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Agrofuels campaign highlights

The campaign’s main objective is to stop the production, trade and consumption of agrofuels, by raising public awareness about its negative impacts on local communities and globally.
David Gilbert, USA - 2nd place

In 2009, the campaign focused on strengthening local communities’ defence of their territories, and exposing ‘false solutions’ to the climate and energy crisis. A prerequisite for this was compiling research, reports, and national and regional positions from the federation’s members, as agrofuels is a relatively new issue and data is sparse. 


Nevertheless, there have already been some excellent external achievements by this relatively young campaign, in part because of its links to FoEI’s ongoing campaign against the deforestation caused by oil palm plantations.


2009 was particularly notable because of the World Bank’s suspension of its investments in oil palm plantation companies. In September 2009, the International Finance Corporation (the IFC, the World Bank's private sector arm) announced that it would halt all palm oil investments until a revised strategy for financing the sector was in place. The World Bank Group statement was unveiled on 9 September in a letter from its president Robert Zoellick, who was responding to an appeal from Indonesian and international NGOs. A coalition of local and international NGOs, spearheaded by the UK organization Forest Peoples Program and including FoE Netherlands, had previously filed a complaint with the IFC's internal watchdog, the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman office (CAO) about a series of loans to palm oil giant Wilmar International. A joint report by three NGOs (FoE Netherlands, Kontak Rakyat Borneo and Gemawan), had examined Wilmar's plantations in Sambas, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, and found that the company was working with dubious licenses, and was entangled in land rights conflicts and illegal logging activities. This complaint triggered an audit by the CAO, which concluded that the IFC had violated its own procedures, and that commercial interests had overruled the IFC's environmental and social standards.


The Indonesian President has also identified illegal logging as another form of entrenched corruption, saying that he appreciated the efforts of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth which have been active in criticising the forest management of his government, saying, "I want to give my appreciation for their concerns and hope they will continue their partnership with Indonesia."


Friends of the Earth groups from Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea also joined forces to develop and propose a mandatory code of conduct for Malaysian palm oil companies operating in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. An intense advocacy campaign was directed at the Malaysian opposition group in Parliament; the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, Board, and Council; and the Human Rights Council. The groups also tried to lobby the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities, and the Prime Minister. The three groups, together with Sawit Watch, testified to the failure of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) process, and requested the introduction of the proposed legally binding code of conduct. They have so far received positive responses from the Human Rights Council and the Opposition Party, who have accepted that Malaysian palm oil expansion has created adverse impacts, including haze from forest and land fires during land clearing, social conflicts with local communities, and environmental impacts.


Friends of the Earth also filed a complaint with the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against the Malaysian Palm Oil Council for falsely advertising that palm oil is the "only product able to sustainably and efficiently meet a larger portion of the world's increasing demand for oil crop-based consumer goods, foodstuffs and biofuels." The ASA ruled that this statement was misleading, and that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council’s claim that palm oil contributes to alleviation of poverty was also misleading. The ASA found there was “not a consensus of the economic impact of palm oil on local communities” and stated that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification scheme was “still the subject of debate”; and that making a claim that palm oil could be wholly sustainable, which cannot be substantiated, was deemed to be misleading. In November 2009, we followed up on this ruling by filing a grievance with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) against the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, for violating the members' Code of Conduct and continuing to mislead the public and make unsubstantiated claims about the production, procurement and use of palm oil.


FoE Indonesia has played an important role in these campaign actions, and regional coordination of oil palm activities in the Asia Pacific. The group also facilitated communications, and coordinated capacity-building on agrofuels, land rights and monocultures issues, including with communities in remote areas such as Kupang in Indonesia (2,000 miles from Jakarta).


FoEI is committed to strengthening local communities’ capacity to defend their territories. We have worked with and supported communities that are keen to find out more about isolating and analyzing some of the ‘false solutions’ to the climate change and energy crises commonly proposed. A process of capacity-building on agrofuels, land rights and monoculture has also been initiated in Central America. We have also helped to coordinate different groups and communities wanting to work together on agrofuels. In Latin America, for example, this has involved bringing together the food sovereignty network in Guatemala, the food sovereignty and agrarian reform network of Honduras, the Water Valley communities in Honduras, victims of kidney failure due to sugar cane plantations in Nicaragua, and Via Campesina and World March of Women groups in El Salvador, amongst others. A video on "Monocultures, Land and Agrofuels in Central America" was created by FoE El Salvador with these communities’ support.


FoEI also organized an international delegation to gather evidence on the impact of agrofuels in Colombia, 1-10 July, with 40 international participants. Several members of FoEI took part: FoE Indonesia, FoE Uruguay, FoE Paraguay and FoE Brazil. The main objective of this delegation was to gather empirical evidence about the environmental impacts of agribusinesses producing biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel). This involved identifying and documenting human rights, economic, social and cultural rights violations, as well as violations of ethnic and environmental rights, and infringements on the food sovereignty of afro-Colombian, peasant and Indigenous communities in the country.


Lobbying efforts in Europe remain focused on challenging the EU’s target of 10% of all road transport fuel coming from ‘renewable’ sources by 2020, with a majority likely to come from agrofuels. Key to this is increasing Europeans’ awareness of the impacts of agrofuels and about potential alternatives. This included the publication of "Biofuels: handle with care," an analysis of EU biofuels policy with recommendations for action, in November 2009. This document contains a clear set of policy recommendations focusing variously on European policy, European member states, and investors and industry.


Advocacy by FoE Netherlands and allied Dutch NGOs has also led to some important national developments that are influencing the course of EU debates relating to agrofuels. Palm oil remains excluded from the Dutch subsidy ruling for green electricity for 2010, despite RSPO certified palm oil becoming available. However, palm oil is however still part of the agrofuel mix in the Netherlands, and the hard won promise from Dutch Minister Cramer that sustainability concerns would take priority cannot be fulfilled because it is over-ruled by the weaker EU Renewable Energy Directive. However, the Dutch position in Brussels includes having at least some sustainability criteria for solid biomass in the Renewable Energy Directive, and promoting the use of an indirect land use change factor for calculating emissions for agrofuels. This resulted in the postponement of an EC decision, planned for 2009, that was supposed to state that solid biomass would not be subject to sustainability criteria.


FoE Netherlands also commissioned a publication on alternative implementation of the EU Renewables Directive for Transport in the Netherlands, "New Roads for Transport - Towards a sustainable solution for the 10% renewable transport energy target in 2020." This report on agrofuels alternatives also found its way to Brussels and the UK, and has been quoted frequently by industry players from the electric car and food industries.


In April 2009, FoE US and Earthtrack published a report "A Boon for Bad Biofuels: federal tax credits and mandates underwrite environmental damage at taxpayer expense," which focuses on US subsidies to the biofuels industry.


In September, comments were also submitted by the environmental community in the US, including FoE US, on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s draft regulation on the United States Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS, in the Energy Independence Security Act of 2007, mandates a massive fivefold increase in agrofuels use and is a major driver of agrofuels production in the United States and abroad.


FoEI also facilitated research into agrofuels in many parts of the world, including on:


  • the increase in agrofuel plantations in Central America and the link with the free trade agreement between the US and Central America; 
  • the financing policies of the Inter-American Development Bank and how they are exacerbating climate change by promoting dirty energy and the promotion of agrofuels in Latin America; 
  • the size and scope of subsidies for agrofuels in the US; 
  • jatropha production in Swaziland; 
  • land grabbing in Africa; and 
  • agrofuels production in Mozambique. 


This research has also been used to develop position papers on the activities of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. It also laid the foundations for the proposed mandatory code of conduct for palm oil companies in Malaysia. FoE has also conducted research into the position of Dutch banks financing agrofuel plantations, and how much money oil companies receive for using agrofuels.


Friends of the Earth’s aim of reaching a broader public was also substantially achieved through the broadcasting of footage from our commissioned film, "Lost in Palm Oil," which was broadcast on ARTE channel (30 million audience); on Dutch public broadcaster VARA; on Spanish national television (TVE); and on NDR  (Germany).


In keeping with FoEI’s commitment to awareness raising and mobilization we also:


  • Participated in a tour to raise awareness about the threats posed by biofuels in Costa Rica and other Central American countries.


  • Held a forum in El Salvador on the international day against plantations, denouncing regional plans to promote monocultures of sugar cane, palm and jatropha for agrofuels.


  • Participated in public activities such as ‘Biofools Day’ activities, on 1 April. Over 10,000 activists participated, selecting Hugh Grant of Monsanto as 2009’s biggest Biofool.


Held an agrofuels awareness raising event in Tokyo, which was hosted by FoE Japan and its allies.


Created or participated in many other ‘solidarity spaces’ including an international forum on agrofuels in Sao Paolo, Brazil; an international forum on agrofuels in Paraguay; the dialogue of the Americas on agribusiness and agrofuels, "Building Alternatives from the food and energy sovereignty perspectives"; and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) forum in Nigeria.


The EJRN Program has also collaborated with the Agrofuels Campaign to organize a set of concrete activities including a publication on the role of private banks and their funding to promote agrofuels, a photo exhibition and activities on plantations and agrofuels at the European Social Forum.


The Stop Agrofuels Campaign working areas are:


  • Defence of land
  • Building a movement against agribusiness
  • Certification mechanisms
  • EU and US goals for agrofuels


Cross-cutting areas include:


  • With the EJRN Program - a focus on exposing and countering the role of corporations, trade and investments in the agrofuels sector.


  • With the Food Sovereignty Program - on Plantations.


Coordinators and participants



Silvia Quiroa, FoEI El Salvador,

Torry Kuswardono, FoE Indonesia,


The Stop Agrofuels Steering Group includes:

  • For Africa: Thuli Makama, FoE Swaziland
  • For North America: Kate Horner, FoE US
  • For Latin America: Elias Diaz, FoE Paraguay, and FoE Brazil
  • For Asia Pacific: Damien Ase, FoE Papua New Guinea
  • For Europe: Adrian Bebb, FoE Europe


Groups that have actively participated in the Stop Agrofuels Campaign in 2009 include: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay and Uruguay.

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