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Bioenergy fuelling land grabs


Biofuel crops need space to grow
, and space is expensive especially in rich countries. In poor, developing countries, not so much. The World Bank is the latest body to find that biofuel targets in rich, developed countries and emerging economies are resulting in what some refer to as “post-colonial land grabs” — large-scale farmland purchases in the developing world by these industrialized or emerging economies.

The World Bank recently released a 264-page reportRising global interest in farmland: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits? — confirming that these land grabs are happening.

Approximately 45 million hectares of land were grabbed for such purposes in 2010, according to the report. 2010’s land grabs were more than 10 times larger than the average for the previous decade (4 million hectares a year).

Approximately 70% of demand was in Africa, especially in countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Sudan.

The specific reasons for this massive increase, according to the World Bank report: food price volatility and increased demand for land in the US and the EU (due to strong biofuel targets or mandates).

Concerns About These Massive Land Grabs for Biofuel Crops? Yes.

“These large land acquisitions can come at a high cost,” said World Bank managing director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don’t ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land. With food prices still highly volatile, large-scale land deals are a growing reality in the developing world, highlighting the need for concerted action for the benefit of all parties.” “Uncompensated loss of land rights, especially by vulnerable groups,” is one major problem identified by the World Bank.
Friends of the Earth, which has studied and created reports on this issue as well, thinks that governments should be scrapping their biofuel targets to deal with the problems linked to it.
“This World Bank report confirms that high Western demand for biofuels and grain for animal feed is causing land grabbing in Africa — at the expense of local people, who are left hungry and unable to afford inflated food prices,” said Friends of the Earth’s food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran. “Europe has no excuse for inaction — we can feed the world without companies grabbing vast areas of land if rich countries drop their biofuel targets and reduce their demand for factory farmed meat and dairy.”

The World Bank proposes less drastic measures, such as improving the process by which land deals are made and ensuring that local communities understand and are granted their rights.

No matter which solutions you feel more inclined towards, the fact that some things need to be changed is clear. Current international farmland deals are causing serious problems, especially social justice, environmental justice, and land rights problems. Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/12v90)

Land grabs in Africa
According to the report titled
Africa: Up for grabs - The scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels released by Friends of Earth Europe, the African continent is increasingly being seen as a source of agricultural land and natural resources for the rest of the world. This section is an extract of the executive summary of the report.  

National governments and private companies are obtaining access to land across the continent to grow crops for food and fuel to meet growing demand from mainly overseas countries. Agrofuels — the large scale production of crops used to produce liquid fuels — are being hailed by some as Africa’s silver bullet.

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.  

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?

These issues need to be assessed objectively. We should not accept these arguments without subjecting them to empirical analysis.

Access to land provides food and livelihoods for billions of people around the world, but as the availability of fertile land and water is threatened by climate change, mismanagement and consumption patterns, demand for land has been increasing.

“Land grabs” — where land traditionally used by local communities is leased or sold to outside investors (from corporations and from governments) are becoming increasingly common across Africa. Whilst many of these deals are for food cultivation, there is a growing interest in growing crops for fuel — agrofuels — particularly to supply the growing EU market.

These land grabs have been taking place against a backdrop of rising food prices which led to the food crisis in 2008. There were food riots in some developing countries and in Haiti and Madagascar the governments were overthrown as a result of the crisis. Crops being used for agrofuels was a major factor in the rising price of food.

This report looks at the extent of these deals for agrofuels and questions the impacts on local communities and the environment. It finds that although information is limited, there is growing evidence that significant levels of farmland are being acquired for fuel crops, in some cases without the consent of local communities and often without a full assessment of the impact on the local environment.

Extent of the problem

Studies suggest that a third of the land sold or acquired in Africa is intended for fuel crops — some 5 million hectares. Friends of the Earth has looked at cases of land grabbing in 11 countries across Africa, from Ethiopia to Mozambique.

While some of this land is sold outright — to private companies, state companies or investment funds — most is leased and some is obtained through contracting with the farmer to grow specific crops (known as “out growing”).

A number of, often small, EU companies are involved, sometimes with support or involvement from their national government. Many are keen to vaunt the social and environmental benefits of their business, offering employment and the promise of development to rural areas.

Green OPEC

Many of the host countries have encouraged this investment, keen to develop a potentially lucrative export crop. Fifteen African nations joined forces to set up what has been described as a “Green OPEC” and a number of national governments have also introduced domestic targets and strategies for agrofuel use at home.

But there is also a growing awareness of the downsides of this agrofuel boom. As scientists and international institutions challenge the climate benefits of this alternative fuel source, local communities and in some cases national governments are waking up to the impact of land grabs on the environment and on local livelihoods.

Local protest

In Tanzania, Madagascar and Ghana there have been protests following land grabs by foreign companies. Companies have been accused of providing misleading information to local farmers, of obtaining land from fraudulent community land owners and of bypassing environmental protection laws.

Agrofuels are competing with food crops for farmland, and agrofuel development companies are competing with farmers for access to that land. And this appears to be as much the case for jatropha, as for other crops, despite the claim that it grows on non-agricultural land. When losing their access to traditional land, local communities face growing food insecurity and hunger — their human right to food is threatened.

Environmental damage

Pressure on farmland has led to forest being cleared to make way for agrofuel plantations, destroying valuable natural resources and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In Ethiopia, land inside an elephant sanctuary was cleared to make way for agrofuels.

Farmers have found that the much vaunted wonder crop jatropha, rather than bringing a guaranteed income, in fact takes valuable water resources and needs expensive pesticides. In some cases, food crops have been cleared to plant jatropha, leaving farmers with no income and no source of food.

Threat from genetically modified crops

What is more, there are concerns that biotech companies, keen to find new outlets for their products, will see agrofuels as a way into the African market. Research is on-going into genetically modified (GM) varieties which might be suitable for agrofuels, and biotech companies are eager to claim that their products can help tackle climate change.

Resource exploitation

Growing European and international demand for agrofuels as a transport fuel is creating market demand for agrofuels. While African politicians may 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. The EU’s mandatory target for increasing agrofuels is a clear driver to the land grabbing in Africa.

Is the tide turning?

Concerns about the social and environmental impacts have caused a backlash in a number of countries such as in Tanzania and Swaziland. Some companies have also withdrawn their investments. But elsewhere the enthusiasm for agrofuels continues unchecked.

Just as African countries have seen fossil fuels and other natural resources exploited for the benefit of richer countries, there is a risk that agrofuels, and with them, Africa’s agricultural land and natural resources, will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies.

Recommendations for action

Put a brake on land grabbing  

Stopping the drivers – political targets that increase demand for agrofuels should be scrapped, in particular the EU’s mandatory target.  

African states should immediately suspend further land acquisitions and investments in agrofuels.  

The real political priorities  

Farming revolution
– Investments and priorities given to develop food sovereignty– the right of people to adequate, healthy, locally produced and controlled food.  

Energy revolution – the reduction of energy use in transport through the rapid development of more efficient vehicles and investment in sustainable societies through the use of public transport, walking and cycling.  

Dealing with land grabbers

environmental and social impact assessments of land use changes before any land sale or lease takes place must be carried out with the participation of local communities. These need to take into account the impacts on biodiversity, natural resources, genetic erosion, food sovereignty, gender, access to productive resources of the local communities (including pastoralists or itinerant farmers) and impacts of new technologies and investments in infrastructure.  

Full legal liability of companies and investors:
Any land deals should include clear, legally-binding and enforceable obligations on the investor. Investors should pay into an obligatory liability fund to cover for cases of non-compliance. Independent and participatory ex post impact assessments should be made at pre-defined intervals.  

Full agreement of communities and the protection of indigenous people: Any land sales or leases can only take place with the free, prior and informed consent of the local communities concerned. The customary rights of communities and the protection of indigenous people are fundamental.  

Farmer and environment friendly farming:
Priority also needs to be given to investing and developing farming in Africa that supports small farmers and small-scale ecological agriculture. The farming system developed shall respect ecological limits, not lead to climate changing emissions, depletion of the soil and prevent the exhaustion of water supplies. Such systems naturally forbid the use of genetically modified crops or trees.  

Farming for the local community:
Due to the historic negative impacts created by instable international markets, and to reduce reliance on food aid, any new uses of land should be focused on supplying the local market. One suggestion put forward recently is to ensure that all land deals include a legal obligation that a certain minimum percentage of crops produced should be sold on the local market.  

Food is a natural right and agricultural products should not be treated as commodities whose ultimate purpose is the generation of business profits rather than meeting needs of the people. Family and small-scale farmers should be encouraged and strengthened in a deliberate push to sustain the populations in urban and rural areas.

Protection of farm workers:
Agricultural waged workers should be provided with adequate protection and their fundamental human and labour rights should be stipulated in legislation and enforced in practice, consistent with the applicable ILO instruments. Increasing protection would contribute to enhancing their ability and that of their families to procure access to sufficient and adequate food.

Way forward and vigilance
Please read the reports highlighted above in order to understand the issues more comprehensively before drawing any conclusions. You are free to report some of the land grabs as long as the source is authoritative and verifiable.

Resource documents for bioenergy

International Standard

Please access from: www.iso.org/iso/home.html

Other Standards
The Sustainability of Biofuels — Limits of the Meta-Standard Approach
Setting a Quality Standard for Fuel Ethanol

Benefits of biofuels  
Using modern bioenergy to reduce rural poverty
The importance of biofuels
, Luiz Carlos Corrêa Carvalho 2005

Sustainability issues  
Sustainable bioenergy: Framework for decision makers, UN-Energy
Bioenergy sustainability principles

EU Sustainability criteria for biofuels — Consolidated texts

Sustainability standards, OEKO (2006) WWF

Pathways to sustainable and poverty eradication

Potential of sustainable liquid biofuel production in Rwanda

Roundtable on responsible soy (RTRS)

RSB Principles and criteria for sustainable biofuel production

RSPO Principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil production

RSPO Supply chain certification systems

Standardized initiatives towards sustainable biomass certification

Sustainability criteria & certification systems for biomass production

Sustainability criteria for biomass and biofuels

Sustainable bioenergy and food security

Verification of compliance with sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids

Global principles and criteria for sustainable biofuels production, V 0.0

Blueprint Germany: A strategy for a climate-safe 2050

Sustainability quick check for biofuels (SQCB)

Criteria for a sustainable use of bioenergy on a global scale

Criteria for sustainable biomass production

Driving legislations and targets  
Directive 2009/28/EC, Promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 - A Summary of major provisions

Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2) - Notice of final rulemaking
Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2) Summary & analysis of comments

Economics of biofuels  
The impact of sustainability criteria on the costs and potentials of bioenergy production
Jatropha: Money does not grow on trees!

Impacts of the EU biofuel target on agricultural markets and land use

Extractive industries and Millenium Development Goals for Sub-Saharan Africa

Biofuels production, trade and sustainable development

Challenges and opportunities for developing countries in producing biofuels

Impact of bioenergy on food security  
Bioenergy and food security: Analytical framework
Bioenergy and global food security

Biofuels and food security: Implications of an accelerated production

Bioenergy, food security and sustainability: Towards an international framework

Will bioenergy development pose a threat to food security in developing countries?

Second FAO technical consultation on bioenergy & food security

The right to food and the impact of liquid biofuels

Price volatility in food and agricultural markets — Policy responses

PISCES food security scoping study

Call for scientific statement on bioenergy and food security

Bioenergy and food security: Analysis for Tanzania

Biofuels and the underlying causes of high food prices

Food Security in Brazil

Do biofuels mitigate GHG emissions?  
Accounting for ILUC in GHG balances of biofuels
Use of US croplands for biofuels increases GHGs through emissions from land use change  
Executive Summary — Understanding land use change and U.S. ethanol expansion  
Quantification of the effects on greenhouse gas emissions of policies and measures  
ILUC can overcome carbon savings from biofuels in Brazil  
Flying in the face of the facts: Greenwashing the aviation industry with biofuels  
Ethanol expansion and indirect land use change in Brazil  
Biofuels in 2011

Climate Change and Water, IPPC Tec Paper VI, 2008  
Corn ethanol and climate change

Land use change & indirect land use change  
Tackling Indirect Land Use
"Sustainable" palm oil driving deforestation

Supporting materials for use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land use change

Sugar cane and land use change in Brazil

Soy oil and indirect land use change

Indirect land use change from increased biofuels demand — Comparison of models
Indirect land use change for biofuels

GBEP workshop on idirect land use change - Status of and perspectives on science-based policies

Biofuels: Indirect land use change and climate impact 

Indirect effects of bioenergy
Indirect effects of bioenergy: Effects on landscapes and livelihoods

Bioenergy fuelling land grabs
Africa up for grabs — The scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels
Rising global interest in farmland: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?

The socio-economic effects of GM-crops

Who benefits from GM crops - an industry built on myths

Second generation biofuels
Second-generation biofuels - Economics and policies
Role of lignocellulosic feedstocks