Food Security Threatened in Ghana – Land grabs for biofuel and governments’ neglect to blame

AboutIn 2010 FSG reported on a report, compiled by international environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE), that says that the amount of land being taken in Africa to feed Europe’s increasing demand for biofuels is “underestimated and out of control.”

During the 2007-08 and now amidst the 2010-11 food crisis International Agencies are issuing warnings that government policies, including that on biofuels, need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

In March this year the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO ) warned that climate change bringing floods and drought, growing biofuel demand and national policies to protect domestic markets could drive up global food prices and threaten long-term food security.

A well researched report by Lord Aikins Adusei in December 2010 titled “Land: The New International Strategic Asset. How Africa is losing big time” highlighted shocking truths about land grabs in Africa and in Ghana that are threatening food security in Ghana.

Biofuel Policy in Ghana

The truth is that there is no official biofuel policy in Ghana.

In October 2009 FoodSPAN argued that creating a comprehensive national policy on Biofuel production is vital if Ghana is to maintain control of its resources in the face of economically dominant foreign interests.

Biofuel Developments And Land Grab in Ghana

An area of arable land the size of Denmark – around five million hectares – has been acquired by foreign companies to produce biofuels, mainly for the European market, the FoE report says.

The FoE warns that even more land will be required for biofuels if the European Union is to reach its target of 10 percent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020.

According to the report “land grabs” – where land traditionally used by local communities is leased or sold to outside investors (from corporations and from governments) are becoming increasingly common across Africa. Whilst many of these deals are for food cultivation, there is a growing interest in growing crops for fuel – agrofuels – particularly to supply the growing EU market.

In Ghana, development agencies have reported that the spread of jatropha is pushing small farmers, and particularly women farmers off their land. Valuable food sources such as shea nut and dawadawa trees have been cleared to make way for plantations. Some 50 per cent of the Ghanaian population work on the land, mostly growing food for local consumption.

A total of 769,000 ha has been acquired by foreign companies such as Agroils (Italy), Galten Global Alternative Energy  (Israel),  Gold Star Farms (Ghana), Jatropha Africa  (UK/Ghan), Biofuel Africa (Norway), ScanFuel (Norway) and Kimminic Corporation (Canada). According to the CIA World Fact Book Ghana has 3.99 million ha arable land with 2.075 million ha under permanent crops. This means that more than 37 percent of Ghana’s cropland has been grabbed for the plantation of jatropha.

Farmers have found that the much vaunted wonder crop jatropha, rather than bringing a guaranteed income, in fact takes valuable water resources and needs expensive pesticides. In some cases, food crops have been cleared to plant jatropha, leaving farmers with no income and no source of food.

This situation was reported as far back as May 2009 by one Emmanuel K. Dogbevi where he posed the question “Any lessons for Ghana in India’s jatropha failure?”

Jatropha is seen as a particularly suitable crop for agrofuel production because unlike other feedstocks, it is not a food source. Promoters argue that it does not therefore compete with food or contribute to food shortages. It can also grow on marginal land in relatively dry areas, making it suitable for drought-prone regions.

In 2006 D1 Oil from the UK said that it aimed to produce 2.7 tonnes of oil per hectare from areas planted with its new E1 variety, and 1.7 tonnes of oil from normal seed. That is equivalent to about 8 tonnes and 5 tonnes of seed per hectare respectively, or 3.5kg and 2kg a plant.

Reports from India, however, indicate that yields of 1kg per plant have been difficult to achieve.  Food Security Ghana is yet to hear of any commercially viable biofuel production from Jatropha, and it looks more and more as though the jatropha frenzy is a big bubble waiting to burst.

Only this month a new revelation was made by Emmanuel K. Dogbevi when he reported that a new study says biofuels from the non-food plant, Jatropha are dangerous to the environment. These fuels seen as an alternative energy source, according to the study by three groups, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ActionAid and Nature Kenya, could cause up to six times more carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

The FoE report is indeed  alarming if one considers that Ghana has allowed this massive land grab to take place in the absence of a biofuel policy and with no environmental impact studies undertaken – on the possible negative effects on both natural resources and on the communities – of huge jatropha plantations.

The report further states that proponents of agrofuels generally argue that agrofuel production will address the economic crisis facing many developing countries; they will create wealth and jobs and alleviate poverty.

According to the Foe these arguments overlook the other side of the story and leave many questions unanswered.

•    Is the push for agrofuel production in the interest of the developing countries or are the real beneficiaries Northern industrialised countries?
•    Will the production of agrofuels actually provide more jobs and enhance economic development at the community level?
•    Will it address the issue of food insecurity plaguing the developing world?
•    What are the social and environmental costs of agrofuel production to host communities?
•    Who stands to benefit from the entire process?

The FoE concludes its report with the following:

“Hunger for foreign investment and economic development is driving a number of African countries to welcome agrofuel developers onto their land. Most of these developers are European companies, looking to grow agrofuel crops to meet EU targets for agrofuel use in transport fuel.

Demand for agrofuels threatens food supplies away from consumers for fuel in the case of crops such as cassava, peanuts, sweet sorghum and maize.

Non-edible agrofuel crops such as jatropha are competing directly with food crops for fertile land. The result threatens food supplies in poor communities and pushes up the cost of available food.

Farmers who switch to agrofuel crops run the risk of being unable to feed their families.

While foreign companies pay lip service to the need for “sustainable development”, agrofuel production and demand for land is resulting in the loss of pasture and forests, destroying natural habitat and probably causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Agrofuel production is also draining water from parts of the continent where drought is already a problem.

While politicians promise that agrofuels will bring locally sourced energy supplies to their countries, the reality is that most of the foreign companies are developing agrofuels to sell on the international market.

Just as African economies have seen fossil fuels and other natural resources exploited for the benefit of other countries, there is a risk that agrofuels will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies. Countries will be left with depleted soils, rivers that have been drained and forests that have been destroyed.”

Government Accountability

In the light of the above it is time that the consecutive NPP and NDC governments in Ghana are brought to book about the “criminal” neglect for allowing this shocking state of affairs.

While the NPP government allowed the land grab to happen and even openly supported it, the NDC government neglected to play its watchdog role in this regard.

In 2010 the Minister of Food and Agriculture Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi made a presentation in the UK on potential investments in agriculture in Ghana. Part of the presentation “proudly” stated that over twenty foreign countries have “invested” in jatropha based biofuel production in Ghana, and by implication invited more investment.

While short term policy measures to help Ghanaians, such as reduction of import duties on basic foodstuff such as rice, is ignored, the government is by its neglect threatening longer term food security by dragging its feed on a biofuel policy and by allowing the criminal land grab in Ghana to continue.

Food Security Ghana
March 2011
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