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Opinions of Sunday, 19 September 2010

Columnist: xcroc

37% of Ghana's Farmland Recolonized

Feature Article, By xcroc,

In the quest for biofuel plantations, and for export food crops,
foreign countries and corporations are grabbing land, "using methods
that hark back to the darkest days of colonialism" in Ghana and
throughout Africa.

Foreign companies now control 37 percent
of Ghana cropland. The spread of jatropha is pushing small farmers,
and particularly women farmers off their land. Valuable food sources
such as shea nut and dawadawa trees have been cleared to make way for

A total of 769,000 ha has been acquired by foreign companies such as
Agroils (Italy), Galten Global Alternative Energy (Israel), Gold Star
Farms (Ghana), Jatropha Africa (UK/Ghan), Biofuel Africa (Norway),
ScanFuel (Norway) and Kimminic Corporation (Canada). According to the
CIA World Fact Book Ghana has 3.99 million ha arable land with 2.075
million ha under permanent crops. This means that more than 37 percent
of Ghana’s cropland has been grabbed for the plantation of jatropha.

What is worse ( in most
cases the companies involved in the production of the biofuel import
labour from outside the communities where production sites were
located, and “there were drastic lay-offs as the project progressed
from land preparation and planting stages.”

Friends of the Earth published Africa: up for grabs: The scale and
impact of land grabbing for agrofuels PDF
describing the problem throughout the continent. It contains maps
and tables showing more detailed information about specific countries.

With its relatively stabile political situation and suitable climate,
Ghana is an apparent hotspot for acquiring land to grow jatropha.

Examples of land allocated reportedly for biofuel investments in
Ghana: see:

The following story from Ghana shows how the Europeans, often with the
help of some government enablers, trick local communities into giving
up their land. The company representatives imply they are bringing
jobs and income, but do not contract in any way in which they can be
held legally accountable to keep their promises.

Biofuel land grabbing in Northern Ghana PDF
is the story of how a Norwegian biofuel company took advantage of
Africa’s traditional system of communal land ownership and current
climate and economic pressure to claim and deforest large tracts of
land in Kusawgu, Northern Ghana with the intention of creating “the
largest jatropha plantation in the world”.

Bypassing official development authorization and using methods that
hark back to the darkest days of colonialism, this investor claimed
legal ownership of these lands by deceiving an illiterate chief to
sign away 38 000 hectares with his thumb print.

This is also the story of how the effected community came to realize
that, while the promised jobs and incomes were unlikely to
materialize, the plantation would mean extensive deforestation and the
loss of incomes from gathering forest products, such as sheanuts. When
given all the information the community successfully fought to send
the investors packing but not before 2 600 hectares of land had been
deforested. Many have now lost their incomes from the forest and face
a bleak future.

Rural communities who are desperate for incomes are enticed by
developers who promise them a “better future” under the guise of jobs
with the argument that they are currently only just surviving from the
“unproductive land” and that they stand to earn a regular income if
they give up the land for development. This argument fails to
appreciate the African view of the meaning of the land to the
community. While the initial temptation to give up the land to earn a
wage is great, it portends of an ominous future where the community’s
sovereignty, identity and their sense of community is lost because of
the fragmentation that the community will suffer.

The strategy for the acquisition of the land often takes the following
course: The imaginations of a few influential leaders in the community
are captured. They are told about prospects for the community due to
the project and they were swayed with promises of positions in the
company or with monetary inducements. The idea is that these people do
the necessary “footwork” in the villages where they spread the word
about job opportunities. A document is then prepared, essentially a
contract, to lease the land to the company. In the event of problems
the developer can press their claim by enforcing the ‘contract’ or
agreement. When the legality of the process is not adequately
scrutinized, the developers have their way but, subject to proper
scrutiny, it emerges these contracts are not legally binding as they
have not gone through the correct legal channels. This is what
happened in this particular case in the Alipe area.

In this community, like in most parts of Ghana, over 80 percent of the
land is held under communal ownership and more that 70 percent of this
land is managed by traditional ruler-chiefs mainly on behalf the
members of the their traditional areas. The chief was very categorical
that he had not made such a grant and that he had also been battling
with those “white people” to stop them – without much success. He
confirmed that he “thumb printed” a document in the company of the
Assemblyman of the area which had been brought to his palace by the
“white people” but he did not confirm its contents.

The Chief was initially unwilling to go against the wishes of his
people as his efforts to stop the developers were being interpreted by
the community as driving away opportunities to earn an income during
the current dry season”.

The facts began to emerge – a big fish in Government was promoting the
project and had deployed his business associates in the Region to
front for him. This front man was immediately employed as the Local
Manager of BioFuel Africa. The EPA then insisted that they must go
through the processes of having an Environmental Impact Assessment
made. We then had a public consultative forum in the community where
we had a face-to–face confrontation Mr. Finn Byberg, Director of Land
Acquisition for BioFuel Africa in the village square in front of the
Chief’s palace. The audience and judges were the village communities
affected by the proposed project.

… the promises of jobs and a new improved life would not materialize
because Mr Finn Byberg, the chairman of BioFuel Africa confessed,
during his presentation that he could not state categorically what
commitments the company would make He said, “Commitments are not very
easy and so when I am required to make these, I need to be very
careful. I do not want to be caught for not keeping my word.”. … This
made it clear that our land is being used for experimentation. Mr
Byberg’s promise of jobs …were mere campaign gimmicks.

Most vocal indeed were the women at the session. Looking Mr Finn
Byberg in the face a women asked, Look at all the sheanut trees you
have cut down already and considering the fact that the nuts that I
collect in a year give me cloth for the year and also a little
capital. I can invest my petty income in the form of a ram and
sometimes in a good year, I can buy a cow. Now you have destroyed the
trees and you are promising me something you do not want to commit
yourself to. Where then do you want me to go? What do you want me to

We need a more aggressive campaign to halt land grabbing. We need to
engage with traditional rulers, District Assemblies and Politicians
about this ominous phenomenon. We need visibility through print and
electronic media to put our message across effectively to a wider
audience. RAINS has a strategy to build on the rapport that it has
developed through the OSIWA project with traditional rulers to open up
another channel for engagement. We cannot afford to be caught unawares
in this war with the biofuel companies. The ancestors are on our side
and we shall win the war!

by Bakari Nyari, Vice Chairman of RAINS ( -
Regional Advisory and Information Network Systems, Ghana, and Ghana
and African Biodiversity Network Steering Committee member

At the same time, from the Friends of the Earth study:

Reports from India, however, indicate that yields of 1kg per plant
have been difficult to achieve. Food Security Ghana
( is yet to hear of any commercially
viable biofuel production from Jatropha, and it looks more and more as
though the jatrophy frenzy is a big bubble waiting to burst.

The FoE report is indeed alarming if one considers that Ghana has
allowed this massive land grab to take place in the absence of a
biofuel policy and with no environmental impact studies undertaken –
on the possible negative effects on both natural resources and on the
communities – of huge jatropha plantations.

The report further states that proponents of agrofuels generally argue
that agrofuel production will address the economic crisis facing many
developing countries; they will create wealth and jobs and alleviate

According to the FoE these arguments overlook the other side of the
story and leave many questions unanswered.

• Is the push for agrofuel production in the interest of the
developing countries or are the real beneficiaries Northern
industrialised countries?

• Will the production of agrofuels actually provide more jobs and
enhance economic development at the community level?

• Will it address the issue of food insecurity plaguing the developing world?

• What are the social and environmental costs of agrofuel production
to host communities?

• Who stands to benefit from the entire process?

The FoE concludes its report with the following:

* “Hunger for foreign investment and economic development is driving
a number of African countries to welcome agrofuel developers onto
their land. Most of these developers are European companies, looking
to grow agrofuel crops to meet EU targets for agrofuel use in
transport fuel.
* Demand for agrofuels threatens food supplies away from consumers
for fuel in the case of crops such as cassava, peanuts, sweet sorghum
and maize.
* Non-edible agrofuel crops such as jatropha are competing directly
with food crops for fertile land. The esult threatens food supplies in
poor communities and pushes up the cost of available food.
* Farmers who switch to agrofuel crops run the risk of being unable
to feed their families.
* While foreign companies pay lip service to the need for
“sustainable development”, agrofuel production and demand for land is
resulting in the loss of pasture and forests, destroying natural
habitat and probably causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Agrofuel production is also draining water from parts of the
continent where drought is already a problem
* While politicians promise that agrofuels will bring locally sourced
energy supplies to their countries, the reality is that most of the
foreign companies are developing agrofuels to sell on the
international market.
Just as African economies have seen fossil fuels and other natural
resources exploited for the benefit of other countries, there is a
risk that agrofuels will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for
local communities and national economies. Countries will be left with
depleted soils, rivers that have been drained and forests that have
been destroyed."

The Government of Ghana announced that a biofuel policy will soon be
introduced. Now is maybe the time for the people of Ghana to ask if
the critical questions posed by the FoE have been addressed in the
development of this policy.
from Food Security Ghana