16 March 2009

Ghana: Women Lose Their Farms to Biofuel Production

Accra — Ghanaian small scale farmers, particularly women, are facing displacement from their farm lands.

In recent times, the northern parts of Ghana are said to be witnessing an influx of foreign companies engaged in jatropha and sugar-cane plantation for biofuel production.

Regrettably, some of these companies that are investing in biofuel production acquire large track of land but only pay the farmers for the portion of the land they utilize, in spite of an existing contract.

Current trends in the biofuel production, with major policy thrust globally points to many motivations. Some analysts have reckoned that it has been difficult to estimate the costs and benefits of production of biofuel.

The Global Convention on Food Security requires governments to develop and implement national food security plans and to create an international network of local, national, and regional food reserves.

Energy crisis and high cost of fossil fuel have given rise to the quest for alternative energy source of biofuel. Sadly, women as social and economic constituencies are often marginalized in most economic policies, even though they are most pinched by such policies.

In a developing country such as Ghana, biofuel production entails the use of productive lands and not marginal lands at the expense of food production for food and livelihood security.

The use of crops such as maize, soya bean, sugar cane, oil palm, sorghum for biofuel production also have serious implications for food security.

It is exactly the areas that women congregate such as agriculture which has long been an important source of income for them, that would be under attack amidst biofuel production craze.

Although women dominate in the agriculture sector, which engages over fifty percent of the population directly, only few of them are engaged in cash crop production, which is mostly supported by government to be competitive, compared to food crop which engages majority of women.

According to Mr. David Eli of Food Security Policy and Advocacy Network (FoodSPAN) prices of food went up last year because industrialized countries used them to produce fuel to correct the ills of climate change.

"People are crying because they don't have their livelihoods concerns being met. There is no policy guideline by government. What will happen to our land, food security in future if we leave our land to the production of jatropha for fuel?", he inquired.

In that regard, ActionAid Ghana in collaboration with FoodSPAN is implementing a two year project on biofuel production in Ghana. A study was commissioned to investigate and explore the debate into biofuel production in Ghana and its implications for livelihood and food security of small scale farmers, especially women, and the environment.

At a media dissemination workshop in Accra, lead researcher and General Secretary of the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) of TUC, Mr. Kingsley Offei-Nkansah stressed that food security is about accessibility of food to a whole nation, household and every individual, although there are differential access to it.

He bemoaned that Africa is largely agricultural, but a net food importer and so must sit up, and wondered what would happen if it let out it lands for fuel production.

"Biofuel promotion in Africa is largely driven by foreign concerns with foreign interests largely to meet external demands on biofuel."

Mr. Offei-Nkansah noted there is no policy framework that guides biofuel development in Ghana.

However, he said some institutions including Energy Commission, Energy Ministry, Ministry of Food and Agriculture and Lands Commission have at various times examined biofuel production.

He mentioned small holder production, community energy development and large-scale plantation as the three identified models of biofuel of biofuel production.

He disclosed the large scale plantation model have serious implications for livelihood and food security of small-scale producers in Ghana, who are mostly women.

"Destruction of economic tress such as shea-nut and dawadawa trees actually deny community members, especially women their source of livelihood. It also restricts the hitherto extensive traditional rearing of animals in the affected communities."

The study revealed that the widespread practice of monoculture biofuel has caused destruction of forest with its effect on biodiversity.

It recommends among others a comprehensive policy framework that incorporates the views of all stakeholders, and clearly indicating sectoral linkages need to be put in place by policy makers and the government.

With regard to the production models, it proposes that biofuel production should be driven by local of community energy needs, rather than foreign driven or external energy needs.

Further, it stated that companies investing in biofuel production in various communities should be compelled by legislation to make full disclosure of their plans for the use of the lands and other resources in order to improve the knowledge of the local communities to make informed decisions.

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