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Land Grabs: False Climate Change Solutions Hurt Africa

February 6, 2012
Black Business Quarterly

False climate change solutions hurt Africa

In the trend of large-scale land acquisitions in Sub-Saharan Africa, green investments such as the production of agrofuels and agroforestry developments, are falsely upheld as climate solutions. At the same time the land grab is accompanied by a major water grab that raises serious concerns since the volume of irrigation water needed is already far and beyond what is sustainable for the continent.

These are among the alarming conclusions of two reports released in December  by the Canadian-based Oakland and Polaris Institutes. At the same time climate finance practitioners and regulators last week urged South African developers of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects to finalise their applications for registration of such projects with the United Nations during the first quarter of 2012, or face being excluded from the key European carbon credits market.


Projects that do not deliver

In a statement accompanying the first of its reports, released early December, under the title Understanding land investment deals in Africa the Oakland Institute states that research demonstrates “that land grabs – largely unregulated land deals involving foreign corporations and speculators – continue to be promoted as adevelopment solution for African nations.

“Development agencies including USAID and the World Bank Group are often the architects of these deals that promise benefits for Africans but fail to deliver. Furthermore, the research shows that US and EU energy policies that tout the benefits of agrofuels and carbon credits – key elements of these land deals – are actually making climate change a bigger problem.”

The statement further highlights the fatct that at “the same time that individuals across the US and EU offer support to victims of famine and conflict in Africa, their countries' energy policies and development agendas take food and other resources away from Africans - while also harming the environment.


Leaving Africa thirsty

A second report under the title Land grabs leave Africa Thirsty, released later in December in collaboration with the Polaris Institute, comes to the conclusion that cheap land and “fairly easy access to water make Africa attractive for industrial agriculture. Investors who see Africa as a uncrowded space of opportunities, and the prospect of accessing abundant water resources is a focal point in business plans.

“Some firms are explicit in that they are as much agricultural and land investors as they are investors in water supplies. Others say that they only select land which has access to water for large-scale irrigation and that land only has value if water is available.”

In the accompanying statement at the time of the release of this report it is said, however  that “the availability of water gains further meaning as estimates show that the increased requirements for food to feed the world’s population – exceeding 7 billion – will outpace existing water resources by 40% by 2030.”

The report suggests that “this new pressure on water resources will adversely impact small farmers, pastoralists, and fisherfolk, who rely on water resources for their livelihoods. Research also warns that jeopardizing Africa's fragile river systems will have political and ecological consequences and that irrigation schemes and canals are going to divert water from rivers and lakes that are already under serious stress, such as the Niger River and Lake Turkana.

"America and Europe are heroes after the fact," said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. "Severe droughts are a common factor in recent food crises in Africa. Images of hunger evoke concern and efforts among aid agencies and civil society to alleviate the damaging effects of drought and water shortages. It is a large-scale tragedy and betrayal that 'responsible agro-investors,' many from aid providing countries like the United States, will be producing crops on African soil – primarily for export outside the continent – and taking valuable, life-giving water used for cultivation along with them."

It is against this background that the suggestion was made last week at a Green Power conferences-event in Johannesburg that developers of CDM projects had  better hurry up to submit projects in time for the imminent cut-off for access to the European Union’s  emissions trading scheme, should be judged.

At present there is much uncertainty about the prospects of the carbon price in the medium to longer term. At the same time, despite an agreement in Durban last month to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, the procedures and modalities for this second commitment period were yet to be developed and it was also uncertain whether the new period would run until 2017, or 2020.

It might not be in the best interest of South Africa, or Sub-Saharan Africa for that matter, to now enter into a mad rush for unsure rewards from the carbon credits market.