Biofuels war has broken out in Africa.
Newspaper headlines have not proclaimed it but the gist of it is already out. Big money profiteers from Europe and United States are rushing to Africa in a new scramble for the continent, transforming large swathes of arable land into massive biofuels plantations.
Local but poor populations in many parts of Africa are increasingly being driven deeper into economic obscurity yet 60% of them still depend on agriculture for survival. Another 60% of that eke out a living by subsistence farming and animal husbandry.
The World Bank has been sitting on a secret report since April that says biofuels are responsible for the global food crisis; food prices have risen 75% because of the impact of the search for alternative fuels through the use of food products.
According to the anti biofuels investment campaigners, whole villages are being cleared or grabbed, but families have been given minimal compensation or opportunities for their loss of land, community and way of life.
African civil society is calling for a moratorium on new biofuels investments in Africa amid concern that that the biofuels revolution will bring more food insecurity, higher food prices and hunger to the continent. In Tanzania, thousands of farmers growing cereals like corn and rice are already being evicted from fertile land with good access to water, for biofuel sugar cane and jatropha plantations on newly privatized land.
Endangered wildlife are not spared too. It is claimed one European investor has been granted 13,000 hectares of land in Oromia state of Ethiopia; 87% of which is the Babile Elephant Sanctuary, a home to rare and endangered elephants.
Spiegel Online reported recently how African governments and local farmers were being showered with promises by these big money spenders out on a green gold mad rush on the continent and further questioned if the frenzy was a form of economic colonialism.
Sun Biofuels, a British firm, has been granted free of charge a 99 year lease by the Tanzanian authorities to put 9,000 hectares or 22,230 acres of farmland under biofuels crop in exchange of a paltry $20 million (€13 million) corporate social responsibility investment to build roads and schools, among other amenities.
This deal follows dozens others involving firms from Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Germany, the German website reported. It is emerging that the US and Europe may be in a trade war over biofuels subsidies.
To prove that the biofuels scramble has nothing to do with alternative fuels but profit and more profit, Spielgel reported that Prokon, a German company switched from its primary business of producing wind turbines to growing jatropha curcas, now the catch phrase of African biofuels, in a land area the size of Luxembourg. It is a shrub with toxic seeds which contain a high percentage of oil used for candles, soap and biodiesel production.
But skeptical European scientists, alarmed by the impact of biofuels on skyrocketing food prices, are pushing the European Union to back away from its commitment to eco-fuel. Part of this skepticism, however, means that while the Western world pursues biofuels, caution demands that other lands must be found to cultivate the crop, and Africa fits the bill.
With China also looming in the picture, Africa could just be the perfect battle ground of the Biofuels Armageddon. Sadly, her role, as in most other economic wars, will be that of the grass on which two elephants fight.