Biofuel Firms' African Land Grab Has Colonial Echoes

Western companies shower nations with promises met with some suspicion
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2008 5:20 PM CDT
"The whole thing is nothing but positive," an official in Tanzania says of efforts by Western companies to acquire land to grow crops that can be made into biofuels%u2014though detractors are plentiful.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – Africa is being seeded for a coming boom in biofuels, as Western companies buy thousands of acres to cultivate vegetable-oil-rich plants like the Jatropha curcas, Der Spiegel reports. In countries like Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia, firms are often securing century-long farming rights for nothing but a promise to invest in local roads and schools.

For governments and the companies, the situation is win-win: The land is often unused and sparse—“It’s just marginal,” said one Ethiopian official. But the land grabs and forced relocations are stirring ugly memories of colonialist exploitation: Mining companies made similar promises in the early 1090s. "What happened? No schools, no wells and few jobs, which were low-paying jobs, to boot," said a Tanzanian journalist.