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Global Food Crisis, Biofuels and Land Grabs in Ghana

Thu, 21 Apr 2011 Source: Food Security Ghana

How consecutive governments have allowed and fuelled the rape of Ghanaians

The time has never been riper for the people of Ghana to speak out about the terrible negligence of consecutive governments who have allowed horrendous land grabs by foreign nationals for the production of questionable biofuels from jatropha while the world is facing a crisis of enormous proportions.

Global Food Crisis There is little doubt that the world, and Ghana for that matter, is facing one of mankind¹s biggest challenges ever ­ a food crisis that is driving millions of people deeper into poverty by the day.

Only this week World Bank President Robert Zoellick (as reported by Bloomberg) said the global economy is ³one shock away² from a crisis in food supplies and prices. According to him an estimated 44 million people have fallen into poverty due to rising food prices in the past year, and a 10 percent increase in the food price index would send 10 million more people into poverty. The United Nations FAO Food Price index jumped 25 percent last year, the second-steepest increase since at least 1991, and surged to a record in February.

As this article is being written the United Nation¹s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that there are a total of 925 million people who were undernourished in 2010 compared with 1.023 billion in 2009. That is higher than before the food and economic crises of 2008-2009 and higher than the level that existed when world leaders agreed to reduce the number of hungry by half at the World Food Summit in 1996.

The new food crisis of 2010-2011 has also fueled the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Numerous factors have led to the protests, including dictatorship, human rights violations, Wikileaks cables which demonstrated government corruption, unemployment, and extreme poverty, coupled with a large percentage of youth within the population.

Increasing food prices and rates of famine globally have also been a major reason, involving threats to food security worldwide and prices approaching and even exceeding levels seen during the 2007­2008 world food price crisis.

Reuters reported on protests in Uganda as recently as last week because of poverty and high food prices. Analysts believe that these protests are likely to spread to other African countries.

The fact is that the world is facing a food crisis or enormous proportions.

Biofuel and Land Grabs in Ghana The Australian recently reported that among the many causes of high food prices are rules in countries, such as the United States, that require a certain percentage of petrol to come from corn-based ethanol. According to the paper some 31 per cent of the corn produced in the US in 2008 was turned into ethanol, and government forecasts show that this will hit 40 per cent this year. Biofuels have been a cornerstone of American attempts to reduce its dependency on imports of oil from the Middle East and elsewhere. Hassan Zaman, a World Bank economist, only this week said that although the Bank was not advocating the abolition of these laws, it believes that they should be relaxed when food prices surge beyond certain thresholds.

In a previous release by Food Security Ghana (FSG) we referred to a statement by Professor Southgate of Ohio State University who said that governments¹ responses such as coddling of biofuels development have made the food crisis worse. He added that. ³Meddling by politicians makes food more expensive for millions of the world¹s hungry. It is a wholly preventable tragedy. That is just unacceptable.² The debate on using food for fuel has been raging for many years, and will continue to rage as long as nearly a billion people are undernourished.

This debate, however, takes a nasty turn when it comes to Africa and other developing countries - including Ghana - where vast lands are acquired by foreign internationals for the production of questionable biofuels.

The rape of Africa has been reported from time to time, with the most in-depth reporting done by the Friends of the Earth (FOE) in a report titled ³Africa: Up for grabs. The scale and impact of land grabs for agrofuels.²

The following excerpts from the report best describes the horrendous situation:

³Studies suggest that a third of the land sold oracquired in Africa is intended for fuel crops - some 5 million hectares.

Concerns about the social and environmental impacts have caused a backlash in a number of countries such as in Tanzania and Swaziland. Some companies have also withdrawn their investments.

But elsewhere, and in Ghana particularly, the enthusiasm for agrofuels continues unchecked.

Just as African countries have seen fossil fuels and other natural resources exploited for the benefit of richer countries, there is a risk that agrofuels, and with them, Africa¹s agricultural land and natural resources, will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies.²

In Ghana the NPP government jumped onto the jatropha bandwagon and allowed approximately 37% of Ghana¹s arable land to be grabbed by foreign internationals, leading to unchecked pushing of small farmers, and particularly women farmers, off their land. Valuable food sources such as shea nut and dawadawa trees have also been cleared to make way for jatropha plantations.

The truth about jatropha, the so-called ³wonder plant², still need to be told. Advocates of using jatropha to produce biofuels, claim that it can not only grow on marginal land but that it does not compromise food security as it is in fact a poisonous plant.

To date FSG¹s research to find any commercially viable biofuel production plant fed by jatropha seeds have proved fruitless. It seems more and more that the industry is built on the selling of seeds for the creation of more plantations, without any real scope for the production of biofuels.

Thie jatropha mirage looks like a bubble that will soon burst leaving millions of hectares occupied by a poisonous plant making neither a contribution towards food security nor a contribution towards energy security? Government Accountability While the NPP led government allowed and in fact promoted this massive rape of Ghana¹s fertile lands, the opposition and specially the Parliament of Ghana kept quiet.

While all this was going on there was (and still is) no biofuel policy and no demands were made by governments that economic feasibility and environmental impact studies should be undertaken prior to commencement of the land grabs.

The NDC government in fact invited more people to come to Ghana to grab land and ³invest² in highly questionable biofuel projects. This is clear from a presentation done by Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi, Minister in charge of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) in 2010 in London when he highlighted agricultural investment opportunities in Ghana. One of the slides proudly indicated that at least 20 foreign nationals have already grabbed land and that more are welcome to perpetuate the rape.

In late 2010 Mr. Ahwoi went further and invited foreign investors to ³invest² in the production of biofuel from cassava as Ghana has ³vast land available². Not long ago his Deputy Minister contradicted him by saying that Ghana¹s available land for food production was being depleted.

In the light of the rape of Ghana and its people amidst a global food crisis where nearly a billion people are undernourished Ghanaians should demand answers from both the previous and current government.

Some answers that should be asked are:

Why did the governments allow these massive land grabs without requesting both economic feasibility and environmental impact studies? Why was this rape allowed without the existence of a biofuel policy? Why have none of the oppositions spoken out while this rape is continuing unchecked from 2001 to 2011?

The time has come for so-called democratic governments and their opposition to account to the people and to future generations for their neglect and silence on issues such as the rape of Ghana through land grabs for questionable biofuel programmes while people are hungry and undernourished.

Food Security Ghana April 2011

Columnist: Food Security Ghana