Biofuel investments conflict with local residents


A new study says bio fuel investment has not brought about desired results.
Dr Aklilu Amsalu’s research indicates that bio fuel investment, which was introduced on a large scale in 2007, has performed under expectations.  Aklilu’s assessment indicates that most of the companies involved in bio fuel have vanished or do not have the capacity to be successful.
The nation looked to bio fuel to meet growing energy demands and improve farmer’s livelihoods.
This led to some 200 companies obtaining a license from the Ethiopian investment office to invest in bio fuel. However, so far only 11 companies have actually begun producing bio fuel.
Several African and other developing countries allotted land to large corporations to cultivate and develop bio fuel. It is seen as a potential substitute for fossil fuel.
According to the 2007 Bio fuel Development and Utilization Strategy of Ethiopia, the country’s available potential land for bio-energy development is estimated at 23.3 million hectares.
Local Communities
According to the study, local communities have failed to benefit from bio-fuel. Instead conflict has arisen between companies and local residents.
“Interviewed farmers indicated that they had some conflicts with the Jatropha companies in their respective areas,” the study explained.
Residents complain the investors have constricted their use of the land and natural resources. 
Compensation for the use of the land was insufficient to meet their basic needs and frequently arrived late. This has led to disputes over payments and the amount of land given out to companies; a major source of conflict.
Disputes over land use has arisen, the study argues, because existing land acquisition processes have not been transparent enough and local stakeholders have not had adequate representation.  It also argues that impact assessments were not properly conducted or enforced which has caused land fragmentation that has alienated local communities. The study suggested that proper land inventory is necessary to identify potential areas for bio fuel development with reduced negative socio-economic and environmental impacts. Jatropha investment
The study mainly focused on Jatropha investment. It calls the idea that Jatropha performs well on ‘marginal land,’ a myth. It argues that it is not clear that using Jatropha as a bio fuel feedstock in Ethiopia is financially viable.
Livestock production in the study areas is largely carried out in a free grazing system, in which livestock feed in communal grazing areas, according to the study.  The Jatropha companies have acquired land that has been used by the local community for grazing. “In particular, land put under large-scale Jatropha cultivation is fenced without leaving a walk way to water livestock,” it added. “For instance, the main source of conflict between the investor and the local community in Bordede, West Hararge area was related to water resources,” Aklilu’s study clarified.
The study looked at selected bio fuel investment areas. Ambitious targets have been set for bio fuel in the nation’s Growth and Transformation Plan.
Sun Bio fuels, a UK based company, which acquired 5,000hct of land in Offa Woreda, Wolaita zone has developed only 1,000hct with Jatropha. The land acquired was previously under scattered vegetation cover and largely used by the local community for livestock grazing and as source of firewood. The company withdrew and the plantation was abandoned. The main reasons for withdrawal include low yield of Jatropha, conflicts with the local community over land use and internal management problems of the company.
Imami New Age Biotech, acquired 10,000hct of land in Bordede area of Meisso Woreda of west Hararge Zone for the cultivation of Jatropha but only developed 100hct. The population in the area is semi-pastoral and the land acquired by the company has been previously used for livestock grazing and rotational crop farming by the local community. The company withdrew from the area abandoning the Jatropha plantation. The land has been handed over to another investor for cereal crop farming. Among others, disagreements with the local community over daily wages and unmet co-benefits promised, such as development of drinking water and provision of other basic social infrastructure, are the main reasons for conflict and eventual withdrawal of the company.
Flora EcoPower, a German company, entered Fedis, East Hararge to develop biodiesel using castor beans. The company acquired 940hct of land for castor bean plantation. In addition, the company introduced an out-grower scheme with the local community who cultivated castor beans on communal land and farms. However, the company could not succeed due to disagreements with the local community on the price of castor beans. Farmers didn’t find the price they received from castor competitive as compared to the price of cereal crops, according to the study.