Biofuel targets could leave Africa hungry

European Union countries must drop their biofuels targets or risk plunging more Africans into hunger and raising carbon emissions, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE).

In a campaign launched on Tuesday the charity accuses European companies of land-grabbing throughout Africa to grow biofuel crops that directly compete with food crops. Biofuel companies counter that they consult local governments, create investment and jobs and often produce fuels for the local market.

FoE has added its voice to an NGO lobby that claims local communities are not properly consulted and that forests are being cleared in a pattern that echoes decades of exploitation of other natural resources in Africa. In its report, “Africa: Up for Grabs”, the group says the key to halting the land grab is for EU countries to drop a goal to produce 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020.

“The amount of land being taken in Africa to meet Europe’s increasing demand for biofuels is underestimated and out of control,” says Kirtana Chandrasekaran, food campaigner for FoE in the UK. “Especially in Africa, as long as there’s massive demand for biofuels from the European market, it will be hard to control. If we implement the biofuels targets, it will only get worse.”

A number of European companies have planted biofuel crops such as jatropha, sugar cane and palm oil in Africa and elsewhere to tap into rising demand. But the trend has coincided with soaring food prices an ignited a debate over the dangers of using agricultural land for fuel.

Producers argue that typically, they farm land not destined or suitable for food crops. But campaigners reject those claims, with FoE saying that biofuel crops, including non-edible ones such as jatropha, “are competing directly with food crops for fertile land”.

ActionAid claimed this year that the European biofuel targets could result in up to 100-million more hungry people, increased food prices and landlessness. Natural disasters, including floods in Pakistan and a heatwave in Russia, have wiped out crops in recent weeks and intensified fears of widespread food shortages.

The United Nations has singled out biofuel demand as a factor in what it estimates will be as much as a 40% jump in food prices in the coming decade. Estimates of how much land in Africa is being farmed by foreign companies and governments, either for food or fuel crops, vary significantly. The FoE report focuses on 11 African countries in what it sees as a rush by foreign companies to farm there.

In Tanzania, for example, it says that about 40 foreign-owned companies, including some from the UK, have invested in agrofuel developments. It argues that such activities are actually raising carbon emissions in many cases because virgin forests are being cut down.

Sun Biofuels, a British company named in the report, criticised the charity’s research as “emotional and anecdotal”. Its chief executive, Richard Morgan, said that biofuel production offered “an opportunity to get investment into local communities in an ethical way”.—

 

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