31 Oct 2011

Sun Biofuels in Tanzania: deep concerns

Biofuels is an issue I've not covered for a while - and wasn't going to - but a particularly persuasive email from ActionAid with a shocking story and the expose in the Observer yesterday have prompted a quick mention here.  Basically it seems the biofuels company Sun Biofuels took land from the people of Kisarawe, a small village in Tanzania, to grow crops for biofuels - you can read it here http://bit.ly/tO1I20

ActionAid have a series of videos that show different members of the community in Kisarawe talking about what Sun Biofuels has done and how it has affected them - see YouTube channel here. ActionAid are also directing people to sign their petition to try and end British government support for biofuels - see http://www.actionaid.org.uk/biofuels

Click Read more to see ActionAid's press release.

UK company grabs land from Tanzania’s poorest to grow biofuel crops

30th October 2011: An ActionAid-led investigation into UK-registered Sun Biofuels has revealed that the company has taken 8,200 hectares of land from the poor people of Kisarawe in Tanzania to grow crops which will be turned into fuel and exported to rich western countries. This land grab has left thousands of Tanzanians even poorer and hungrier than they were before the company arrived.

Sun Biofuels convinced the people of Kisarawe into giving up their land by making promises that it has never kept. It undertook to pay local people full and fair compensation for their land, but very little money has been paid. New wells, clinics, schools and roads were also pledged, but nothing has been built.

Meredith Alexander, Head of Trade & Corporates at anti-poverty charity ActionAid said: "Poor Tanzanians have been tricked into giving up their land to a biofuels company and are now even worse off than before. This case shows yet again how biofuel crops can ruin poor people’s livelihoods in the communities where they are grown as well as driving up food prices. A billion people already don’t have enough to eat. Biofuel use could add hundreds of millions more.

"Moreover, biofuels don’t even provide environmental benefits, as many have higher greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace.”

In 2006, Sun Biofuels arrived in Kisarawe District and took land the size of 11,000 football pitches to establish a jatropha plantation – a crop that is grown for biofuels. There was no negotiation on the amount of compensation with villagers, and only those who have really pushed for it have received any money at all. People are no longer allowed onto the land, so they are unable to access the nearest water sources or even the graves of family members. Their income, which relied on the land for firewood, charcoal and handicrafts has plunged. As a result, some villagers can no longer afford to send their children to school or access health services when they need them.

Ms Alexander continued: "Land-grabbing to grow biofuel crops is becoming ever more common. Driven by UK government-set biofuel targets, companies like Sun have already taken more than six million hectares of land in Africa alone.

"Currently 3.5% of all UK petrol and diesel is made up of biofuel so whether you’re on the bus or in a car, you have no choice but to contribute to land-grabbing and poverty. We are calling on western governments to stop the greenwash, get rid of their biofuel targets and focus instead on real solutions to reducing climate change."

To help the affected villages, ActionAid Tanzania has helped the 11 communities to form a taskforce to ensure the company's promises are kept, and is lobbying the Tanzanian government.


Anonymous said...

To quote Richard Morgan, Ex CEO Sunbiofuels 'Crucially, the area and the boundaries of the allocated land were determined by the communities that actually allocated the land – six in all out of 11 that surround the project. The closest boundary to one of the villages is approximately 2Kms. Nobody was required to move or be re-settled and all assets in the project area were compensated for under the terms of the ”Village land Act” through the services of independent Tanzanian academics. There is ongoing dialog with the communities about potential claims that could have been missed and we are commited to treating these on merit through independent auditors".

Sun went into receivership before they could fulfil their promises in Tz. I saw the school, borehole and more they put in in Mozambique. These were not bad people and the on-farm teams were very professional.... living in tents with an open bamboo office and a lot of mosquitos.

In reporting, did Action Aid take into account that there has been a drought this year, that the forests around this area are seriously degraded by over harvesting? did they compare the villagers current situation with in-depth poverty household questionnaires and harvests adjusted for climatic changes, professionally, with previous years to get a really accurate assessment of the impact of losing a 1/4 of their land?

The villagers fundamental complaints are about land tenure and land use change systems in Tanzania, not about biofuels. It made no difference to their land access what the crop was. This is about the urgency for sustainable rural investment because land degrades, forests are cut down rivers run dry and goats eat every last blade of grass because there is so very little investment in rural Africa. .. but in this ongoing daily scenario which is what is happening on the ground, there is no one for Action Aid to vilify.

Why not just quietly go assist the villagers to advocate for their rights instead of ogreising Sun biofuels? If there are no real bad guys, only naive out of touch London investors and professional South African, Tanzanian and Zimbabwean foresters who tried to follow the law as it was presented to them, who had no bad intentions, but ran out of equity and loans before they could become commerically viable or fulfil their promises, does then Action Aid gets less money to pay their overheads, mortgages, school fees and to engage with the villagers?

Hopefully everyone will learn from Sun's mistakes. The biggest tragedy that Action Aid's activities could manifest could be that very few investors with any real ethics will go near investing close to Tanzanian villages. Villages that are then vulnerable to far more unscrupulous investors and/or to cutting down far too many trees for charcoal and suffering increasingly lower maize harvests through no investment.

So yes let Action Aid assist the villages and all tanzanian villages to know their rights, form an advocacy group, partake in more equitable negotiations and assist villages to create their own wealth... while they also raise debt free money to pay their own UK based mortgages.

Action Aid too have a reputation here for spending large sums on ineffective projects and engaging in some activities that end up doing damage while not resolving the underlying issues. .So I hope they have also learnt from their own past mistakes and spend wisely. I see they do increasingly less and less project work and work instead more through partners.

I do not know if writing anything is useful or will bring calm serious dialogue and investigation into root causes and different ways forward. I do know that the all too often half or one-sided truths folks use to their personal advantage in beating their own drums about Africa means change takes longer and is a rockier road than if we all worked together based on fact, accuracy and a deep shared understanding of all the dynamics in the system.

Anonymous said...

Maybe by ActionAid highlighting this it will make investors think twice?

Josie Cohen said...

Hello anonymous who wrote the first comment under this article at 7.19pm.

My name is Josie Cohen and I am the campaigner who conducted this investigation. I just wanted to respond to some of your concerns:

1. Villagers have told us time and time again that they have not received full or fair compensation for the land they lost. This has been confirmed to us by the District Land Officer in Kisarawe and a number of independent reports. There was also a huge amount of discrepancy in the way people were compensated with some getting money for some of their land but not all, some getting money for trees on the land but not the land itself, whilst others receiving nothing at all.

Interestingly, a media article in 2007 (http://news.mongabay.com/bioenergy/2007/08/sun-biofuels-invests-20-million-in.html) said that...
“Leo Rwegasira, Land officer for Kisarawe District, said that 800 million shillings has been earmarked by the investor as compensation to 2,840 households.”

But in another media article in 2010 (http://allafrica.com/stories/201003040710.html) this quote can be found...
“The CEO [Richard Morgan] noted that, "Several villagers received in excess of 2m/- and some as much as 23m/-, with the total sum of 287.4m/- being paid directly to individuals by the company as per the compensation schedule."

2. You say in your comment that 'Sun went into receivership before they could fulfil their promises in Tz'. The promises were made when the company first arrived in 2006. I visited the area in 2010 and a few times in 2011 but nothing had been done. Sun could not even build a usable well, despite digging one on their own plantation. Because of this people are spending up to four hours a day collecting water. Sun has had years to keep these promises and it does not take long to build a well, improve a classroom, build a clinic etc. Sun has had ample time.

3. The villagers told us that Kisarawe has not experienced a drought this year. In fact the rains in Tanzania are not due until end of October so the company went into administration during the dry season which surely they could have predicted as it is at the same every year. I asked many farmers in Kisarawe if they had suffered a drought this year and they said they hadnt.

5. You're right, land tenure in Tanzania is a massive issue. But EU biofuel mandates are driving biofuel production adding pressure and thats why we're campaigning against them. Removing biofuel targets is actually one of the few interventions that people living in the global north can do to stop land grabbing in poor countries.

6. Land degradation and resource use is a big problem. Thats why ActionAid supports farmers to use more sustainable methods. Direct to http://www.actionaid.org/what-we-do/food-rights/sustainable-agriculture for more detail. But taking their land away just makes things worse.

7. We are not about vilifying (or ogerising!) anyone. ActionAid Tanzania has tried for a couple of years to get Sun to meet us but the company has refused. The media article was a last resort to try and get the people of Kisarawe justice. I think it is also a story that deserves to be told.

8. We are assisting villagers to advocate for their rights. This is a big part of how ActionAid works. However, sometimes people in the country the company originates from have more power which is why we are also working on this in the UK.

9. Working through partners is an ideological decision for ActionAid. Its about investing in local people and empowering them to change their own society rather than dictating from the west.

9. Exposing the actions of Sun will hopefully have 2 impacts:
a) The UK government and EU will see that these sorts of rights abuses are an inevitable result of biofuel targets and scrap them.
b) Biofuel companies will think twice before breaking promises to local communities in poor countries.

I hope this answers some of your points. I would be happy to continue this discussion by email. Im on josie.cohen@actionaid.org

Anonymous said...

Good to see Action Aid's answer