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Tanzania: Biofuel Project Pushes Villagers Into Hardship

Britain and the EU must start opening its eyes to the damage that its renewable energy policies are doing in poor countries

THE plight of thousands of villagers in Kisarawe District of Coast region whose 8,200 hectares of prime land was taken by British Sun Biofuels has been highlighted by a new ActionAid International report seeking to put pressure on the European Union (EU) to change its Renewable Energy Policy.

The report, “Fuel for Thought,” said the EU policy which targets to increase use of renewable energy in transport to 10 per cent by 2020, has pushed European companies like Sun Biofuels to look for land in Tanzania and other developing countries to cultivate biofuel crops.

Sun Biofuels, Tanzania

“Fuel for Thought highlights that increased demand for biofuels may push global food prices to crisis levels; EU’s biofuels policies alone could push up oilseed prices by up to 33 per cent, maize by up to 22 per cent, sugar by up to 21 per cent and wheat by up to 10 per cent, between now and 2020,” the report stated.

Sun Biofuels which sold the project to another private firm last year after suspending work due to drought that affected jatropha growth, acquired the land in a questionable deal paying thousands of villagers from 11 villages in the district 280m/- against initial promises of paying 800,000 pounds sterling (over 1.6bn/-) in compensation for the 99 year lease.

In September last year, the British firm served its 300 employees with termination letters paying them between 150,000/= and 300,000/= as their terminal benefits.

Mr Lecian Mollel of Land Alliance told Business Standard last week that it’s time for the government to repossess the 8,200 hectares of land and give it back to communities for cultivation of food.

Mr Mollel who visited the project area soon after SBF left last year, said the investor has failed to respect an agreement with villagers which promised that improvement of infrastructure and allow villagers access to vital water sources including rivers and natural springs in the prime virgin land.

“We urge Minister for Lands and Human Settlement Development to give back this land to villagers who were cheated in this agreement because of dishonest district officials,” argued Mr Mollel as Minister for Lands, Professor Anna Tibaijuka advised the villagers to follow proper channels in presenting their grievances.

“Let them follow the procedure and my ministry will ensure that land acquired by investors without following procedures through Tanzania Investment Center (TIC) will be repossessed,” Prof Tibaijuka noted.

“The process of seeking land restitution through the minister is complicated and bureaucratic which no villager can manage to follow,” Mollel argued.

Land Alliance has all along being opposed to foreign companies getting huge tracts of land to invest in biofuel crops cultivation.

Sun Biofuels applied for 20,000 ha of land in the district but only managed to get close to 8,200 ha from 11 villages with a population of over 11,200 people, according to Kisarawe district officials.

The villages which also include Marumbo, Paraka, Kidugalo, Kului, Mtakayo, Vilabwa, Mitengwe, Mzenga ‘A’ and Chakaye, agreed to give the British firm their land in return for several promises.

Initially, district officials had set the compensation mark at 800m/- after an Ardhi University expert evaluation of individual plots but at the end of the compensation process which drew some complaints, less than 300m/- had been paid.

Targeting to supply the European Union market, SBF planned to invest 20 million British pounds by next year to produce jatropha seeds for use as raw materials to manufacture biodiesel.

The EU lured many multinational energy companies such as SBF to invest in renewable energies in developing countries such as Tanzania.

Ms Laura Sullivan, ActionAid’s Head of European Advocacy said: “If it continues to ignore the impacts of its biofuels policy on people living in some of the poorest parts of the planet, the EU will effectively be sponsoring hunger and human rights abuses on a massive scale.”

With an estimated 13-19 million hectares of land outside of Europe needed to meet the EU-wide targets, forced displacements of poor people from their land are set to increase, to grow fuel for the European market, the AAI report noted.

The ActionAid report, launched at a biofuels debate with participants from the European Commission, United Nations, NGOs and business, shows how a series of dodgy deals by European companies have led to mass displacements and rights abuses in countries in Africa and Latin America.

“Europe must start opening its eyes to the damage that its renewable energy policies are doing in poor countries – and has a chance to change them this year,” Ms Sullivan argued.

“Instead of pumping money into this fool’s gold, the EU needs to drop its targets and subsidies, and invest the money in truly sustainable alternatives, that support local farmers to produce food not fuel,” she stressed.

The Renewable Energy Directive requires the European Commission to report this year on the social impacts of its renewable targets for transport – the vast majority of which will be filled by first generation industrial biofuels – and to propose, “corrective action”, where relevant.

ActionAid is calling on the European Commission to investigate the full impacts of the EU’s biofuels policies on human rights in its 2012 review and to drop its 10 per cent target for renewable energy in transport by 2020 of which 88 per cent will come from first generation biofuels.

Tanzania Daily News, 1 May 2012

see also: How a biofuels landgrab has destroyed the life of an African village