has lost 20 percent of its capacity to feed itself over the past four decades. Ethiopia alone has 13 million people in immediate need of food assistance, yet its government has put over 7 million acres of land up for sale.

And worsening hunger is still to come. …

Large-scale land acquisition poses massive ecological threats to the African environment. The dangers are numerous: hazardous pesticides and fertilizers cause water contamination from their runoff, the introduction of genetically modified seeds and other problems. Land previously left to lie fallow is now threatened with overuse from intensified agricultural development, a trend further exacerbated by speculative investment and the drive for short-term profits.

Yet deals transferring vast tracts of land are typically taking place far removed from local farmers and villagers with virtually no accountability. As Khadija Sharife writes on the Pambazuka Web site:

The deals involving these concessions are often cloaked in secrecy, but African business has learned that they are usually characterized by allowing free access to water, repatriation of profits, tax exemptions and the ability for investors to acquire land at no cost whatsoever, with little or no restriction on the volume of food exported or its intended use, in return for a loose promise to develop infrastructure and markets

In many cases, farmers and pastoralists have worked this land for centuries. However, governments are claiming this land is idle in order to more easily sell or lease it to private investors. (New African Land Grab)

I found this a particularly telling passage from (Mis)investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation In Global Land Grabs (PDF) a publication of the Oakland Institute.

Proponents of the land deals will dismiss my concerns and claim that this type of foreign investment will benefit the local people by providing jobs and creating infrastructure. They will also say that the land being offered is “unused.” These are hollow arguments. Investors have been quoted as saying they will employ 10,000 people and use high-tech, high-production farming techniques. The two promises are completely incongruous. As a farmer, I can tell you that high-tech, high production devices are appealing precisely because they reduce labor. Investors will not hire significant numbers of people and simultaneously scale-up their production techniques. And if they choose the former, they are likely to create low-paying jobs and poor working conditions. I may be making assumptions, but they are based on history—a history dating back to colonialism and one that has exploited both natural resources and people.

Particularly disconcerting is the notion that the “available” land is “unused.” This land is in countries with the highest rates of malnutrition on the only continent that produces less food per capita than it did a decade ago. In most cases, this land has a real purpose: it may support corridors for pastoralists; provide fallow space for soil regeneration; provide access to limited water sources; be reserved for future generations; or enable local farmers to increase production. The fact that rich and emerging economies do not have or do not respect pastoralists or use land for age-old customs does not mean we have a right to label this land unused.

In the quest for biofuel plantations, and for export food crops, foreign countries and corporations are grabbing land, “using methods that hark back to the darkest days of colonialism” in Ghana and throughout Africa.

Foreign companies now control 37 percent of Ghana cropland. The spread of jatropha is pushing small farmers, and particularly women farmers off their land. Valuable food sources such as shea nut and dawadawa trees have been cleared to make way for plantations.

A total of 769,000 ha has been acquired by foreign companies such as Agroils (Italy), Galten Global Alternative Energy (Israel), Gold Star Farms (Ghana), Jatropha Africa (UK/Ghan), Biofuel Africa (Norway), ScanFuel (Norway) and Kimminic Corporation (Canada). According to the CIA World Fact Book Ghana has 3.99 million ha arable land with 2.075 million ha under permanent crops. This means that more than 37 percent of Ghana’s cropland has been grabbed for the plantation of jatropha.

Large-scale jatropha plantation with forest in background, Brong Ahafo region,Ghana. Photo by Laura German

What is worse in most cases the companies involved in the production of the biofuel import labour from outside the communities where production sites were located, and “there were drastic lay-offs as the project progressed from land preparation and planting stages.”

Friends of the Earth published Africa: up for grabs: The scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels PDF describing the problem throughout the continent. It contains maps and tables showing more detailed information about specific countries.

With its relatively stabile political situation and suitable climate, Ghana is an apparent hotspot for acquiring land to grow jatropha.

Harvesting jatropha in Ghana

Examples of land allocated reportedly for biofuel investments in Ghana:

FoE table of examples of land allocated reportedly for biofuel investments in Ghana (click to enlarge)

The following story from Ghana shows how the Europeans, often with the help of some government enablers, trick local communities into giving up their land. The company representatives imply they are bringing jobs and income, but do not contract in any way in which they can be held legally accountable to keep their promises. It is not just Europeans who are siezing land in Africa. The US, China, Brazil, and other countries are involved. In Ghana so far, most of the appropriated land has been taken over by Europeans.

Biofuel land grabbing in Northern Ghana PDF is the story of how a Norwegian biofuel company took advantage of Africa’s traditional system of communal land ownership and current climate and economic pressure to claim and deforest large tracts of land in Kusawgu, Northern Ghana with the intention of creating “the largest jatropha plantation in the world”.

Bypassing official development authorization and using methods that hark back to the darkest days of colonialism, this investor claimed legal ownership of these lands by deceiving an illiterate chief to sign away 38 000 hectares with his thumb print.

This is also the story of how the effected community came to realize that, while the promised jobs and incomes were unlikely to materialize, the plantation would mean extensive deforestation and the loss of incomes from gathering forest products, such as sheanuts. When given all the information the community successfully fought to send the investors packing but not before 2 600 hectares of land had been deforested. Many have now lost their incomes from the forest and face a bleak future.

Land stripped for biofuel production near Alipe, Northern Ghana.

Rural communities who are desperate for incomes are enticed by developers who promise them a “better future” under the guise of jobs with the argument that they are currently only just surviving from the “unproductive land” and that they stand to earn a regular income if they give up the land for development. This argument fails to appreciate the African view of the meaning of the land to the community. While the initial temptation to give up the land to earn a wage is great, it portends of an ominous future where the community’s sovereignty, identity and their sense of community is lost because of the fragmentation that the community will suffer.

The strategy for the acquisition of the land often takes the following course: The imaginations of a few influential leaders in the community are captured. They are told about prospects for the community due to the project and they were swayed with promises of positions in the company or with monetary inducements. The idea is that these people do the necessary “footwork” in the villages where they spread the word about job opportunities. A document is then prepared, essentially a contract, to lease the land to the company. In the event of problems the developer can press their claim by enforcing the ‘contract’ or agreement. When the legality of the process is not adequately scrutinized, the developers have their way but, subject to proper scrutiny, it emerges these contracts are not legally binding as they have not gone through the correct legal channels. This is what happened in this particular case in the Alipe area.

In this community, like in most parts of Ghana, over 80 percent of the land is held under communal ownership and more that 70 percent of this land is managed by traditional ruler-chiefs mainly on behalf the members of the their traditional areas. The chief was very categorical that he had not made such a grant and that he had also been battling with those “white people” to stop them – without much success. He confirmed that he “thumb printed” a document in the company of the Assemblyman of the area which had been brought to his palace by the “white people” but he did not confirm its contents.

The Chief was initially unwilling to go against the wishes of his people as his efforts to stop the developers were being interpreted by the community as driving away opportunities to earn an income during the current dry season”.

The facts began to emerge – a big fish in Government was promoting the project and had deployed his business associates in the Region to front for him. This front man was immediately employed as the Local Manager of BioFuel Africa. The EPA then insisted that they must go through the processes of having an Environmental Impact Assessment made. We then had a public consultative forum in the community where we had a face-to–face confrontation Mr. Finn Byberg, Director of Land Acquisition for BioFuel Africa in the village square in front of the Chief’s palace. The audience and judges were the village communities affected by the proposed project.

The Chief and his elders waiting to hear the presentations.


… the promises of jobs and a new improved life would not materialize because Mr Finn Byberg, the Chairman of BioFuel Africa confessed, during his presentation that he could not state categorically what commitments the company would make He said, “Commitments are not very easy and so when I am required to make these, I need to be very careful. I do not want to be caught for not keeping my word.”. … This made it clear that our land is being used for experimentation. Mr Byberg’s promise of jobs …were mere campaign gimmicks.

Most vocal indeed were the women at the session. Looking Mr Finn Byberg in the face a women asked, “Look at all the sheanut trees you have cut down already and considering the fact that the nuts that I collect in a year give me cloth for the year and also a little capital. I can invest my petty income in the form of a ram and sometimes in a good year, I can buy a cow. Now you have destroyed the trees and you are promising me something you do not want to commit yourself to. Where then do you want me to go? What do you want me to do?”

We need a more aggressive campaign to halt land grabbing. We need to engage with traditional rulers, District Assemblies and Politicians about this ominous phenomenon. We need visibility through print and electronic media to put our message across effectively to a wider audience. RAINS has a strategy to build on the rapport that it has developed through the OSIWA project with traditional rulers to open up another channel for engagement. We cannot afford to be caught unawares in this war with the biofuel companies. The ancestors are on our side and we shall win the war!

by Bakari Nyari, Vice Chairman of RAINS - Regional Advisory and Information Network Systems, Ghana, and Ghana and African Biodiversity Network Steering Committee member

At the same time, from the Friends of the Earth study:

Reports from India, however, indicate that yields of 1kg per plant have been difficult to achieve. Food Security Ghana is yet to hear of any commercially viable biofuel production from Jatropha, and it looks more and more as though the jatrophy frenzy is a big bubble waiting to burst.

The FoE report is indeed alarming if one considers that Ghana has allowed this massive land grab to take place in the absence of a biofuel policy and with no environmental impact studies undertaken – on the possible negative effects on both natural resources and on the communities – of huge jatropha plantations.

The report further states that proponents of agrofuels generally argue that agrofuel production will address the economic crisis facing many developing countries; they will create wealth and jobs and alleviate poverty.

According to the FoE these arguments overlook the other side of the story and leave many questions unanswered.

• Is the push for agrofuel production in the interest of the developing countries or are the real beneficiaries Northern industrialised countries?

• Will the production of agrofuels actually provide more jobs and enhance economic development at the community level?

• Will it address the issue of food insecurity plaguing the developing world?

• What are the social and environmental costs of agrofuel production to host communities?

• Who stands to benefit from the entire process?

The FoE concludes its report with the following:

  • “Hunger for foreign investment and economic development is driving a number of African countries to welcome agrofuel developers onto their land. Most of these developers are European companies, looking to grow agrofuel crops to meet EU targets for agrofuel use in transport fuel.
  • Demand for agrofuels threatens food supplies away from consumers for fuel in the case of crops such as cassava, peanuts, sweet sorghum and maize.
  • Non-edible agrofuel crops such as jatropha are competing directly with food crops for fertile land. The result threatens food supplies in poor communities and pushes up the cost of available food.
  • Farmers who switch to agrofuel crops run the risk of being unable to feed their families.
  • 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.
  • Agrofuel production is also draining water from parts of the continent where drought is already a problem
    .
  • While politicians promise that agrofuels will bring locally sourced energy supplies to their countries, the reality is that most of the foreign companies are developing agrofuels to sell on the international market.
  • Just as African economies have seen fossil fuels and other natural
    resources exploited for the benefit of other countries, there is a risk that
    agrofuels will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies. Countries will be left with depleted soils, rivers that have been drained and forests that have been destroyed.”

The Government of Ghana announced that a biofuel policy will soon be introduced. Now is maybe the time for the people of Ghana to ask if the critical questions posed by the FoE have been addressed in the development of this policy.
from Food Security Ghana

________

September 17 from GhanaWeb: Tema fishermen halt sale of land, agricultural land is not the only land being seized by nationals from other countries.

About 200 fishermen and fishmongers Thursday resisted attempts to clear debris and erect a fencewall around a fish processing area near the Tema Canoe Beach.

The area was being cleared for the construction of a palm oil processing firm to be owned by Wilmor Edible Oil Refinery-Project (WEORP) a Singaporean firm.

The 64 hectare land was leased to the company by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA).

The demonstrators wearing red arm bands and headgears singing traditional songs with the refrain “wo kpene ni ashishi wo,” to wit, “we will not allow them to cheat us,” stopped the bulldozer from preparing the ground and sealed holes dug up to erect pillars for the fencewall.

Rebecca Ashong, one of the fish processors, said she had been on the business for more than 15 years and had been supporting her family with proceeds from it and driving them out of the land will spell doom for them.

Wolenye Korkor Abo, said more than 2,000 people depended on the fish processing business for survival and displacing them will bring about untold hardship into the Tema Manhean community and asked government to take another look at it.

Nii Shippi Armah of the Tema Traditional Council wondered why the people of Tema would not be left alone to occupy this piece of land after so many acres of their land had been taken over by the State.

He said in 1959 when the construction of the Tema harbour and industrialisation of Tern a displaced the indigenous people, government resettled them at Tema Newtown.

In addition, government pointed the landing beach and this piece of land where our people could continue fishing processing their catch and mending nets as we did at our previous location.

He said “after almost 51 years of using the place, it has by convention and usage become ours“.

He said over 2,000 people were involved in the fish processing business in the area and it is from that they support their families and children’s education and sacking them would bring untold economic hardships. “We will, therefore, resist all attempts to displace us again,” he warned.

Nii Shippi Armah said a committee set up to study the implications of the project to the community was yet to present its report to the Tema Traditional Council.

And these sound like empty promises:

Mr, Asiedu said over the last five months it had been meeting the committee members and they had agreed that those affected by the project will be relocated and the cost paid by the project so that their livelihood were not destroyed.

He said for instance, “it had been agreed that a fish processing platform will be built across the road near the lagoon where business can be done in a more hygienic manner.”

He said a new 50 seater toilet facility will be provided to replace the 40 seater one which is currently located at the centre of the land.

Mr. Asiedu said the concerns of the community were being addressed and the construction of the project would be carried out alongside the relocation plan and, therefore, advised those affected by the project not to panic.

The project is expected to directly employ between 1,800 and 2,400 people.

The local fishing business already supports that many. Will the processing plant employ Ghanaians, or will it import labor? If Ghanaians will be relocated, the relocation spot should be prepared and ready before they move. Promises mean nothing. No one can live on promises. And why should these people be forced to move again?

I wish the fishermen and fishmongers of Tema much success in holding on to their land and livelihood. And I wish farming and working communities throughout Ghana success in holding on to their land. The dangers are wealthy, powerful, and growing. Local people need some help and support from their government. Government needs to provide this backing to stay legitimate. If you want people to vote for you, they need to see you are supporting their interests or they will vote you out. That just happened in Washington DC, where a mayor who repeatedly ignored and insulted a majority of his constituents, the people who had previously supported him, just lost his bid for reelection. It can happen in Ghana too. It is what a lot of Ghanaians were looking for in the presidential elections at the end of 2008.

________

Unfortunately, Fifteen fishmongers arrested.

________

The first part of this article was published, text only, on GhanaWeb on September 19.  You can read comments there.

Jamaal Montasser took this shot of a man ploughing a field with cattle while on a work placement with Ghana’s ministry of agriculture.

Henry Saragih, the International Coordinator for La Via Campesina. Has written an open letter to the Secretary General of the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO). La Via Campesina is an organization of millions of small farmers and landless workers in more than 60 countries around the world. Mr. Sarigih has described the current food crisis succinctly and accurately:

This current food crisis is the result of many years of deregulation of agricultural markets, the privatization of state regulatory bodies and the dumping of agricultural products on the markets of developing countries. According to the FAO, liberalized markets have attracted huge cash flows that seek to speculate on agricultural products on the “futures” markets and other financial instruments.

There is lots more, read the letter.

Hulpverlening Amerika komt op gang
Relief Americas is under way
(I believe this image is by Patrick Kicken www.kicken.com)

Reports such as these, or pieces of them have been coming in for awhile. Kate Smith and Rob Edwards have done as complete and concise a summary as I have found. I have picked out some key points:

A perfect storm of food scarcity, global warming, rocketing oil prices and the world population explosion is plunging humanity into the biggest crisis of the 21st century by pushing up food prices and spreading hunger and poverty from rural areas into cities.
. . . The increasing scarcity of food is the biggest crisis looming for the world.
. . .
As well as being rural, the profile of the new hungry poor is also urban, which is new. There is food available in the markets and shops – it’s just that these people can’t afford to buy it. This is the new face of hunger.” The food shortages will also affect western industrialised nations.

. . .

(The World Bank) points out that global food prices have risen by 75% since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200%. The cost of other staples such as rice and soya bean have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years.

The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

High prices have already prompted a string of food protests around the world . . .
. . .
If prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to stay alive, and without help they will become desperate. More food riots will flare up, governments will totter and millions could die.
. . .
The rise in global temperatures caused by pollution is also beginning to disrupt food production in many countries. According to the UN, an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost every year because of drought, deforestation and climate instability.
. . .
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that, over the next 100 years, a one-metre rise in sea levels would flood almost a third of the world’s crop-growing land.
. . .
The world’s grain stocks are at their lowest for 30 years . . .
. . .
Another key driver is the soaring cost of oil . . .
. . . oil makes crop fertilisers more expensive . . .
. . . fertiliser prices have risen 150% in the past five years.
. . .
The global drive for a new green fuel to power cars, lorries and planes is worsening world food shortages and threatening to make billions go hungry.
. . .
The biofuels surge makes things worse by adding high demand on top of already high prices and low stocks . . . Ethanol and biodiesel produced in the US and European Union don’t appear to be delivering on green promises either, making them very controversial.
. . .
It’s very hard to imagine how we can see the world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous demand for food.
. . .
The idea that you cut down rainforest to actually grow biofuels seems profoundly stupid . . .
. . .
You could feed a person for a whole year from the grain that produces just one tank of fuel for a sports utility vehicle (SUV).

The US grows 60% of the world’s export crop of maize. At present one-sixth of the US grain harvest is going into the tanks of cars. So far the US has no serious programs in place to increase fuel efficiency or invest in public or alternative forms of transportation. And the US is talking about tripling the use of grains for biofuel. This isn’t just a problem for the rest of the world. It will soon be a huge problem for the US with its suburban sprawl. With fuel prices going up, will people be able to afford to get to work? How much will they have to give up eating in order to drive?

At the same time this is happening, the developed countries are still keen to ram trade deals down the throats of the developing world that are highly destructive to the support and development of local agriculture. Growing food locally, and eating food grown locally, wherever people can do this, is the best way to fight back against these global shortages. Most current research indicates this is the healthiest way to eat as well. But when local farmers in the developing world are being undersold at home by heavily subsidized crops from the developed world, it is not possible to support and sustain local agriculture.

Food import surges following “liberalization” of trade are devastating farmers and agricultural production in the developing world.


GENEVA, Mar 7 (IPS) – Food import surges have had devastating consequences for the rural poor and local economies in Africa. Such surges have taken place with alarming frequency in the past decade or two.
. . .
Import surges follow in the wake of liberalisation of trade. Liberalisation brings into play multiple factors that are often beyond the control of importing countries. These include firstly the domestic support and dumping policies of exporting countries. The products in which import surges occur most frequently are also the products which receive the highest subsidies from the EU and the U.S.

Other factors are: currency fluctuations in third countries; dumping of food aid when it is not required; and policy whims of exporting countries, such as destocking exercises which cause surges on the world market.

. . .

In Ghana rice imports increased from 250,000 tonnes in 1998 to 415,150 tonnes in 2003. Domestic rice, which had accounted for 43 percent of the domestic market in 2000, captured only 29 percent of the domestic market in 2003. In all, 66 percent of rice producers recorded negative returns, leading to loss of employment.

Tomato paste imports from the EU increased by a staggering 650 percent from 3,300 tons in 1998 to 24,740 tons in 2003. Farmers lost 40 percent of the share of the domestic market and prices were extremely depressed.
. . .
When Ghana reduced its rice tariffs from 100 to 20 percent as a result of the structural adjustment policies enforced by the World Bank, rice imports doubled.

Poultry imports have surged in Ghana, 300% in Cameroon, and 650% in Cote d’Ivoire in this 21st century.


There are countless more such cases which FAO and others have documented: dairy, maize and sugar in Kenya; rice and vegetable oils in Cameroon; onions and rice in the Philippines; rice and soy in Indonesia; maize, sugar and milk in Malawi; rice, dairy and maize in Tanzania; poultry in Jamaica; oilseeds in India; onions and potatoes in Sri Lanka; tomato paste in Senegal; soy and cotton in Mexico; rice and poultry in the Gambia; rice in Haiti and so forth.
. . .
These cases, documented by the FAO, should lead negotiators to exercise caution in the current Doha talks on the special safeguard mechanism. Import surges are already happening, even before yet another round of liberalisation as is under negotiation in the current Doha Round.

Effective measures should be made available to developing countries if food security and rural livelihoods are to be given priority.

Of recent Doha talks, and Economic Partnership Agreements, EPAs, Ken Ukaoha writes:


Like the Millennium bug, the most dreaded 31st December 2007 deadline ‘fever’ for the conclusion and possible signing of the EPAs has come and gone without the expected casualties.
. . .
. . . thumbs up for the West African negotiators, especially for the ECOWAS Commission.
Credit must essentially be given to the Nigerian government and to the West African civil society that kept mounting irresistible mobilization and pressure on the regional institutions to look towards no other direction but to a development friendly EPA.
. . .
At least, and essentially for our EU colleagues, the lesson may not be forgotten in a moment; and the lesson is that ‘times have changed’. It is no longer a Master-servant (colonial) relationship where the under-dog could always easily be cowed into swallowing hook and sinker all demands and claims that are placed on the table.

Mr. Ukaoha seems optimistic that the EU and ECOWAS have an opportunity to move forward in a fashion that actually is development friendly and mutually beneficial. I hope he may be right. There are huge economic storms brewing, and environmental storms with profound economic effects headed our way.

Here’s a dumb energy idea – fight climate change by chopping down forests to grow biofuel crops:

 

Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels.

It seems obvious that this is a really dumb idea, but that is just what international corporations and some really bad leadership in Africa are planning.

Africa appears to plunge from one corporate nightmare to another. Just as we begin to come to terms with the colonially-sponsored corporate conquest of our oil resources, along comes a new wave of ‘green’ companies turning fertile African lands to Northern ‘gold’. Senegalese president and agrofuel promoter Abdoulaye Wade has called this ‘a new revolution in Africa’. Others have likened it to ‘the new scramble for Africa’.
. . . large tracts of arable land are being sold off to the highest bidders with little regard for the repercussions on local populations livelihoods and food security.
. . .
A recent study published by the Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) provides compelling evidence from Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Benin that the misguided scramble for projects could lead to an environmental and humanitarian disaster on the continent. For instance, Timothy Byakola reports that a plan is underway to convert a third of Uganda’s prime rainforest reserve, Mabira Forest, into agricultural land on which sugarcane will be planted for ethanol production. According to Byakola, President Yoweri Museveni has vociferously supported this controversial project, ignoring community opposition to it. The consequences of the deforestation of 7,100 hectares of one of the key water catchment sources for the Nile River and Lake Victoria, and the implications for the communities around Mabira which depend on the forest as a source of livelihood, are potentially enormous.
. . .
As with carbon trading, the agrofuels issue brings climate justice questions to the fore. In 2004 climate change activist George Monbiot warned that rising demand for biofuels will result in competition for food between cars and people. ‘The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation.’ He goes on to argue that the reason Northern governments are enthusiastic is because they don’t want to upset car drivers. He argues that biofuels ‘appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It’s an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total.’

Grain prices, particularly maize and wheat are shooting through the roof. People are already going hungry in a number of countries as a result. And the switch to biofuel crops damages protein supply, driving up the price of animal feed, as well as the price of staple food crops. Food aid is dropping because the budgets alloted to it are fixed, but the price of the food is going up. At the same time, the biofuel “miracle plant” jatropha is growing on huge plantations. The reason jatropha was supposed to be a good idea is because it is tough enough to grow in arid and marginal lands. Instead, it is being grown instead of food. As the paragraph above points out, poor people will starve, and rich people will drive, fueled by the food taken from poor people’s mouths.

The governments of the poor countries will use their armies trained and equipped by the US and other rich countries, to control political dissent. Rich governments will be happy because they don’t have to pass unpopular regulations or raise taxes. The people in the rich countries will tut tut comfortably about how those poor people don’t know how to govern themselves. And even if biofuel contributes more to global warming than does fossil fuel, rich countries will meet their carbon targets, and won’t worry. It is probably a good thing the poor are always with us (Matthew 26:11) that way we can continue to rip them off and avoid any sacrifice or inconvenience to ourselves.

In Mali, this machine can turn the local nut into fuel.

The New York Times had an article today about growing Jatropha curcas in Mali for use as biofuel, Mali’s farmers discover a weed’s potential power.

. . . jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual yield from his field.

Poor farmers living on a wide band of land on both sides of the equator are planting it on millions of acres, hoping to turn their rockiest, most unproductive fields into a biofuel boom. They are spurred on by big oil companies like BP and the British biofuel giant D1 Oils, which are investing millions of dollars in jatropha cultivation.
. . .
But here in Mali, one of the poorest nations on earth, a number of small-scale projects aimed at solving local problems — the lack of electricity and rural poverty — are blossoming across the country to use the existing supply of jatropha to fuel specially modified generators in villages far off the electrical grid.

“We are focused on solving our own energy problems and reducing poverty,” said Aboubacar Samaké, director of a government project aimed at promoting renewable energy.

If jatropha can be grown in conjunction with food crops, as the article implies, in a manner that actually facilitates local development, that would be a great boon. The article also describes huge plantations of jatropha for biofuel:

Countries like India, China, the Philippines and Malaysia are starting huge plantations, betting that jatropha will help them to become more energy independent and even export biofuel.
. . . farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds. (And who paid for the seeds for the crop, and to put the land into cultivation? Are these farmers now in debt based on someone else’s speculation?)

For more information on the jatropha plant in Africa there is an article here from a biofuel corporation. And another document with a bit more information about some of the questions, and about storing and processing here: PDF: Jatropha investment in Africa:


. . . biofuel has been accused of having a negative energy payback . . . but there is great variation in the energy paybacks for various biofuels.
Jatropha is a perennial, yielding oil seed for decades after planting, and it can grow without irrigation in arid conditions where corn and sugar cane could never thrive.
. . . the oil . . . burns without emitting smoke.

As the pdf document points out, jatropha needs to be handled and processed quickly, with attention to certain factors such as guarding it from moisture, or the product will be damaged and degraded, and not necessarily usable. Some of the questions about its practicality have not been resolved.

Added April 2008: I crossed out the lines above because the link is dead. I found some information about the processing in another location. This article is about 3 years old, and is rather naively optimistic about jatropha’s potential yields, but it does contain some general information that is useful to know about processing jatropha.

From Jatropha in Africa:


1) Jatropha oil is hydroscopic – absorbs water and needs nitrogen blanketing on steel tanks. One issue that is quite clear is because Jatropha is high in acid, it has the tendency to degrade quickly, particularly if not handled properly through the supply chain.

2) Right from the time of expelling, the oil needs to be kept in storage conditions that prevent undue degradation. Exposure to air and moisture must be minimized – hence the need for nitrogen blanketing on the tanks.
. . .
Seeds degrade as soon as they are picked and so careful storage and handling is required. In the warm humid atmosphere in countries such as Ghana the degradation of seeds can be rapid. (end 2008 addition)

Other things I’ve been reading lately may or may not be relevant to this issue.


Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could change the nature of grasslands and decrease their usefulness as grazing pastures, say researchers . . . Woody shrubs . . . thrived.
. . .
The main reason why these woody shrubs out-compete grasses in conditions of high carbon dioxide, says Morgan, is because their method of photosynthesis is better suited to high levels of the gas.

The major concern, he says, is that woody shrubs . . . are unpalatable to most domestic livestock, so domination by these types of plants would render land poor for grazing.

. . . there is already evidence of shrub encroachment in many grasslands of the world.

Jatropha is a woody shrub and might be advantaged by this climate change. I’m not sure what the implications are for food or fuel, though I can guess at a few. There are some suggestions on how to control this change:

. . . a possible way to lessen the transformation of grasslands is to use controlled burning, which kills shrubs but not grasses, and to prevent overgrazing, which weakens grasses and allows woody plants to move in.

I think the question to ask about jatropha is, does the crop provide direct advantage to the local farmers and their community rather than promising some trickle down advantage later, a promised advantage that will likely never arrive. And, are the farmers still able to feed themselves and their communities, and profit from growing food?

Accra – farmers demonstration
The farmers are bitter that the dumping of cheap goods, coupled with western hypocrisy and their own government’s inaction have combined to kill their sources of livelihoods. As a result, their children have dropped out of school, wives, husbands and kinsmen have died in hospitals because they cannot pay fees.

Beware Westerners giving advice.
It’s not that the advice doesn’t work out to someone’s benefit,
it’s just that that someone isn’t you.

. . . most “development” of the 3rd world – most of the advice, often advice with a big stick, has been very bad for most countries that took it. The countries that got themselves out of undeveloped status didn’t do it by following the advice of western development experts . . .

Food versus fuel is the question most often asked about growing biofuel. But the carbon trading issue may also work against a developing country by creating economic pressure to keep it from developing.

Africa Journal is published by The Corporate Council on Africa. Check who is on their Board to get some idea of their viewpoint. The current issue features an article on growing biofuel in Africa by Katherine Constabile, republished at allAfrica.com.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging biofuel industry serves the interests of developed markets on many levels, most notably by providing an alternative to hydrocarbon dependence. Industrialized countries subject to the Kyoto Protocol Greenhouse Gas Emissions caps can also meet their emissions reduction targets through Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs).
. . .
Private and public sector institutions such as Agrinergy and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) are currently working to streamline the CDM biofuel approval process, which will enable industrialized countries to facilitate biofuel projects in Africa for their benefit. Increasingly, Africa will be a frontier for developed nations to diversify their energy supplies and attain carbon “neutrality.”
. . .
China seeks to participate in the agriculture and biofuel craze, while the EU needs to reach its target that 5.75% of vehicle fuels be renewable by 2010. If the EU tries to reach this target from supplies in Europe alone, one quarter of the (European) Continent’s land would be covered with biofuel crops. No one wants that.

There is no mention of how much of the African continent might be covered with biofuel crops, and how that might matter to the people who live there. The article goes on to describe why and how Angola is the initial target for biodiesel production, and Mozambique for ethanol production. It mentions water supply as another problem, but is glibly vague about how it might be addressed.

Sugarcane in Brazil for instance evaporates approximately 2200 litres (of water) for every litre of ethanol produced. For drought-ridden areas of sub-Saharan Africa, this number is staggering.
. . .
Since developed nations benefit from the biofuel craze, political will and financial support to capture and recycle food water and tap into deep water tables will likely emerge. In addition, rainmaking techniques such as those utilized in Thailand and seawater-irrigation could also draw attention from researchers.

Tapping into deep water tables is worrisome. My undestanding is that the deep water table is not renewable, or not easily and quickly renewable. With this in mind, tapping in to it, to benefit the developed countries, and not the home country, with water loss of ratio of 2200 to 1, and none of that going to drinking water or food production, is short sighted and selfish exploitation. And that is about the kindest thing one can say of it. It is quite clear that the biofuel initiative is completely designed for the benefit of the developed world. Any benefit to the developing host country is vaguely speculative, and clearly an afterthought.

Then comes the usual sweet talk about how all this is a plus for African farmers.

Africa as a biofuel frontier seems inevitable. . . .However, the increased political will to produce biofuels yields immense trickle-down effects. The benefits to the countries at hand include a deployment of Africa’s agricultural potential, real investment into irrigation technologies, and lasting land-based infrastructural developments.

Just the words trickle down make me cringe. I find it hard to believe that anyone can say this seriously and not expect their audience to fall about laughing. That has been what Republicans have been preaching as economic policy in the US for at least the last 30 years. And it has worked, but in reverse. Benefits have trickled up, like a waterfall film run backwards. People at the top of the US economic heap are far richer in proportion to the middle class and the poor than they were 30 years ago. Working Americans have seen their wages stagnate or fall. And the US economy, its democracy, and its potential for the future have all been severely damaged.

I would say beware of anyone who talks enthusiastically of trickle down economic effects. As noted above: It’s not that the advice doesn’t work out to someone’s benefit, it’s just that that someone isn’t you.

* * *
Switching to fiction, if you like a good story, see this short piece of speculative fiction by a Ghanaian author, set in Africa 50 years from now, touching on how carbon trading might evolve.

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