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General News of Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Source: Food Security Ghana

Foreign companies grab 37 percent of Ghana cropland

for questionable biofuel

A new report, compiled by international environmental pressure group Friends
of the Earth (FoE), says that the amount of land being taken in Africa to
feed Europe’s increasing demand for biofuels is “underestimated and out of
control.” An area of arable land the size of Denmark – around five million
hectares – has been acquired by foreign companies to produce biofuels,
mainly for the European market, the report says.

The FoE warns that even more land will be required for biofuels if the
European Union is to reach its target of 10 percent of transport fuels from
renewable sources by 2020.

According to the report “land grabs” – where land traditionally used by
local communities is leased or sold to outside investors (from corporations
and from governments) are becoming increasingly common across Africa. Whilst
many of these deals are for food cultivation, there is a growing interest in
growing crops for fuel – agrofuels – particularly to supply the growing EU

In Ghana, development agencies have reported that 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 plantations. Some 50 per cent of the Ghanaian population
work on the land, mostly growing food for local consumption.

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.

Farmers have found that the much vaunted wonder crop jatropha, rather than
bringing a guaranteed income, in fact takes valuable water resources and
needs expensive pesticides. In some cases, food crops have been cleared to
plant jatropha, leaving farmers with no income and no source of food.

This situation was reported as far back as May 2009 by one Emmanuel K.
Dogbevi where he posed the question “Any lessons for Ghana in India’s
jatropha failure?”.

Jatropha is seen as a particularly suitable crop for agrofuel production
because unlike other feedstocks, it is not a food source. Promoters argue
that it does not therefore compete with food or contribute to food
shortages. It can also grow on marginal land in relatively dry areas, making
it suitable for drought-prone regions.

In 2006 D1 Oil from the UK said that it aimed to produce 2.7 tonnes of oil
per hectare from areas planted with its new E1 variety, and 1.7 tonnes of
oil from normal seed. That is equivalent to about 8 tonnes and 5 tonnes of
seed per hectare respectively, or 3.5kg and 2kg a plant.

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

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 poverty.

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
• 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 result 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.

_Food Security Ghana_

PS The full FoE report “Africa: Up for grabs” can be downloaded from