Africa, Biofuels, and Sustainable Development... An Oxymoron?

biofuelA new report from Friends of the Earth (FOE), titled Africa: Up for Grabs the scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels discusses the impact of the production of biofuels on the African continent. Specifically, the report seeks to address whether or not biofuels provide sustainable development. The dominant meme by biofuel companies is that by growing the base crops for biofuels in Africa they not only create jobs, but also provide enhanced economic development. The Friends of the Earth report sought to verify those claims, or to see, as is often the case when the Global South has what the Global North wants, if the real beneficiaries Northern Industrialized countries.

The report details that as much as 1/3rd of the land sold or acquired in Africa is intended for fuel crops, agrofuels compete with food crops for farmland, even in the case of crops which supposedly grow on non-agricultural land. Tanzania, Madagascar and Ghana have all been wracked by protests following land grabs by foreign countries, and deforestation is hastened as land is cleared to grow biofuels. In addition, although many nations won’t allow Genetically Modified foods entry into their borders, there has been little such attention towards genetically modified crops that have been turned into fuels and it’s likely that people are going to be as concerned about what they put in their tail pipe as they were with what they put in their body (especially when you consider many people don’t concern themselves too much with the latter either). Consequently, Africa is increasingly the testing ground for biotech companies eager to turn profits schilling genetically modified biofuel crops. Overall, the report paints a bleak picture for the benefits of biofuels in helping usher in Sustainable Development (never mind the fact that these issues aside, biofuels grown directly from crops (as opposed to that from Waste Vegetable oil) has a dubious ‘green’ credibility to begin with.

The most troubling part of the report, is not the questionable efficacy of biofuels to help provide African nations with Sustainable Development, but rather, that this is but one indicator that developing countries in general, and African countries in particular are not seen as sovereign nations so much as the industrialized world’s resource base; never mind the people currently occupying those lands. As Friends of the Earth points out, The African continent is increasingly being seen as a source of agricultural land and natural resources for the rest of the world. National governments and private companies are obtaining access to land across the continent to grow crops for food and fuel to meet growing demand from mainly overseas countries.