The Bio Energy Experts

Report says EU biofuel demand fuelling land grab in Africa

November 18, 2010

This report by Friends of the Earth highlights the very real issues faced by companies developing food or fuel supply chains internationally. In our experience, business takes these matters seriously and is seeking to invest in developing supply chains that add value to local communities and protect local ecosystems. They aim to do this while delivering lower carbon energy sources than the fossil energy they replace. FiveBarGate has direct experience of working with a number of companies in Africa. FiveBarGate’s role in developing the business plans has been to advise on carbon and sustainability matters and help develop integrated supply chain solutions to assure product provenance and social well-being. Our advisory input is based on many years involvement with developing sustainability standards, including the original RTFO meta-standard.

While the report does raise concerns, there is very little useful direct evidence. There are a series of charts and tables but no direct links between these data sources and evidence of malpractice. The authors refer to all cases of use of land for new fuels as “land-grabbing”. Our experience is that use of land has been negotiated with the appropriate local governance systems, including formal governments, tribal systems and religious leaders as appropriate. Therefore the term “land-grab” seems to be intended to be an emotive public relations device, which in itself undermines the intent of the report. In contrast, FiveBarGate has seen a range of solutions, including purchase and farmer growing contracts. A number of these have been subject to third party independent audit of their documentation, which has found no or minor issues when benchmarking against the RTFO meta-standard. Where issues have been found, senior management has immediately put in place remedial actions, for example to invest in local water supply projects. We have not seen cases where land has been grabbed without involvement and agreement of the local community.

The report refers to a number of articles that have since been shown to be unsafe. There are a range of contradictory references that could be applied to demonstrate how insecure the reports direct findings are. For example, the suggested link between biofuels and food price rises and the notion that these crops won’t deliver green house gas savings.

Therefore, while the report is useful in developing the debate on what standards may be appropriate, it is difficult to support anything other than the general recommendations about how to implement these standards. The proposal for full, transparent Environmental and Social Impact assessments and the need to ensure value returns to the local community are very clearly proposals that industry and the international community should support.

If you would like to understand more about these matters as they relate to your business in bio-energy to benefit from our direct experience, then please contact us.