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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid