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small success for tanzanian community after biofuel land grab

ActionAid is pleased to have received some good news from Kisarawe, Tanzania, where a community who had their land grabbed by a UK biofuel company, have now won back some access rights.

This summer has seen a resurgence of the ‘food not fuel debate’ in response to the current dramatic rise in food prices, fuelled by the US drought, and aggravated by US and EU biofuel mandates. It has been accompanied by a growing chorus of voices, including FAO director-general, José Graziano da Silva, calling for an end or suspension of biofuels mandates.

Whilst this focus on the food price impacts of biofuels is welcome, it is worth remembering that the impacts of biofuels goes beyond food prices, to those whose land is grabbed to make way for biofuels plantations.

With pressure for EU governments to reach the biofuels target, companies have bought up large swathes of land to produce biofuel crops.  Land bought by companies is often suggested to be marginal land, and not used by communities. However this is often not the case, plantations can engulf villages and displace small-holder farmers, taking land central to the livelihoods, culture and identity of millions of people across the developing world.

Back in 2006 UK biofuel company, Sun Biofuels (subsequently taken over by Lions Head Global Partners), took land the size of 11,000 football pitches to grow jatropha - a crop grown for biofuels. Up-rooting small scale farmers and families who had relied on the land for the livelihoods for generations. The community received none of the promised investment in terms of clinics and schools, few were compensated for land they lost, and they lost access to the graves where their ancestors are buried.

The situation seemed to get worse in August 2011 when Sun Biofuels went into administration and was taken over by a new owner, Lion’s Head Global Partners. Most of those who had managed to secure jobs on the plantation were fired and promises of investment in the community and compensation for land were thrown into even more doubt.

But finally after sustained pressure by the communities and ActionAid Tanzania, the communities have been granted access to their wells and graves. This was a key demand of the villagers and represents an important victory for the local community.

This success will help the women and children of Mhaga village, one of 11 villages affected by the project. Having access to their community’s wells means they no longer have to walk up to 4 hours to find drinking water.

However, whilst this is a small victory for this community, it does not mean the community, and indeed other villages, can once again farm their land and grow food to support their families.

The growth of biofuels is still being supported by governments, driven by UK and EU biofuel targets. Biofuels targets continue to threaten the livelihoods of African farmers, by encouraging large scale land grabs, which is pushing people off their land and into hunger.

If you would like more information about the ‘food not fuel debate’, please visit the ActionAid website.

Support ActionAid’s campaign to end UK and European support for biofuels by signing the petition.




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