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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More