News / Africa

Africa Biofuel Investment Under Scrutiny

A field of jatropha plants, a source of biofuel (File Photo)
A field of jatropha plants, a source of biofuel (File Photo)
Gabe Joselow

Energy companies around the world have been buying up land in Africa to grow crops that can be converted into fuel. While these biofuels have been touted as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, more environmental groups want the investment curbed - warning that biofuels are causing more harm than good.

Promises

When an Italian-owned energy company proposed to buy land in the woodlands of eastern Kenya to grow jatropha trees to make biofuel, they promised jobs, development and money to the communities living there.

But the rights group ActionAid says when the deal was being signed, the people most affected had not been told the truth.  ActionAid team leader in Kenya's Coast region David Barissa Ringa says plans to co-opt some 20,000 hectares of land for a jatropha plantation would have displaced some 20,000 people.

“They were really enraged about what happened, because if anything, you can imagine having to leave your farm, having to leave your homestead and destroy everything and move and nobody has promised you any new land where you can actually relocate and continue your daily life,” said Ringa.

The case is now being reviewed by Kenya's Environmental Management Authority, while the company has already agreed to scale back the project to a 2,000 hectare pilot program. Legally, it appears neither the company nor the local authorities who signed the deal had done anything wrong. It was all in line with Kenya's existing constitution.

Benefits questioned

Rights groups are concerned that, legal or not, the push for biofuels has had a negative impact on local communities in Africa. Ringa, of ActionAid, also questions the environmental benefits.

“The whole essence why people go into biofuel production and greener fuel sources is that we cut down on carbon emissions," he said. "But if you cut down trees, if you have to bring down a whole forest and displace thousands of people from their homestead, I think it doesn't really make any sense.”

In a report earlier this year, a consortium of environmental groups called Friends of the Earth, said European energy companies had bought more than five million hectares of land across Africa, an area larger than the size of Denmark, for biofuel investment.

The report said European Union targets to use 10% biofuel for transportation by 2020 has spurred land grabs.

ActionAid Senior Policy Analyst Marie Brill says her group is pushing for changes to these policies at the United Nations Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa.

“And we'll come to Durban also with a real call that governments come together and commit to drop incentives and mandates and targets for biofuels which has really spurred this push for land and land-use change and threatened food security - not only has threatened food security but also has been dangerous for our environment,” explained Brill.

Tool kits

While environmental groups have made the case against biofuels for years, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says the industry can still bring benefits.

“Our conclusion - the basic message is that biofuels are not good or bad per se, it all depends on how you grow them, how you manage them,” said Olivier Du Bois, FAO senior natural resources officer.

The FAO has created tool kits to advise governments and investors setting out on biofuels projects, to help ensure they are environmentally and socially responsible.

DuBois says an important consideration is that the crops grown to create fuel do not compete with those meant to grow food.

"We did some work on cassava for example in Tanzania at the request of the government and we found out that if you increase the yield of cassava enough and if you grow it on land that can be used for other export crops then it doesn't compete with food," said DuBois. "On the contrary, it may actually promote the development of a yield increase which also benefits food production.”

While the merits of the industry may be up for debate, the demand for biofuels has shown no signs of slowing down.

The Bloomberg news agency reports prices for ethanol - a fuel that can be made from sugarcane and corn - have risen to record highs on high demand from Brazil and Europe.

Meanwhile, airlines from the United States to Australia have begun experimenting with biofuel-powered planes. And producers are making plans to ramp up production to meet the growing need.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs