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Foreign energy policy fuels famine in Africa 0

Pambazuka News speaks to Oakland Institute* about the findings of their latest round of in-depth research into land grabs in Africa, from the role played by the energy policies of rich countries and the World Bank to the dangers of a development agenda that fails to heed the negative social, economic and environmental impacts of industrial agrofuel and agroforestry projects**.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Following your last set of reports, Oakland was looking to understand in greater depth the legal, social and economic implications of land grabs, in particular better data on land availability, better understanding of land deals, and issues around land rights. You have carried out detailed studies on a number of countries in Africa: What do they tell us about common themes related to land acquisitions in these countries that we didn’t already know? And are there any important differences between the countries studied that would inform any response to these deals?

OAKLAND INSTITUTE: The new set of research informs us of the following common themes:

First, energy policies of rich countries play a key role in the current trend of land grabbing:

The trend of converting fertile African land to agrofuel plantations is accelerating as more governments and corporations promote agrofuels as a solution to climate change and dependency on fossil fuels. The United States and the European Union, for example, have set targets to replace 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of their gasoline with agrofuels. They both provide subsidies to the agrofuel industry so that these targets can be met: The US government gives US$6 billion a year in federal tax credits to fuel blenders to support ethanol production, and recent European subsidies supporting agrofuel production have topped US$4 billion per year. Corporations such as Europe’s largest airlines – including Lufthansa – are also increasing their reliance on agrofuels purchased from African countries. This growing market for agrofuels has set off a chain reaction of land grabs in Africa that are displacing people from their homes, draining rivers to the point of extinction and replacing valuable food crops with industrial fuel crops.

Second, so-called solutions to climate change, including carbon trade and carbon credits are green-washing the land grabs that some companies are making through land intensive Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects:

For example, a Norwegian timber company, Green Resources Ltd., plans to replace almost 7,000 hectares of natural Tanzanian grassland with monocultures of pine and eucalyptus that the company would grow to obtain carbon credits to sell to the government of Norway. In Sierra Leone SLGreen Oil has acquired 40,468 hectares for biodiesel production that will generate carbon credits through the CDM. Canadian corporation Sierra Gold has obtained 45,527 hectares of forest and grasslands destined for carbon credit programs, including a land-use CDM project that is expected to be worth more than US$714 million over 50 years.

With one hectare being approximately the size of a football field, this accounts for a lot of land. The expansion of the carbon credit system will generate billions of dollars in profits through the commodification of air and forests, but is likely to turn into a disaster for indigenous and forest dependent communities in Africa who are losing their rights over grazing land and forests, which are essential elements of their livelihoods.

Third, international development agencies are playing a key role:

So-called ‘socially responsible’ or ‘ethical’ investment funds, backed by several western governments, involved with land grabs in Africa. The trend of large-scale land investment in Sub-Saharan Africa could not take place without World Bank Group support. The Oakland Institute’s research uncovers World Bank Group’s orchestration of a business-friendly environment for investor access to land. From helping attract investors, to shaping policy and law that allows for streamlined and lucrative investor contracts, World Bank Group’s agencies – including its private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, in conjunction with the Foreign Investment Advisory Service – clearly enable and promote land investment.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: A sobering point that you make is that there is ‘no going back once the damage is done’ – once people have been moved off land or virgin forests and grasslands cleared to make way for agroforestry or agrofuel plantations, irreversible damage is caused to human and ecological communities – and the atmosphere. This means we need to take preventative measures rather than hoping we can reverse actions in the future. What mechanisms are open to Africans to take a stand against land grabs, when investment in agrofuels is being encouraged even at the African Union Level?

OAKLAND INSTITUTE: First of all, given the general secrecy surrounding most deals, we have seen over the past few months how important it was to expose land deals and inform communities about what was happening.

For instance, in June 2011 OI released a brief on a land deal in South Sudan and made the contract available. Signed in 2008 with the Texas-based firm NTD, the 49-year land lease of 600,000 hectares for US$25,000 includes unencumbered rights to exploit all natural resources in the leased land. Local communities did not know about this deal until they heard media coverage of the OI report on the local radio, and it is only then, in July 2011, that they started to mobilise against the project.

Similarly, OI’s brief on the giant agricultural enterprise being developed in Tanzania and known as the AgriSol deal, informed civil society groups and media about this land investment. Knowledge of this deal, which was being secretly negotiated between US investors and the Tanzanian Prime Minister, has mobilised media and civil society groups locally and internationally, and the matter is now being debated intensely in Parliament.

To state the obvious, in an ideal world, communities should be aware of the deals prior to the signature of contracts between governments and foreign investors. Ideally an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) study should be conducted in a systematic way, i.e. for every large investment, and its results communicated to all those concerned. Ideally communities should be consulted on that basis, so people can make informed decisions about their land and their future. Unfortunately, our analysis of over 50 deals in seven countries show that in most cases people are not consulted, or ESIA are generally not conducted, and when they are, they are not made public.

Proper information and consultation of communities is therefore critical. But it is far from enough: One should not just rely on local communities to take action for the land where they live. What is urgent is for citizens, civil society organisations, farmer groups, parliaments and political parties to engage with governments and challenge them not just on individual land deals but more broadly on the very policy choices they are making in regards to land investment and agricultural development.

This is what happened in Mozambique where different problems with foreign investors led to a freeze in large land concessions in 2009 (this governmental freeze on land grabs lasted two years, but large-scale investments have resumed in October 2011). In Tanzania too, the government has actually taken into consideration the interests of the people: some land deals were revised or cancelled because individual ministries weighed the interests of investors against the current and future land needs of the Tanzanians. Moreover, several of the large-scale investors identified did not obtain the amount of land they requested from the government – for instance the UK firm Sun Biofuels requested 18,000 ha but only obtained 8,200 ha from the government.

At international level, citizens and civil society organisations must also question the development and energy policies pursued by rich countries. Many of them are encouraging land grabs through these policies and through the direct support they provide to investors. Furthermore, as seen in Mozambique, USAID has been pushing hard to privatise land and to make it available to foreign interest.

Continue reading on Pambazuka News

By Staff – Pambazuka

* The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank, bringing fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues of our time.
** Responses to Pambazuka’s questions were provided by Oakland Institute’s David Deng, Felix Horne, Frederic Mousseau and Anuradha Mittal.

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi