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Oxfam Says Biofuels Production May Fuel Poverty


Leading aid agency Oxfam is concerned that the push by European Union countries to switch to plant-based biofuels could harm the world's poorest people. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

Earlier this year, the European Union issued a proposal calling for a cut in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, and requiring that 10 percent of all transport fuels come from plants by 2020.

But in a report published Thursday, Oxfam warns that poor farmers risk being forced off their land as industrial farmers cash in on the biofuel push.

Oxfam's Robert Bailey, who wrote the report, says the United Nations estimates that 60 million people worldwide face clearance from their land to make way for biofuel plantations. He said many end up in slums in search of work, others on the very plantations that have displaced them with poor pay, squalid conditions and no worker rights.

Bailey says the benefits of the biofuel use may be outweighed by the environmental damage caused by uncontrolled land clearance.

"The idea of the EU's biofuels policy is to reduce emissions from transport. But biofuels only have a favorable carbon balance if they are grown and produced in a way which is environmentally sensitive. It's absolutely critical that there are environmental standards as well alongside the social ones," he said.

Bailey urges the EU to ensure standards are in place to protect the poor. He said these could ensure that the poor, who are threatened by the loss of their land and livelihoods, can be participants rather than victims.

"There is no reason why these biofuels shouldn't be a good opportunity for developing countries, because, if we have sustainability criteria that are meaningful, that will mean that poor people will be able to participate in the production of these biofuels and benefit from that process. But in the absence of criteria to protect poor people, it's going to be completely the other way," he said.

EU officials have said the 27-nation union is drawing up economic, social and environmental standards to ensure its green fuel plan does not harm producing nations.