Africans unite in calling for immediate moratorium on switch from food to fuel

Scientists and NGOs across Africa are calling for a moratorium on new biofuels projects as millions of acres of prime agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa are switched from food to fuel.

African governments, encouraged by counterparts in the industrialised world, have bought eagerly into the "green revolution" with promises of exports, energy security and job creation. The reality is the forced removal of small farmers, rising food costs and scant benefits for local populations.

Food riots broke out this week in Mozambique as government attempts to control bread and fuel costs collapsed under the strain of soaring prices for oil and for food staples, driven in part by demand for biofuels.

The prospect of a "Green Opec" of countries switching to biofuel – or agrofuel – plantations on the most food-insecure continent has prompted an appeal for a "time out" from an alliance of African civil society groups. "We need to protect food security, forests, water, land rights, farmers and indigenous peoples from the aggressive march of agrofuel developments," reads the call for a moratorium.

"Africa is a wide open continent and the energy industry wants to take advantage," said the renowned Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey. "This is a flashback to colonial plantations." Mr Bassey is part of the African Biodiversity Network, an umbrella group who met to discuss the crisis this week in South Africa.

Rich nations concerned with future energy security and climate change have begun to seek alternatives to fossil fuels that won't carry the political costs of calling for consumer restraint. In the US this has meant an epic extension of subsidies for big agricultural interests to switch corn production to ethanol. The European Union has committed itself to switching 10 per cent of all transport fuel to biofuels by 2020 with the shortfall in what can be grown inside the 27-nation bloc to be made up with imports from the developing world.

From the savannahs of west Africa to the rainforests of Congo, the plains of Tanzania and the wilderness of Ethiopia, governments are handing over huge tracts of fertile land to private companies aiming to convert biomass grown on large plantations into liquid fuels for export markets. African leaders like Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade are predicting a "green revolution" and looking eagerly to lucrative exports.

Just as the bonanza is getting into full swing, the scientific argument that biofuels mitigate climate change is collapsing. Last week, the journal Science published a major study concluding that biofuels contributed to climate change as the environmental cost of land conversions generated more carbon emissions than it saved.

The biofuel surge comes despite clear consensus that Africa will bear the brunt of climate change and be the continent hardest hit in the future by changes in our weather systems.

In addition to this, the production of maize, southern Africa's staple food, could drop by as much as one third in the next 20 years, according to a new Stanford University study.

The UN's two leading food agencies both issued warnings this week that demand for biofuels is in danger of leaving the poor hungry. Josette Sheeran, of the World Food Programme, said: "We're seeing many people being priced out of the food markets for the first time. For the world's most vulnerable, it's extremely urgent," she said. The Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Wednesday that some 100 million tons of cereals are being diverted to the production of biofuels each year.

Even organisations which have not joined the calls for a moratorium, such as the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, have expressed serious reservations. "There's a lot of concern about land grabs and displacement," said a senior analyst, Bill Vorley. "Big plantations are back with the help of the 'green revolution' steamroller. It feels like we are back to the bad old days again."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable