Monday, November 3, 2008

Bio-fuels production dominates Africa's arable land

COTONOU: With the global demand for the production of bio-fuels growing, Africa's arable land once used for food production is increasingly being used to grow crops for the cleaner more sustainable alternative to oil.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe has highlighted this issue while addressing African leaders at the 1st Extraordinary Summit of the African Peer Review (APR) Forum in Benin over the weekend.

The land question, he said, resonates across the continent because it represents a harsh manifestation of the colonial legacy and the gross historical injustices that shape land ownership patterns in Africa today.

"I wish to reflect briefly on a new challenge looming for Africa today: the clamour for land to grow crops for bio-fuels.

"The high and increasing demand for bio-fuels, fuelled by high crude oil prices, legislation and incentives obtaining in many of the major grain producing countries, may result in less land available for food production as farmers are enticed to switch to bio-fuel crops.

"Multinationals have moved into parts of the continent, buying large tracks of land, establishing plantations and factories for the production of bio-fuels," the President said.

President Motlanthe explained that he raised the issue not because he opposed the production of bio-fuels, but rather because he wanted to emphasise that projects to supply such production should be located within a broader land reform strategy.

The land reform strategies also needed to be developed and driven by African governments and peoples themselves, he said.

"It is important that African governments give due attention to this matter, given that the land question underlines whatever policy thrusts we conceive for economic growth and sustainable development of our continent," the President explained.

The social unrest caused by a dissatisfied people who were dispossessed of their land as a result of colonisation, as well as the unreliability of global food markets and food inflation, should impel African countries to prioritise the issue.

Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, the scramble for land for bio-fuels crop production is taking place in partnership with sections of African interests, promoted as foreign direct investment (FDI), foreign aid, and bringing job creation opportunities.

The problem with this situation, he said, was that the potential for cleaner energy was being put before considerations of wide spread hunger and opportunities that could derive from utilisation of land for other productive purposes.

"Land ownership and land reform are, for good reason both contentious and emotive, throughout the African landscape.

"The foregoing challenges have contributed to the underdevelopment of the continent which remains largely reliant on rain-fed agriculture and other land-based resources," the president said.

What is necessary to deal with the issue is a holistic approach involving scientists, agriculturalists, health workers, social workers, planners, civil society organisations, and international partners," Motlanthe highlighted.

Article published courtesy of BuaNews [28 Oct 2008]