Picture essay: The terrible legacy of biofuels
As the Rio+20 earth summit gets underway, the world is looking for a magic solution to our environmental problems and to meanwhile reduce poverty – but it won’t be biofuels.
Once, biofuels were seen as a miraculous, sustainable solution to climate change. But growing evidence shows that the EU’s insatiable demand for biofuels to run their cars has led to increased greenhouse gas emissions, rising world food prices, increasing hunger and ruined lives.
As foreign-owned biofuel plantations multiply, more poor people are being pushed off land they have farmed sustainably for years. 8000 hectares of common land has been taken from a community in the Kisarawe region of Tanzania.
A saga of landgrabbing and lost livelihoods is being replicated across Africa and elsewhere in the false name of ‘sustainable’ energy.
ActionAid is working with affected communities to help them assert their rights and is calling for support for biofuels to end at Rio+20.
A biofuels company has acquired 8000 hectares of the villagers land in Kisarawe. The land has been converted into a plantation to grow an inedible crop called jatropha which was to be turned into fuel for the European market. ActionAid will tell Rio+20 that biofuels are not a sustainable ‘magic bullet’.
The oil from this Jatropha plant will be refined to produce biodiesel, either for vehicles, as an aviation fuel or to be burnt in power stations. It will be sold in ready markets, like Europe. Biofuels used to be considered an answer to climate change. But evidence shows that most biofuels increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Halima Ali from Mhaga village says: “Our income comes from farming. We have been stopped from going to the land now, from harvesting it. I also get something small from my tailoring business. Few shillings, praise to God.”
The old water sources became out-of-bounds to the communities, and the only accessible well was 4.5 km from Halima’s village. “During dry seasons we get water from our neighbouring community and we walk for almost 4 hours,” she said.
Grandmother Halima Weli lives with her husband, daughter and three of her grandchildren. “We can only say that they want to benefit themselves. When the white man took away the land it has affected all those who were living in that land in a way or another”.