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Countries for sale? Biofuels and the new colonialism in Africa


PANGEA attended the screening of Action Aid’s “Countries for Sale? Biofuels and the new colonialism in Africa” on Tuesday April 1st, hosted by Greek Member of the European Parliament Kriton Arsenis, expecting to hear something new on the debate. The MEP opened the event by asking the question, “Are countries for sale?” He said there are a lot of problems in Africa and so was invited by ActionAid to discuss what he had seen in Mozambique last year when the organisation invited him to tour the country. At the time, he was the shadow rapportuer in the European Parliament regarding Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC).  He said that in Mozambique locals are blackmailed, threatened and are often afraid to leave their own homes, and that it was his job to convey this message to the EU. Yet what was missing was the debate about making biofuels sustainable, i.e. how do we produce biofuels without contributing to world hunger or climate change?

After a few questions and answers on the colonisation of Africa, we viewed the documentary, which included interviews from farmers that had had their land stolen by Procana, a South African organisation that had launched a sugarcane-based biofuel project. However, this project had actually come to a halt in 2010 when the Mozambican government decided to cancel the right to use the land due to non-compliance with some contractual clauses.  We were then shown MAI, another South African organisation that was awarded the land by the Mozambican government in an attempt to at last develop the project. They were asked to compensate for the land stolen and destroyed by Procana and Xinavane. Again they were owned by a South African organisation working to extend their agricultural potential and increase Mozambican sugar exports.

It was at this point that we started to question the actual purpose of the documentary. It had been portrayed as a discussion of the consequences biofuel projects have had in Mozambique, but instead seemed to be an unfounded warning of what could happen if the EU supports investment in biofuels. The documentary and ensuing claims by MEP Arsenis and ActionAid lacked any data on the alleged amounts of biofuel being produced in Mozambique, or exported. The current status of the projects was also not told. The ongoing discussion and debate surrounding the potential links between land grabbing and biofuels was touched upon; however no new argument or evidence was shown. The documentary failed to show the link between land grabbing and biofuels, and failed to support the case for biofuels becoming the new colonialism in Africa. Land grabbing is wrong and yes biofuels could pose a danger: however unsubstantiated claims such as those made in this documentary do not allow for real discussion or engagement in finding a way to create a sustainable biofuels industry. Even though a lot was learned none of it related to the impact of the biofuels industry in Mozambique, or elsewhere.

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