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Norwegian biofuel company destroyed local forest to establish a large jatropha plantation

Ghana: Norwegian biofuel company destroyed local forest to establish a large jatropha (1) plantation
Ghana: Norwegian biofuel company destroyed local forest to establish a large jatropha (1) plantation

World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 129 - April 2008


Agriculture in Northern Ghana accounts for more than 90% of
household incomes and employs more that 70% of the population in
the region. Most of the agricultural production is by
small-holders at subsistence level, reliant on seasonal rainfall
which is unpredictable and sporadic. During the dry season much
of the population is idle, forcing people to migrate to the more
prosperous southern parts of the country where they are employed
in menial jobs.

Rural communities who are desperate for incomes are enticed by
developers who promise them a "better future" under the guise of
jobs with the argument that they are currently only just
surviving from the "unproductive land" and that they stand to
earn a regular income if they give up the land for development.
This argument fails to appreciate the African view of the
meaning of the land to the community. While the initial
temptation to give up the land to earn a wage is great, it
portends of an ominous future where the community's sovereignty,
identity and their sense of community is lost because of the
fragmentation that the community will suffer.

The strategy for the acquisition of the land often takes the
following course. The imaginations of a few influential leaders
in the community are captured. They are told about prospects for
the community due to the project and they are swayed with
promises of positions in the company or with monetary
inducements. The idea is that these people do the necessary
"footwork" in the villages where they spread the word about job
opportunities. A document is then prepared, essentially a
contract, to lease the land to the company. In the event of
problems, the developer can press their claim by enforcing the
'contract' or agreement. When the legality of the process is not
adequately scrutinized, the developers have their way but,
subject to proper scrutiny, it emerges these contracts are not
legally binding as they have not gone through the correct legal
channels. This is what happened in the Alipe area.

In November 2007 a team from RAINS (Regional Advisory and
Information Network Systems) discovered massive destruction of
vegetation cover over a large stretch of land near a village
called Alipe within the White Volta River basin about 30
kilometres from Tamale, the capital town of the Northern region
of Ghana. Heavy agricultural machinery were systematically
pulling down trees and decimating the area a few metres south of
the village. The land had been stripped bare of all its
vegetation cover. Enquiry revealed that the site was to be the
beginning of a large jatropha plantation developed by a
Norwegian biofuel company called BioFuel Africa - a subsidiary
of Bio Fuel Norway.

Using national regulations, RAINS managed to get them to stop
the destruction but not before more than 2 600 hectares of land
had been stripped of its natural vegetation cover. Still, the
identity of the company responsible for the development had not
yet been disclosed. They were described simply as "some white
men". In this community, like in most parts of Ghana, over 80
percent of the land is held under communal ownership and more
that 70 percent of this land is managed by traditional
ruler-chiefs mainly on behalf the members of their traditional
areas. The chief was very categorical that he had not made such
a grant and that he had also been battling with those "white
people" to stop them - without much success. He confirmed that
he "thumb printed" a document in the company of the Assemblyman
of the area which had been brought to his palace by the "white
people" but he did not confirm its contents. The Chief was
initially unwilling to go against the wishes of his people as
his efforts to stop the developers were being interpreted by the
community as "driving away opportunities to earn an income
during the current dry season".

After presentation of the case to the community by RAINS and
further discussions, the community realised that BioFuel
Africa's promises were really a hoax. The community understood
the impact that such a project would have on their lives
individually and on the community in general and realized that
the promise of jobs, shared prosperity and improved livelihoods
- the Company's main benefit to the community - were not really
commitments but mere campaign gimmicks. But how long will this
hold as they sit idle for the rest of the year until the rains
come in April?

Most vocal indeed were the women at the session. Looking at
BioFuel's representative in the face a woman asked, "Look at all
the sheanut trees you have cut down already and considering the
fact that the nuts that I collect in a year give me cloth for
the year and also a little capital. I can invest my petty income
in the form of a ram and sometimes in a good year, I can buy a
cow. Now you have destroyed the trees and you are promising me
something you do not want to commit yourself to. Where then do
you want me to go? What do you want me to do?"



Such is the story of how a Norwegian biofuel company took
advantage of Africa's traditional system of communal land
ownership and current climate and economic pressure to claim and
deforest large tracts of land in Kusawgu, Northern Ghana with
the intention of creating "the largest jatropha plantation in
the world".



Excerpted from "Biofuel land grabbing in Northern Ghana", by
Bakari Nyari, Vice Chairman of Regional Advisory and Information
Network Systems (RAINS), Ghana and African Biodiversity Network
Steering Committee member,
Click here to read Biofuel Land Grabbing in Northern Ghana


(1) Jatropha curcas, is indigenous to Central America. Its oily
seeds can be used to produce biodiesel. The plant, particularly
the seeds, is toxic to humans and animals.
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