Biofuels, Land Grabbing and Food Security in Africa

Biofuels, Land Grabbing and Food Security in Africa

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The issue of biofuels has already been much debated, but the focus to date has largely been on Latin America and deforestation - this highly original work breaks fresh ground in looking at the African perspective. Most African governments see biofuels as having the potential to increase agricultural productivity and export incomes and thus strengthen their national economies, improving energy balances and rural employment. At the same time climate change may be addressed through reduction of green house gas emissions. There are, however, a number of uncertainties mounting that challenge this scenario. Using cutting-edge empirical case studies, this knowledge gap is addressed in a variety of chapters examining the effects of large-scale biofuel production on African agriculture. In particular, 'land grabbing' and food security issues are scrutinised, both of which have become vital topics in regard to the environmental and developmental governance of African countries. A revealing book for anyone wishing to understand the startling impact of biofuels and land grabbing on Africa.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781848138810
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication date: 06/09/2011
Series: Africa Now
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 248
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Prosper B. Matondi is the Executive Director of Ruzivo Trust, a not for profit organization based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He has widely published and has made a contribution to many international, regional and international networks on land and agrarian reform issues. Kjell Havnevik is senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute and head of the institute's research cluster on Rural and Agrarian Dynamics, Property and Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa. Atakilte Beyene is a researcher in rural development. He is based at the Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. He is also a lecturer at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden where he also doubles up as coordinator of an international MSc program in Integrated Water Resources Management.
Prosper B. Matondi is the Executive Director of Ruzivo Trust, a not for profit organization based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He holds a PhD in Rural Development from the Swedish University of Agricultural University based in Uppsala, Sweden. He has more than 15 years experience researching on land, natural resources management, environmental policy and planning in Zimbabwe, within the southern African region and internationally. He has widely published and has made a contribution to many international, regional and international networks on land and agrarian reform issues. He sits on various research boards and is currently supervising PhD students working on land issues in Zimbabwe and beyond. Kjell Havnevik is senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute and head of the institute's research cluster on Rural and Agrarian Dynamics, Property and Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa. He holds a PhD from the University of Bradford (development studies 1988) and has been working with universities and research institutes in Norway, Sweden and Tanzania. From 1996, he was professor of Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden. He has published a number of book and articles on African development issues with special focus on rural development, natural resource management, the strategies of international financial institutions in Africa, and development assistance. He has a wide experience as a teacher and lecturer on African and development issues. Atakilte Beyene is a researcher in rural development. He is based at the Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. His research focuses on institutions, and the relationships between smallholder agricultural systems, property rights and national agricultural policies. He has facilitated and conducted extensive empirical field studies on livelihood systems, food insecurity and risk management strategies, natural resources management, and recent developments in commercial farming, including bio-fuels. He is also a lecturer at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden where he also doubles up as coordinator of an international MSc program in Integrated Water Resources Management.

Read an Excerpt

Biofuels, Land Grabbing and Food Security in Africa

By Prosper B. Matondi, Kjell Havnevik, Atakilte Beyene

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Prosper B. Matondi, Kjell Havnevik and Atakilte Beyene
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84813-879-7


Grabbing of African lands for energy and food: implications for land rights, food security and smallholders

Kjell Havnevik


The process whereby external investors acquire land for the production of food and agricultural feedstocks for biofuel (such as sugarcane and jatropha) has accelerated globally in recent years, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The African continent remains in deep poverty and has witnessed a deterioration in the conditions of smallholder agriculture over the past three decades, due to neglect by African governments, international financial institutions and donors. The international media have, over the last few years, reported a picture of ongoing massive land grabbing in Africa, which is connected with the need for non-African governments and people to enhance their food and energy security. Some of the land deals reported – concluded, in process or aborted – are spectacular. However, information on the broader process, as well as details of actors, the terms of contracts and the implications of the land deals for host and investing countries, governments and people, remain unclear and are in need of systematic data collection and assessment.

Nevertheless, some information has emerged about the dynamic process of land acquisitions and leases in Africa by foreign states and investors. Recent research related to the character and volumes of the large-scale land deals or leases (over 1,000 hectares per unit of land) provides a first approximation of the dynamic changes taking place regarding control, ownership and use of African lands. There have been responses to the large-scale African land deals from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the affected African countries and globally, and from research and specialized United Nations (UN) agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (UN/SRRF) (De Schutter 2009).

Most of the advocacy, research and human rights-related initiatives and activities have attempted to get a better understanding of the background, driving forces and outcomes of this process by conducting fieldwork, and by sourcing, systematizing and analysing data. Although many of these initiatives have been short term and have used methodologies that leave many uncertainties, they do illustrate the fact that the process of land acquisition and leases has accelerated over the last years, alongside a growing concern about the implications of this process. This concern is clear from the formulation of a number of proposals, recommendations and principles that are expected to guide the land acquisitions and leases, in order to safeguard the interests of rural people and communities in Africa and their rights to land, food and decent livelihoods, as well as to protect aspects of environmental sustainability.

In fact, research institutes such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED), in cooperation with the FAO and IFAD and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, have all provided recommendations to guide the land acquisition and land lease process (von Braun and Meinzen-Dick 2009; Cotula et al. 2009; De Schutter 2009). Although both the number and the nature of the recommendations vary, they show consensus on the following aspects that relate to the large-scale land acquisition and lease process:

1 There should be transparency in the negotiations.

2 The rights of local communities, including customary land rights, should be protected.

3 The benefits should be shared between local communities and investors.

4 Environmental sustainability should be ensured.

5 Food security in the African countries and communities should not be compromised.

Beyond these locally oriented recommendations, the increasing concentration of land and the scale of operations have critical implications for (i) the balance between smallholder and large-scale farming and the future livelihoods of African rural people; (ii) the relative importance of African subsistence and domestic food supply versus export-led agriculture; and (iii) the role of global agribusiness in African countries, connected with vertical integration in agricultural production, processing and distribution (Gibbon and Ponte 2005).

Driving forces

Food prices increased rapidly worldwide during 2007 and 2008. Global maize and wheat prices doubled between 2003 and 2008 (von Braun 2008). It is estimated that the increased demand for biofuels between 2000 and 2007 contributed 30 per cent to the weighted average increase in cereal prices (ibid.). A recent empirical study indicates that a rapid increase in index fund investments in agricultural and energy commodity future markets was not a major cause of food price volatility during the period 2006–09 (Irwin and Sanders 2010). In 2007, 18 million tonnes of grain were used for industrial purposes, compared to 100 million tonnes for biofuels and other industrial purposes in 2008 (Chakrabortty 2008). A relevant factor for the current and longer-term food demand is changing food consumption patterns in emerging economies, and in particular an increase of meat in the diet. The food conversion required means a considerable loss of calories: currently more than 40 per cent of world grain is being fed to livestock, rather than going to feed people directly (Aal et al. 2009). Although food prices have dropped since mid-2008, they were still 30– 50 per cent higher in mid-2009 than the average of a decade ago. A new wave of food price rises started in 2010. The food import bill for the world's poorest countries, including many in Africa, was expected to rise by 11 per cent during 2010. It was also reported by the FAO that rising sugar prices, which reached their highest level for 30 years in November 2010, had played an important role in the increase in food prices (FAO 2010b).

Concern over food security in those countries that are highly dependent upon imports, or that have limited or declining natural conditions for production of their own food (such as many of the Arab states), is also an important driving force for the acquisition and lease of African land. This fear is also connected with deteriorating global conditions for agriculture and food production due to soil erosion and soil mining, depletion of water resources, etc.

Food is unlike any other commodity: without it people cannot survive. Lack of access to food (or a limited or declining supply of it) can translate into immediate popular demonstrations that may lead to serious political instability. The political implications are also important in producer countries because of the sensitivity over food exports in the context of growing food insecurity. Through recent food price increases and the ongoing conversion of land to non-food production, food security has emerged as a critical global issue that governments need to prioritize.

Uncertainties related to volatility in the provision of food globally have also led to a protectionist stance among important food-producing countries that have large populations to feed. Many governments are no longer willing to trust the role assigned to international trade as a levelling mechanism for food prices and global food distribution. Hence, increasingly states are trying to secure food through inter-state agreements and various forms of investments and leases conducted by state-owned enterprises (SOE) or sovereign wealth funds (SWF), or in cooperation with private enterprises. The growing fear of states about increased food insecurity, and its association with hunger and political instability, has led to a rapid increase in the engagement of state-controlled entities and agencies in food-related investments and agreements. This has also led to major changes in the governance situation related to the food and energy sectors.

Over recent years, increasing oil prices and growing concern about climate change have led to a burgeoning interest in switching to non-fossil fuels, such as ethanol (from sugarcane and other feedstocks) and biodiesel (from jatropha). Government consumption targets for non-fossil fuels, which are linked to increasing oil prices and the peak oil scenario, have led to rapidly growing interest in biofuels and their production, and this is likely to continue in the longer term, as the scarcity of fossil energy makes itself felt. However, uncertainties linger as to the role of agriculturally based biofuels (based on sugarcane, jatropha, etc.) when new and second-generation technologies become commercially viable. At that point in the future, many African countries will have converted considerable areas of their land to large-scale mono-cropping of agricultural feedstocks, with the associated consequences for water use, ground water tables, biodiversity, etc. This is a process that is not easily reversible to achieve sustainable agricultural food production.

The global community is facing a dilemma: it needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the same time as the demand for energy is increasing in the world. This global dilemma, coupled with national and regional political priorities about national energy security, has led to a shift in interest towards alternative energy sources, including biofuel. The European Union (EU) has already committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020. The Swedish government, which held the presidency of the EU between July and December 2009, was, however, working to push this EU objective up to 30 per cent, given that similar commitments are likely to emerge from such major global economies as the USA and China. This process is establishing firm global markets that are driving development of the alternative energy sector, including large-scale biofuel developments in Africa.

Concerns about the sustainability of alternative energy production, including biofuels, have, however, increasingly been raised by researchers and advocacy groups that have taken a closer look at the 'net energy' contribution and the environmental and social impact of various large-scale biofuel production projects. In 2008, this contributed to the endorsement by the EU of a directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources. In Article 15, the sustainability criteria for biofuels and other bioliquids state that they shall not be made from raw material obtained from land with high biodiversity value, including primary forests and other wooded land – Art. 15, 3(a) – and areas designated by law or by the relevant authority for nature protection purposes – Art. 15, 3(b).

African governments also see an increasing potential for rural development and agriculture thanks to higher land and commodity prices, as well as a major export potential where land endowments are substantial. In recent years, there has been renewed interest globally in the role and potential of agriculture, and this has translated into an increase in donor commitments to the sector. African government budgets have also increased their allocations to agriculture in recent years, although many countries have not reached the target set by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), launched in July 2003 under the auspices of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, of having 10 per cent of government budgets allocated to agriculture.

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) forms the secretariat for CAADP's fourth pillar. In early 2008, in its bi-monthly bulletin, Monty Jones, the executive director of FARA, emphasized both the opportunities and the problems related to large-scale biofuel production in Africa, arguing the need for comprehensive research programmes to address these issues in depth (FARA 2007/08: 2). A FARA discussion paper of April 2008 states that the opportunities related to African biofuel production present risks 'that must be managed'. Further, it argues that: 'Provided sustainability criteria are met, the biofuel market represents an opportunity for marginal and unused or abandoned land for development' (FARA 2008).

Rising land values and the rise in prices of agriculture-based commodities (food and biofuels) are key drivers for the engagement of the private sector in African agriculture. Though they are rising, the still relatively low land prices mean that among many companies – domestic and foreign – there are high expectations of competitive returns from agriculture and land. This process is further compounded by the increasing tendency of large-scale international food and supermarket chains to extend their processing and sales to the production of commodities and raw materials themselves, often pushing smallholders off their land without proper compensation. This vertical integration of food and supermarket chains is also an important driver in the acquisition and lease of African land. Some agribusinesses that were traditionally involved in processing and distribution are also pursuing integration strategies into direct agricultural production, in order to reduce the risks – e.g. Lonrho's recent land acquisitions in Angola, Mali and Malawi; see Cotula et al. (2009: 57). The processes mentioned complement – or at times are integrated with – government-backed objectives and initiatives related to food and energy security.

Key assumption: availability of African land

A key assumption behind the rising interest and investment in the acquisition and leasing of African land is that there are large reservoirs of unused or underutilized land. The Global Agro-Ecological Assessment provides the most comprehensive survey of global and African agricultural potential (Fischer et al. 2002). It is suggested that 80 per cent of the global reserve of agricultural land exists in Africa and South America. Satellite imagery from the mid-1990s indicates a total cultivable land area in Africa of about 800 million hectares, of which 25 per cent are under cultivation. The study itself indicates that the underreporting on use ranges from 10 to 20 per cent.

According to Cotula et al. (2009: 60), it is not 'clear how land under shifting cultivation and fallow systems is included' in the Agro-Ecological Assessment. In order to make the assessment more realistic for African conditions, Cotula et al. assume that agricultural systems on average have five fallow plots for every plot in use. Due to various and increasing pressures on smallholder land in recent decades, by my assessment it is unlikely that the current ratio of cultivated land (i.e. 200 million hectares) to fallow land in African farming systems is 1:5, as Cotula et al. have indicated. Assuming that cultivated and fallow land plots are of the same size, this would imply that the land use of African farming systems is nearly 1,000 million hectares, which exceeds the estimated potential cultivable land area of 800 million hectares by 200 million hectares. Most likely, land under cultivation is higher than the estimate of the Agro-Ecological Assessment (including the underreporting mentioned), and the amount of fallow land lower than Cotula's assumption. This implies that the estimate of potential available uncultivated sub-Saharan African land of 202 million hectares offered by the World Bank recently (World Bank 2010) may be reasonable. But it would be wrong to assume, for the reason given below, that this land is unused or unoccupied.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a rapid expansion of land cultivation both by smallholders and by investors in large-scale food and biofuel production. In the case of smallholders, this is partly due to the average annual rise in the population of Africa of about 2.5 per cent between 2000 and 2005. Other factors are relevant when declaring land to be available, idle, not in use, etc.: pastoral systems rely on large areas of land for grazing, and villagers make use of land for the collection of firewood and medicines. Although some fallow land does exist, particularly in low-intensity agricultural systems, the increased pressure on land since the mid-1990s is likely to have reduced both fallow and grazing areas considerably. Given the importance of agriculture to African economies, 'unused' land belonging to clans, communities or villages is often looked upon as land to be provided for future generations.

Within African governments and agencies there is often an eagerness to declare land to be unused or unoccupied in order to attract foreign investments, although there may be multiple claims on the same land. In countries with state-owned land systems, such as Tanzania and Ethiopia, where the management of land is delegated to villages, major conflicts may emerge due to a wrong classification of land. In Tanzania, 70 per cent of all land is under the jurisdiction of 11,000 villages. In such a context, large-scale production of biofuel and food will necessarily impinge on village land. Detailed legal procedures exist as to how external investors can access such land through land leases of between 33 and 99 years. The remaining land is reserved land of various categories (28 per cent) and general land (2 per cent), which is under the direct jurisdiction of the government. Governments eager to provide land for lease or acquisition by foreign investors tend to take shortcuts that overlook national legislation and the land rights of the rural people (Cotula et al. 2009: 62; this volume, case study on Tanzania, chapter 6).


Excerpted from Biofuels, Land Grabbing and Food Security in Africa by Prosper B. Matondi, Kjell Havnevik, Atakilte Beyene. Copyright © 2011 Prosper B. Matondi, Kjell Havnevik and Atakilte Beyene. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction: Biofuels, Food Security and Land Grabbing in Africa - Prosper B. Matondi, Kjell Havnevik and Atakilte Beyene
  • 2. Grabbing of African Lands for Energy and Food - Implications for Land Rights, Food Security and Smallholders - Kjell Havnevik
  • 3. Biofuels Governance - a Matter of Discursive and Actor Intermesh- Marie Widengård
  • 4. Peak Oil and Climate Change: Triggers of the Drive for Biofuel Production - Rune Skarstein
  • 5. Attracting Foreign Direct Investment in Africa in the Context of Land Grabbing for Biofuels and Food Security - Prosper B. Matondi and Patience Mutopo
  • 6. Smallholder Led Transformation Towards Bio-Fuel Production in Ethiopia - Atakilte Beyene
  • 7. Biofuel, Land and Environmental Issues - the Case of SEKAB's Biofuel Plans in Tanzania - Kjell Havnevik and Hanne Haaland
  • 8. Agro-Investments in Zimbabwe at a Time of Redistributive Land Reforms - Prosper B. Matondi
  • 9. Competition Between Biofuel and Food? Re-Thinking Biofuel Narratives, Evidence From a Jatropha Biodiesel Project in Northern Ghana - Festus Boamah
  • 10. Land Grabbing, Smallholder Farmers and the Meaning of Agro-Investor Driven Agrarian Change in Africa - Prosper B. Matondi, Kjell Havnevik and Atakilte Beyene

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