Biofuel demand is driving a new "land grab" in Africa, which will involve clearing forests and vegetation, taking land that could be used for food and creating conflicts with local communities, Friends of the Earth said in a study.
The contracts by European and Asian companies for land to grow sugar cane, jatropha and palm oil to be turned into fuel will involve clearing forests and vegetation, taking land that could be used for food and creating conflicts with local communities, Friends of the Earth said in the study.
Proponents of biofuels argue they are renewable and can help fight climate change because the growing plants ingest as much carbon dioxide from the air as the fuels made from them emit when burned.
Critics say there is a risk of the crops infringing on land that could be used for growing food and that destruction of rainforests to make way for palm oil and sugar outweighs any carbon benefits gained from the use of such fuels.
"They are all promising that they deliver jobs, they're gonne get rid of poverty, it's gonne be great for the people in Africa. But our evidence, our report actually shows the opposite. What we are seeing here is that land is being grabbed, the communities are not involved, people are loosing their land. This is land that should be used to grow food for themselves and not fuel for cars and lorries in Europe," said Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth.
The report said Kenya and Angola each had received proposals for the use of 500,000 hectares for biofuels and there was a similar plan to use 400,000 hectares in Benin for palm oil. Rice farmers had been forced off their land for a sugar cane project in Tanzania, it added.
The study said that the "competition for staple food crops such as cassava and sweet sorghum" for agrofuels is likely to push up food and land prices.
Bebb wants Europe to rethink its biofuel policy. "It has invest in much cleaner cars, much better public transport, much better ways to avoid the need to travel."
The climate crisis, he says, demands strong solutions. "And just developing biofuels and hoping that the problem will go away is just a shift in the problem to Africa and it's gonne cause big food insecurity issues and land conflicts which our research is showing today."
Other studies have suggested biofuel expansion would not be harmful and could even be beneficial for African agriculture. Last month, researchers from Britain's Imperial College, carbon trader CAMCO, and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) said biofuels would boost investment in land and infrastructure.
They said this could have a positive effect on food production, and if properly managed would not mean destroying natural forests.
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