Biofuel production pushes farming communities off land – report

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Source: Alertnet // Chelsea Diana

Increased demand for biofuel production has driven farmers and forest communities from Brazil to Indonesia off their land, threatening those people’s wellbeing and food security, a report from GRAIN says.

Research conducted by the Spain-based non-profit, which supports small farmers, found growing need for biofuels has driven about 300 land “grabs” worldwide, forcing forest clearance and draining of wetlands, with Europe at the forefront of the global demand.

In the past decade, 17 million hectares, an area of arable land equal to the size of Germany, were taken from the control of local populations in South America, Africa and Asia, according to the report. Predictions show demand for biofuel reaching 172 billion liters by 2020, which would require an additional 40 million hectares of land to produce, GRAIN said.

“Many of the land grabs for biofuels are targeting countries that are already dealing with serious food insecurity issues,” said Devlin Kuyek, a GRAIN researcher.  “ . . . The conversion of food crops to biofuels and the conversion of lands that are used for food production towards the production of biofuel crops puts pressure on global food supplies.”

Farmers in Sierra Leone, for instance, the report said, lost 10,000 hectares to a bioenergy company in 2012, with the land turned to sugar cane plantations to produce ethanol for Europe. Community members told GRAIN they now must buy rice because they can no longer plant their own, and some people are going hungry.

The renewable energy company leased the land in exchange for giving the farmers on it a small amount of compensation and promising to train them in order to soften impacts from economic displacement, according to an African Development Bank report.

Biofuel companies insist their projects are creating jobs, bringing agricultural investment and helping reduce the use of fossil fuels that drive climate change.


Climate change already underway, however, is expected to accelerate increases in already rising food prices. In particular, the percentage of the world’s farmland affected by drought may rise from about 15 percent to as much as 44 percent by 2100, the report said.



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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.