When Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and other Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries heard about the much-marketed biofuel in the early 2000s the governments in the region started inviting foreign companies to invest in different crops such as jatropha, sugar cane, maize and cassava to produce biofuel.
Increasing in biofuel markets follows a shift of energy demand for running machines from fossil fuel to bio energy in Developed countries, which in turn has accelerated an influx of investors from the Europe, Asia and the United States in search of land for productive and fertile lands.
Proponents of the biofuel investments in the SADC region say the investment will improve among other things, agricultural production, add value to local products and markets and improve social services such as roads infrastructures, health facilities, clean water supply and improve education.
In Mozambique, for example, there are some investors in biofuel; one of them is Altie Steenkamp, proprietor of Mozambique Biofuel Industries (MBFI) who decided to run his project at Mocuba district, Zambezia province, some 1800 kilometers from Maputo City.
Steenkamp’s project which is still under construction is designed to produce bio diesel and ethanol fuels from cultivation of Jatropha and Cassava.
According to the investor, it is a project where the private sector will take hands with global partners to create a permanent solution to reduce abject poverty, improve education, train staff, empower communities and restore human dignity in Mozambique.
The MBFI proprietor says local communities would also benefit from selling their maize at his venture and become shareholders by forming small Associations.
He says he want to see not only local people involved in production but also employed. Apart from other benefits, he is expected to employ between two to three hundred local communities.
Not all investors are serious enough, committed and determined to this course. Others are well determined and they have done wonderful but others have ended up disappointing local communities and compromising food security in the region.
Forexample, the same promises given by Altie Steenkamp, proprietor of Mozambique Biofuel Industries (MBFI), are made by biofuel investors in Tanzania today and many other SADC countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe and already respective district authorities and investment promotional institutions or centres are struggling to attract biofuel investors to enhance development in their respective areas.
However, in the wake of such promises, many governments in the region forget that land laws and policies in their respective countries are not strong enough to grantee fast development as been promised by the investors.
In the region today especially in trans-boundary resources, a number of investors have already acquired big chunks of lands for biofuel investments and the villagers have been evacuated to leave space for quick development but there is very little evidence to prove their level of development in terms of social services or food sustainability among the local communities.
Contrary to the expectations, as more and more fertile lands and Rivers are increasingly becoming into the hands of few investors, some villagers have started experiencing food shortage, a situation which was not there before due to failure by the investors to fulfill their promises.
In Tanzania for example, most of biofuel investors in Kisarawe and Rufiji districts in coast region have proved failure and their promises such as individual and village compensation, improved infrastructures, reducing poverty and empowering local communities have all remained a myth.
Until 2008, a total of 37 foreign companies out of which five are joint ventures had already acquired fertile lands for the same purpose and within this very short time of their operations, there are already number of cases where the investors have closed up their projects leaving behind locals without lands for cultivation. A good example is African Green Oils of Rufiji district and Coast region and SAP Agricultural Limited.
Others have sold their shares to foreign companies and retrenched workers. There is also several land conflicts at the moment in Tanzania due to the fact that when the investor controls land, he indirectly controls water sources and other biodiversity which also supports surrounding local communities.
Advocate Harold Sungusia of Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) says failure by respective governments to create an equitable balance between people’s interests’ vis-à-vis investors’ interests manifests itself into exclusion of public from decision making, unfair and inadequate compensation, low level of public knowledge on land issues and contracts and deliberate violation of the laws that safeguard land rights among many others.
At a regional workshop on biofuel organized by World Wild Fund (WWF) held recently in Mocuba, Zambezia province, in Mozambique, it was revealed that some countries in the region where such investments have taken place, have already started experiencing environmental, economic and social risks due to poor coordination of biofuels activities among government institutions and absence of a legislative framework to govern biofuels investment activities.
Head of Tanzania delegation to the workshop who is also programme Officer for Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (HAKIARDHI), Godfrey Elisius Massay said that the region’s land tenure system is currently granting a warm welcome to foreign investments companies in biofuel sector at the expense of poor local communities who have little knowledge on the investment.
Citing an example of Tanzania, he said the role of state machinery such as laws, institutions, resources have changed from protecting majority small producers interests as in 1970 and 80’s to facilitation of the few elite and foreign companies to acquire land from communities.
He said potential land for food production such as Rufiji, Rukwa, Mbarali, Wami and Kisarawe districts have been identified and or allocated to biofuels companies.
He explained that 4.5million hectares of land requested by biofuels investors out of Which 641,179 hectors have already been allocated to investors, and processes are going on.
“Apart from loss of livelihoods, and biodiversity, there is displacement of local communities around 10,000 in Kisarawe for jatropha farm, 1,000 rice farmers in Wami area,1,000 rice farmers in Ruipa village, 1,500 rice growers in Mbarali, 5,000 villagers in Namwawala Kilombero” he said.
Presenting a paper on behalf of Miombo eco-region team that comprises countries of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the team leader Enos Shumba from Zimbabwe warned that without responsible investments through sound policy instruments, the opening up of new land or crop substitution for biofuel will lead to massive bio-diversity loss and displacements.
Citing Malawi as an example, he said, despite of having foreign investments in biofuel, the country’s National Development Strategy for 2006-2011 has no provision or strategies for bio-fuels sector and the process to develop the policy and strategy is underway.
Commenting about Zambia, he said although there is revised national energy policy that recognizes the potential of renewable energy sources in the country’s energy balance, there is no bio-fuel specific policy or strategy yet in place.
“In Zimbabwe, principles of bio-fuels development were adopted in 2007. World Wild Fund and environment Africa are now facilitating development of national policy and strategy” he said.
A senior lecturer of University of Dar es Salaam, Dr. Ngwanza Kamata says that the investors have both positive and negative impacts to the nations and local communities.
However, he says, experience shows that negative impacts outweighs positive ones because sometimes foreign investments in biofuel are not sustainable and the nature of their investments have very devastating effects on local production especially soil fertility, something which, if not well managed can trigger food insecurity and dependence.
Citing an example of Tanzania, the lecturer said due to weak land laws and policies, the investors are facilitated such that they become part of the decision making bodies during land acquisition process for their interests.
“In Tanzania from 2001 to date, the land laws have been changed eight times, for whose interest? He observes that the pressure must have been coming from donors” He says.
He suggests that apart from creating awareness among the villagers and the general public at large, there is a need to invest in small scale producers by empowering them because despite their small production unit, it is the ones who have been feeding the nations since independence.
If land laws and policies are left unchecked, there is a dangerous of creating, vagabonds and criminals in big cities such as Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Harare, Maputo, Harare, Kinshasa etc. due to influx of people whose farms would be taken away or grabbed by investors.
Their only option would be to rush to urban areas and big cities to find employment, a thing which may end up worsening the current unemployment situation and compromising food security in the SADC region.
So to say, unless land laws and policies are changed and respective governments in the SADC region creates an equitable balance between people’s interests’ vis-à-vis investors’ interests, most investments will end up manifesting into exclusion of public from decision making, unfair and inadequate compensation, low level of public knowledge on land issues, ghost contracts and deliberate violation of the laws that safeguard land rights among ordinary citizens.