EU Observer | 09.09.2010
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The World Bank has said that EU and US biofuels policies have resulted in a rush for land in African and other developing regions of the world, pushing out areas that have been used for food.
In a 164-page report that actually endorses the practice of the sale of vast tracts of agricultural land to foreign buyers, the global lender nevertheless frets over the fall-out of northern legislation that makes investors view every farm, jungle and meadow in the third world the same way they view an oil field.
"Biofuel mandates may have large indirect effects on land use change, particularly converting pasture and forest land," the report says.
"Rising energy prices and public subsidies and mandates, with second generation biofuels still at least a decade away, led to rapid increases in the demand for biofuel feedstock."
The report notes that the shift began in 2003 as countries first began to develop biofuels policies. By 2008, the total area under biofuel crop cultivation was estimated to be 36 million hectares, more than twice the 2004 level, with 8.3 million hectares in the EU, 7.5 million in the US and 6.4 million in Latin America.
"Experts have long been concerned that by affecting prices, biofuel mandates will have sizable impacts on land use far beyond the countries where they operate," reads the document.
The report chimes with research done by environmental group Friends of the Earth, which released its own document last week that said that some 5 million hectares of land across 11 African countries, an area as big as Denmark, is in the process of being acquired for biofuels development.
Mariann Bassey, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth Nigeria said in response to the World Bank conclusions: "This demand [for biofuels] is transforming our natural resources into fuel crops, taking away food-growing farmland, and creating conflicts with local people over land ownership."
"We are suffering just so that Europe and developed nations can fuel their cars and lorries."
The World Bank report says the number of reported large-scale farmland deals in total, not just from biofuels, amounted to 45 million hectares in 2009 alone, an average expansion rate of 4 million hectares a year in the decade leading up to 2008.
The report, based on data from 14 countries, said that large-scale farmland deals can benefits people in developing countries if the investment leads to greater food productivity.
However, the authors temper this optimistic note by saying great danger lies from the lack of transparency and secretive tactics of buyers and sellers.
"In countries where demand for land has recently risen, limited screening of proposals, lack of due diligence and an air of secrecy has created an environment conducive to weak governance," the report continued."These large land acquisitions can come at a high cost. The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don't ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land," said World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.