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Opposing the certification of palm oil, jatropha and sugar cane monocultures

Our campaign to expose the role that agrofuels corporations have played in misleading the public was heard by the UK’s Advertising Standard Authority, who ruled that an advertisement placed by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council and aired on the BBC was misleading because it said that Malaysian palm oil is sustainable.
Opposing the certification of palm oil, jatropha and sugar cane monoculturesThis victory helped us to stop corporations using false advertising and other public misinformation strategies to win over public opinion on agrofuels and undermine our efforts to strengthen existing rules. We produced further reports including: “Malaysian Palm Oil – Green Gold or Green Wash?”, “Sustainability as a Smokescreen – The Inadequacy of Certifying Fuels and Feeds" (in English and Spanish), and “Fuelling Destruction in Latin America – The Real Price of the Drive for Agrofuels” (in English and Spanish). These can be downloaded from our web site: FoEI also commissioned “Lost in Palm Oil”, a documentary that has been broadcast in TV stations in several European countries.


Additionally, we challenged false publicity about the potential of jatropha, and other plants that might be used for agrofuel production. In particular, FoE Africa groups and others set out to research the extent to which agrofuels are expanding across Africa, through a literature review, on-the-ground observation, and interviews with government officials, community leaders, local authorities, farmers and farmers’ organizations, civil society groups and academics. The resulting report considers the state of agrofuels production in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It records details, where available, on incoming investment, key companies, case studies, issues relating to land and legal rights, and environmental impact assessments. It also delves into government and state policies on agrofuels promotion and energy self-sufficiency.


Members of FoE Africa from Ghana, Mauritius, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Tunisia and met in July in Accra, Ghana, to review issues that confront the African environment. A particular focus was placed on the current food crisis and agrofuels production across the continent. The groups released a statement expressing their disgust at the manner in which the burden for solutions to every crisis faced by the North is shifted onto Africa. Africa is forced to adapt to climate impacts, as well as having its land usurped to produce agrofuels to feed factories and machines in the North.


Through our lobbying and campaigning work in Swaziland and the UK, we succeeded in forcing D1 Oils Swaziland (a subsidiary of the UK-based D1 Oils company) to suspend any new planting of jatropha. This was achieved by putting pressure on Swaziland’s government to enact a policy mandating the Swaziland Environment Authority to order D1 Oils to stop all planting and conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment. However, as a result of tensions around this controversial topic, many community activists subsequently faced violence and legal actions against them. The FoEI network was able to respond quickly through our cyber-action network, enabling thousands of people around the world to put pressure on the Swaziland government to take action to uphold and defend the human rights of people struggling to defend their livelihoods and communities.


The FoE Europe campaign on agrofuels was selected by the European Parliament Magazine as the most effective NGO campaign, specifically because of our high-visibility creative actions organized in collaboration with groups from all our regions. Improvements to our web site, and investments in communications in FoE Europe, allowed us to mobilize 47,000 people in May to participate in a poll by EC President Barroso, which changed the poll from 95% in favor of the EU's biofuels target to 89% against, in just three days.


FoEI also organized two speakers’ tours (in May and December 2008) for leaders from the South, in order to raise awareness in Europe about the devastating impacts of growing crops to produce agrofuels. We also organized an action in front of the Brazilian embassy in Brussels to protest against their agrofuels policies, in collaboration with La Via Campesina and FIAN (Face It Act Now – for the right to food). The speakers took part in lobby meetings to demand an end to the EU 10% biofuels target, with Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the European Commission. Similar meetings were organized with national parliaments in France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. The visiting speakers also lectured at universities in Brussels, Grenoble, Leuven, Montpellier, and the UNDP University in Namur. They received good media coverage, including through outlets such as Télé Grenoble, Midi Libre, France 3 TV, Planète Libre Magazine, national TV RFO, Radio Campus in Belgium, Panoramica magazine, ANP Netherlands, Agrarisch Dagblad, and Agripress Belgium.


FoE Brazil and FoEI also successful countered the general acceptance of sugar cane ethanol, which is promoted heavily by the Brazilian government and industry in the North as a ‘sustainable source of energy’ and ‘part of the solution to climate change’. We contributed to the international campaign through a series of publications and campaign materials, participation in public events, and the organization of counter activities at the international conference on agrofuels held in Brazil in November 2008 (much to the apparent annoyance of the agrofuels sector represented by UNICA).


When the Round Table for Responsible Soy (RTRS) met in Buenos Aires, FoEI helped  gathering civil society from producer countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) as well as importing countries in the EU, to protest against the use of ‘sustainable soy’ certification schemes, which are bound to fail because they do not address the overall expansion of monoculture plantations to produce increasing quantities of agrofuels. Similar round-table approaches around the world have completely failed to address the major social and environmental impacts of industrial-scale soy cultivation and actually serve to frustrate real solutions.


Whilst the RTRS met, we released the publication 'Sustainability as a Smokescreen', which looks into all the major certification schemes being introduced in relation to soy and sugar cane production in Latin America. Our lobbying work has strengthened the positions of several producer countries, particularly Argentina: some of them are now taking a more critical look at the environmental impacts of monoculture plantations.  


We continued to support communities in the South that are directly resisting the appropriation of their territories for agrofuels production. This included engaging in direct actions alongside communities (for example, in Colombia), and mobilizing international support through solidarity and letter-writing actions in support of activists and communities facing repression because of their defense of their territories. Other international opportunities included the selection of Meena Raman, FoEI's chair in 2008, as the NGO representative to speak at the High Level Segment of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference of Parties in Bonn. She emphasized the dangers of agrofuels, and the threats of so-called sustainable biofuels and the certification of agricultural production for agrofuels purposes. The CBD concluded that although positive use of ‘biofuels’ should be promoted, the negative impacts should be identified and minimized, paying attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and threats to biodiversity conservation.


Photo credits: FoE Brazil

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