Why Africa Will Lose if it Says Yes to Biofuels

Why Africa Will Lose if it Says Yes to Biofuels


By Hwaa Irfan

It is well established now that the re-scramble for Africa is about saving capitalism. As advocates in Egypt look to the biofuel crop the Jathropa Tree as a solution towards rebuilding the agricultural sector and the economy, all African countries should take heed. Jathropa grows well on arid and land designated as barren, but is this plant that seems to require little cultivation feasible as a crop without displacing the growth of other crops, crops which grow on fertile soil. To increase the yield of Jathropa means also increasing the time and energy in increasing the yield, including the very water that one wants to save. This was the case as a far back as 2008 in Mindanao, Philippines, where cultivation of Jathropa displaced rice corn, banana crops as well as root vegetables. The result was a huge protest by indigenous leaders.

All it takes is the West’s continued support of corrupt/naive dictators and regimes to let that happen. It is the sole reason why controversial rebel groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria to El-Shebaab in Somalia came into existence, but that is another issue.

While short-sighted greed makes a bid for exploiting the fertility of African soil to grow crops for biofuels, here is one clear example of the Big Lie behind biofuels and how it far from contributes towards  a sustainable future.

Back in 2008, the early days of the current global economic crisis, and the year when GM crops make it biggest growth yet, the U.K. biofuel company Sun Biofuels was unwittingly proving the point at hand.

In the district of Kisarawe in Tanzania, Sun Biofuels had “acquired” a quarter of a village (8,211 hectares) from which the company has yet to pay any remuneration to anyone in the country let alone the government. They were also supposed to have provided 700 jobs, water wells, improved schools, health clinics and roads.

According to the Tanzania Forestry Workgroup compensation is paid to villages under the Village Lane Act. Land can also be acquired directly from the Tanzania Investment Centre, TIC without leading to the transfer of land. In the case of Kisrawe, 8,211 land from 12 villages was transferred from village to general land for the use of TIC, but this allocated land has been deemed as not permanently settled. That land is not barren or arid, but is woodland with patches of coastland forest and thickets. That land provided villagers with income through the harvesting of its produce from traditional medicines, fuel, and building materials. According to the World Bank the income from that land in 2008 was U.S$35-50 per capita – this is more than they have now. The Tanzania Forestry Workgroup state:

“Should the investor fail to secure the loan and proceed with the project, as frequently occurs in Tanzania in relation to capital-intensive commercial investments, then the community will effectively have lost its land without receiving compensation, contrary to the spirit and letter of the Village Land Act as well as the community’s livelihood interests.”

This is precisely what happened!

Employees of Sun Biofuels were told that the company was sold as they received letters of termination of employment without reason

Some workers of the British firm said they heard reports that the project has been sold but did not know who bought it. The same happened in other villages with BioShape, a company of the Netherlands who upped and left the 34,000 hectares of land in Kilwa District blaming it on the global recession though other sources within the company blamed the drought, which is a little surprising given the nature of the Jathropa tree. BioShape had employed 800 people.

Through the diligence of the U.K-based Action Aid, it was discovered that Sun Biofuels was bought by a consortium headed by former employee of the global 1% Goldman Sachs and Alan Mayers. The person concerned pertaining to Goldman Sachs is Christopher Egerton-Warburton deemed an expert in structuring and execution of innovative financing solutions, Egerton-Warburton now leads Lion’s Head Global Partners, and is on the Senior Management.

Action Aid summarize the situation as follows:

“Poor Tanzanians have been tricked into giving up their land to a biofuels company, and are now even worse off than before. This case shows yet again how biofuel crops can ruin poor people’s livelihoods in the communities where they are grown as well as driving up food prices. A billion people already don’t have enough to eat. Biofuel use could add hundreds of millions more.

“Moreover, biofuels don’t even provide environmental benefits, as many have higher greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace.”

No negotiation pertaining to compensation took place accept in the case of those who demanded it. Many of the villagers were just content with the promises of wells to provide water that would make their lives much easier. Now without any income they can no longer afford to send their children to school or access the health service.


Biofuels grown in African countries

UK 11 Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia
Italy 7 Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal,
Germany 6 Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia,
France 6 Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique Senegal, Togo
USA 4 Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda
Canada 4 DR Congo Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia
Scandinavian countries 4 Ghana, Tanzania
Belgium 3 Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania
Switzerland 3 Malawi, Kenya, Sierra Leone
Netherlands 2 Tanzania
Cyprus 1 Ghana, Ivory Coast
Crest Global Green Energy 900000 Guinea, Mali, Senegal
Gem Biofuels 452500 Madagascar
Equatorial Biofuels plc 80000 Liberia
Kavango Bioenergy Ltd 70000 Namibia
Jatropha africa 50000 Ghana
Cams Group 20000 Tanzania
Principle energy 20000 Mozambique
Sun Biofuels 13000 Mozambique, Tanzania
D1 Oils 5000 Malawi, Zambia
Viridesco 175 Mozambique
Sustainable Agroenergy n/a Senegal
Source: data research, not including unverified projects
Remark: concessions include all negotiated land, whether it is only agreed, formally leased or already used




Actionaid. “UK Company Grabs Land from Tanzania’s Poorest To Grow Biofuel Crops.” http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/uk_company_grabs_land_from_tanzanias_poorest_to_grow_biofuel_crops.pdf

Carrington, D. “Biofuels Boom in Africa as British Firms Lead Rush on Land for Plantations” http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/31/biofuel-plantations-africa-british-firms

“Hailed as a Miracle Biofuel, Jatropha Falls Short Of Hype” http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/may/05/jatropha-biofuels-food-crops

Wa Simbeye, F. “Tanzania: Sun Biofuels Jatropha Project in Kisarawe Suspended.” http://allafrica.com/stories/201110040092.html

Tanzania Forestry Group “Developing Commercial Biofuels through Securing Local Livelihoods and Land Rights.” http://www.tnrf.org/files/E-TNRF-TFWG-Biofuels_information_brief.pdf

Related Topics:

Behind the Food Price Crisis!

Earth Grab: No to a Biomass Economy

Time to Ban Land Grab

Biofuels Increasing Food Prices

G-20 and Their Security vs. African Food Security