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southern africa: challenging the spread of agrofuels

Northern corporations and governments are rushing to obtain cheap land in the South, to produce agrofuel feedstocks. This presents a very real threat to local communities and Indigenous Peoples, whose land is being targeted. It is often claimed that community land is ‘under-utilized’ or ‘marginal’ in order to justify disowning people of their traditional land rights, yet this threatens to displace and dis-empower millions of small-scale subsistence farmers in the South.

southern africa: challenging the spread of agrofuels

However, there is little awareness of the negative implications of agrofuel production amongst NGOs and community-based organizations in affected countries in southern Africa. This limits communities’ and Indigenous Peoples’ ability to make informed decisions about the appropriation of community land for agrofuel crops.

what happened?

The Timberwatch Coalition in South Africa, in association with Friends of the Earth Africa (FoEA), including FoE Swaziland / Yonge Nawe, FoE South Africa / groundWork and FoE Mauritius / Maudesco co-ordinated a two day regional agrofuels workshop in August, in Johannesburg. Participants included representatives from Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

This regional workshop was linked to a national meeting the previous day attended by over 70 participants including those representatives from South Africa, Swaziland, Mauritius and Mozambique that were in Johannesburg for the regional workshop. By linking these two events, it was possible to create a broader awareness of how the issue of agrofuels is affecting the region as a whole.

what changed?

The events successfully brought together participants from all eight identified southern African countries, allowing participants to establish an informal network, which will be critical to further collaboration.

All the available information on agrofuels production was collected together, to establish a new and important web-based resource. Country specific status reports and maps, fact sheets about the different types of agrofuel crops, photos, and a comprehensive list of relevant publications, reports and articles will soon be available online. To link to them go to

The ultimate beneficiaries of this project will be the communities and Indigenous Peoples whose
land rights, livelihoods, cultures, traditional knowledge, and access to natural resources including water and
biodiversity, would have been threatened by the establishment of agrofuel crop production in their countries. Increased awareness about the risks associated with agrofuels production will empower people to counter poorly conceived and potentially harmful agrofuel projects. However, the workshops were held relatively recently and it will take time for these benefits to manifest themselves.

what was learned?

A great deal of information about the growing presence of agrofuels in Southern Africa was gathered together, and many new relationships forged. Common problems were identified. ‘Land grabbing’, for example, is
taking place through the forced displacement of communities, contract farming, land leasing and out-grower agreements, and tactics employed include promising:

  • quick cash to impoverished communities without providing any audit of the value of their land and the diverse resources derived from it;
  • multinational partnerships to fund and train government agricultural extension workers who then provide a ‘neutral’ point of sale for companies’ products; and
  • subsidies or free gifts of start-up agribusiness inputs and seeds, which destroy indigenous seed and agricultural systems.

However, it was found to be more difficult and time-consuming than anticipated to identify, contact and facilitate the participation of individuals from all eight countries. The fact that this has now been achieved is thus an excellent first step.

what next?

The co-hosting groups will continue to engage with the agrofuel issue at a regional level, and try to ensure that the informal NGO agrofuels network established will grow stronger in the medium term. They also intend to focus on the problem of so-called ‘second-generation’ agrofuels, which would largely be derived from biomass produced in monoculture tree plantations that are likely to be of genetically engineered varieties.

A video of the regional meeting has been posted in you tube.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs

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