Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Biofuels and ‘Land Grabs’ in Poor Nations

By James Kanter


12 June, 2009

Current protections against land-grabs in developing countries are “absolutely insufficient,” said Olivier De Schutter, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food.

Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, warned on Thursday that biofuels remain an important driver behind big land acquisitions and land leases in poor countries that jeopardize local inhabitants’ food security.

About one-fifth of the activities that Mr. De Schutter deemed as “land grabs” – often backed by hedge funds or sovereign wealth funds – are projects in parts of Africa and Asia aimed at growing crops to make feedstock for biofuels.

“There still is a vast market for first-generation agrofuels,” said Mr. De Schutter, who added that he considered the safeguards adopted by the European Union in 2008 “absolutely insufficient to monitor to the impacts on the countries concerned by shifts in land use for agrofuels production.”

Next-generation biofuels made from plants that would reduce competition with food crops were still in development and so the existing incentives for biofuels in the United States and European Union remained a cause for grave concern, he said.

These newer fuels “were too distant for the moment to say that we can continue to insist on the use of agrofuels for transport.”

He also underlined that second-generation agrofuels “will be hugely water consuming.”

Mr. De Schutter was in Brussels to propose a set of principles and measures to curb “land grabbing” by investors seeking agricultural lands for major crops, like soy and jatropha, which are often exported to produce food for rich-world consumers or to produce biofuels.

He said some large-scale land investments provided much-needed new infrastructure and employment.

But he said that new rules were needed because some investments were leading to evictions, sudden losses of farm and grazing lands, and greater competition for water resources.

Mr. De Schutter was appointed to his post in 2008 by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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