Wednesday, September 10, 2008

EU "green" policies uproot poor Africans.

Wealthy European nations are uprooting poor Africans from their homes in order to take the land to grow biofuels. In the name of the “saving the planet” they are once again attacking the poorest of the poor.

Joint deals between African governments and European governments are pushing farmers off their land so that it may be confiscated for biofuel projects. As typical of such arrangement the governments are giving the major biofuel corporations sweetheart deals.

For instance, in Tanzania the government has give the British corporation Sun Biofuels, 22,230 acres of farmland for the next 99 years. In exchange the company is supposed to invest $20 million in local infrastructure. If you are interested that means the “rent” for the land amounts to $9.08 per year per acre!

Der Spiegel reports:
Sun Biofuels is not alone. In fact, half a dozen other companies from the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Germany have already sent their scouts to Tanzania. Prokon, a German company known primarily for its wind turbines, has already begun growing jatropha curcas on a large scale. It expects to have 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) -- an area about the size of Luxembourg -- under cultivation throughout Tanzania soon.

A gold rush mentality has taken hold -- not just in East Africa but across the entire continent. In Ghana, the Norwegian firm Biofuel Africa has secured farming rights for 38,000 hectares (93,860 acres), and Sun Biofuels is also doing business in Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Kavango BioEnergy, a British company, plans to invest millions of euros in northern Namibia. Western companies are turning up in Malawi and Zambia, where they plan to produce diesel fuel and ethanol from jatropha curcas, palm oil or sugar cane. Foreign investors have their eye on 11 million hectares (27 million acres) in Mozambique -- more than one-seventh of the country's total area -- for growing energy plants. The government in Ethiopia has even made 24 million hectares (59 million acres) available.

All this is to produce fuels which are so cost-ineffective that they require subsidies to exist. Governments in the West are taking the hard-earned income of working people in order to transfer it to wealthy corporate interests who are working with “enviro friendly” politicians. Those corporations then use a small amount of that subsidize to steal the land of poor people in Africa in order to grow more crops for bio fuels.

This alliance of corporate interests, Western politicians and corrupt African governments pay no attention to what their policies to do poor people. Der Spiegel says: “In none of these places are the needs of local residents taken into account.” In one rural area of Tanzania “thousands of residents are being forced to move to make way for the Swedish company Sekab’s plans to grow sugarcane, a highly water-intensive crop, on at least 9,000 hectares (22,230 acres) and then distill it into ethanol.” According to the report the residents have received no compensation and were told they will “get what you are entitled to” but no information is available. I suggest, based on my experiences living in Africa, that the residents will get nothing.

As land is gobbled up by the corporate/government alliances of the West less land will be available for the production of food for local consumption. This means the poor in Africa are getting shafted by Western politicians twice. First, the entire subsidy program on biofuels has forced up food prices dramatically. The World Bank says this subsidy program “to save the planet” is responsible for 75% of the increase in food costs in recent years. So the subsidies are forcing up food prices everywhere, including Africa. Secondly, the subsidies are being used to steal land from peasant farmers in Africa thus depriving them of their ability to feed themselves.

So the poor in Africa get hit first with higher food prices on the world market and then they get hit again as their own farming land is stolen to be given to wealthy, politically-connected Western corporations.

Please note that Left-wing parties are supportive of these programs. Once again the Left-wing agenda is easily subverted to serve the bottom line of corporate interests. The Left just never learns that state power is rarely used for the poor but almost always ends up in the hands of the rich and powerful. The expansion of state powers is precisely what corporations need -- not laissez faire markets. If the Left wanted to strip corporations of their ability to do harm, such as what is now being down in Africa, then they should cut the regulations, cut the subsidies and put the corporations in a competitive marketplace.

In a competitive marketplace these wealth “ethanol” corporations are unlikely to exist. They are politically created monsters and, while they hurt everyone, they harm the poorest, most vulnerable people the most. And they do so with the complicit assistance of the political Left. Historically the Left has to realize that by relying on state power to accomplish worthy goals they far too often end up stealing from the poor in order to give to the rich.

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