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Why bluffs judgment on land-grabbing?

Author: Kjell Andersson, Swedish Bioenergy Association
A recent British report from the well established organization ODI  (Overseas Development Institute) shows that there is hardly any land-grabbing linked to biofuel production in Africa. We’re going to Zambia as an example.

The concept of land-grabbing got a foothold in the debate for a couple of years ago, and quickly became one of the criticisms of biofuels. A number of organizations and researchers spread figures that millions of hectares, mainly in Africa, was being taken from the local peasants for large-scale biofuel projects. As most have stated that 50 million hectares would be under threat of land-grabbing for biofuels in Africa – an area the size of Sweden or Spain.

But is it true? Is there a reality behind these numbers?
I myself was in Zambia last winter and talked to people in the sector, including in the Zambian Bioenergy Association and Zambian Biofuels Association.

The picture I got was that there was hardly any biofuel projects in the country. There are a couple of sugar cane companies, which makes sugar, but none of them have so far begun to make ethanol – although it would be desirable as Zambia imports all gasoline.There are some small-scale cultivation of jatropha and sunflower, but the small private companies that work with biodiesel and bio told that it is hard to get the domestic raw materials.

In the north there is a domestic private projects where you plant some oil palms on land you already own locally. That is all. The problem that all emphasize is that there is too little, no one wants to invest. It is partly due to the government so far subsidized petrol and diesel. It should now change to. But still it is difficult to achieve profitability for biofuels projects.

The thing is that there are millions of hectares of unused arable land in areas where there is enough rain.

Alarming report from ActionAId
Then came a thundering report by ActionAid in the spring. It warns that miljontalts hectares switched from food production to energy crops for biofuels. It calls on the British government to dismantle the policies “that removes the food for the poorest of the poor” that reduce the subsidies for biofuels.

ActionAid refers to a proprietary database that shows how large areas involved in various developing countries. The report which was published on ActionAid’s website in April 2013 is a list of the most affected countries in Africa, and Zambia are in second place, with 570,900 hectares of “land investment for biofuels.”

Several agencies and organizations have recently begun calling the allegations of land-grabbing and check the reality behind the numbers. British ODI (Overseas Development Institute) has conducted its own study, supported by UK Aid (Britain’s equivalent of the page). We have studied five countries, including Zambia, and compared the alleged figures with reality. For Zambia it has been noted that three different databases reporting rates 243,000 to 676,000 hectares of “affected land settlements for biofuel production.”

ODI notes big errors in other organizations databases

ODI has been using a wide range of sources and contacts in Zambia mapped position in the country today. The picture that emerges fit squarely with the picture I got myself into position. There are 3,925 hectares of cultivation of jatropha. Point. A few years ago, growing seven times as large, but several companies have pulled out. There remained Khanshansi Mining, a mining company that produces biodiesel for their own use, and a small company called Southern Biopower.

There is no land-grabbing in Zambia. There are no threatened 570,900 hectares.

The problem is rather that it is not made any investments in the cultivation of biocrops and biofuel production. ActionAid would have been able to get real facts about the situation in Zambia if they had turned to the people of Zambia and asked instead to rely on anonymous databases compiled by researchers who apparently had not been in place. One could, for example, have spoken with Professor Thomson Sinkala on Zambian Biofuels Association. I met him in Stockholm in May and he just shook his head when I mentioned ActionAid’s figure.

I have not seen  ActionAid, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and the vast array of scientific institutes spread the inflated figures comment  ODI’s report. The report is not just about Zambia. They have found the same discrepancies in all the countries it studied (alongside Zambia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Indonesia). Nothing of what is written in the so-called facts databases with reality.

The question is: are bluffing they consciously inflated figures? And, they will correct their reports and websites, or stick to their erroneous figures?

Read ODI’s report here.