EU biofuels boom fuelling land grabs in Africa

New Europe The Dakatcha Woodland is located in Kenya’s coast region, thousands of miles away from the capital of Europe. But it’s in places like Dakatcha where the dirtier impacts of the EU’s energy policies are being felt.

Back in 2009 all 27 EU member states signed up to the Renewable Energy Directive. Under this policy, they are obliged to source 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. There is also an additional 10% target specifically for the transport sector.

The most recent plans presented by EU member states last year, reveal that biofuels will make up over 90% of these targets.

But here lies the problem, the EU’s thirst for biofuels, driven by targets agreed under the Renewable Energy Directive, is having massive impacts across Africa.

EU countries, without enough free land available at home to meet demand boosted by the targets, are buying biofuels grown abroad and shipping them back to Europe to fuel their cars and trucks.

There are clear advantages for the EU in implementing such a policy. The EU diversifies its energy supply, European companies make a healthy profit, and the ‘green’ industry booms. Well, good as this may sound, biofuels are not proving to be the wonder fuel they are marketed as. And many people across Africa are losing out as increased demand for biofuels linked to the EU targets, attract companies keen to cash in on the biofuels boom.

You see, over 20,000 people live in the Dakatcha Woodlands – in one of the poorest parts of Kenya – and their homes and land are at risk because an Italian company wants to use the woodlands for a jatropha biofuels plantation.

This community has lived in the woodland for over 100 years and many of the people have family members buried on the land. They rely on the woodlands to provide them with food and medicine, but all this stands to change if the plans are approved.

This will all change if the project is allowed to go ahead, with the land needing to be cleared to plant the biofuels crop and drinking water used by the community being diverted to irrigate the jatropha crop.

The community says that they have not been consulted or offered compensation, but will be forced to move if the plans already approved by the local government are given the go ahead by the national government. Most of these people will have never been in a car before, let alone to Europe. So why should they have to pay the price for the EU’s bad policies?

Biofuels are far from the miracle climate cure we’re being led to believe. Across Africa large areas of land are being grabbed up to grow biofuels. So more and more poor farmers like those living in the Dakatcha Woodland risk losing the land that they use to grow their own food, to meet the EU’s energy needs.

Hunger in Kenya is a big problem, with the number of hungry people now topping 11 million – over a quarter of the population. And this number will only increase if smallscale farmers are forced to give up their land to companies growing fuel. The way to stop this is to invest in agriculture, so these people can grow their way out of hunger, not invest in projects where the fuel and profits will be sent abroad.

EU decision-makers cannot continue to deny that they have got the policy wrong. Fuel for European cars must never be allowed to take priority over food for poor communities around the world – many of which already live below the poverty line.

While the community struggles on with attempts to have the plantation stopped, the EU and its member states are refusing to acknowledge the growing evidence against industrial biofuels.

EU demand for biofuels is causing land grabs across Africa – the policy needs to be changed.

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