Foreign Energy Policy Fuels Famine in Africa

Published on ZNet (first on Pambazuka News), Pambazuka News interviews the Oakland Institute, December 17, 2011.

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 … //

… PAMBAZUKA NEWS: You’ve said in the past that decisions about how to use water and land resources in Africa for Africans should be determined by Africans through democratic processes. What examples of good practice we can build or draw on?

  • OAKLAND INSTITUTE: Our new research shows that unlike large-scale irrigation, a focus on efficient small-scale irrigation, sustainable agriculture and water management methods can improve the lives of local smallholders, enhance food security and prevent environmental degradation from water depletion. All over Africa, sustainable water management and smallholder irrigation schemes have led to substantial increases in crop yields.
  • For instance, In Zimbabwe, sustainable water management and water harvesting systems such as those established by the Zvishavane Water Resources Project have proven very effective in increasing yields, building resilience to climate shocks and improving income and food security. In Burkina Faso like in other Sahelian countries, the introduction of Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) techniques such as planting pits (i.e. zai), stone lines (i.e. bunds) and level permeable rock dams has led to enhanced productivity, economic security, population stability, enhanced biodiversity and improved water tables. With the introduction of such techniques in the 1980s, farmers achieved 50-60 percent higher yields of both millet and sorghum:
    - In Mali, the establishment of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) among smallholders in the region of Timbuktu resulted in reduced quantity of water used while rice yields increased to 9 metric tons per hectare, an increase of 50 to 100 percent over yields obtained under conventional irrigated production techniques.
    - In Ghana, the production of staples such as millet and sorghum show, on average, better yields under small-scale irrigation than under large-scale irrigation. Research has showed that small-scale irrigation in Ghana contributed to 1.5 metric ton / hectare of millet compared to 0.50 metric ton / hectare under large-scale irrigation.
    - In Kenya, biointensive agriculture, a low-cost agricultural technology designed for small farmers, has been shown to use 70 to 90 percent less water than conventional agriculture (due to the establishment of higher soil organic matter levels, continuous soil coverage by crops, and adequate fertility for root and plant health).
    - In Lesotho, the improvement in peasants’ access to the water supply and the use of small-scale irrigation technologies, such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps have improved water conservation and the crop yields of subsistence farmers, who have been increasingly able to sell excess produce in the local market.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What has the Oakland Institute have in store for us in the next period?

  • OAKLAND INSTITUTE: Stay Tuned.

(full long interview text).

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