News land Grabbing February / March 2013


The European Commission’s proposal amending the Renewable Energy Directive



On 12 October 2012 the Commission tabled a proposal amending the Renewable Energy (RE) Directive. The proposal stipulates that 5% of member states’ transport fuels can consist of food-based biofuels, or first generation biofuels (currently this is 10%). This 5% is approximately the current level of biofuel consumption in the EU. To achieve this EU-companies, mainly British, German and Italian, are grabbing land in Africa, as such a 5% target will not reduce the motives for land grabbing. Furthermore, the 5% is not a cap in sensu strictu, but only the counting of conventional biofuels towards member states’ renewable energy targets for transport fuels. In other words member states can decide to use and subsidize unsustainable food-based biofuels even beyond the 5% target, which increases pressures on African farmland.



Currently, 78% of the land grabbed worldwide is for agricultural production of which three quarters are destined to biofuel production. Perpetrating the current consumption levels by upholding the 5% target is in a way legitimizing large-scale land grabbing abroad, because the 5% target is currently being met by mainly large-scale plantations. As such the impact of the EU biofuels policy is reducing African family farmers’ access to land, water and other resources and it is harming local agricultural production, which is vital for food sovereignty.



Biofuel production requires vast tracts of farmland and water, which displaces domestic food production in Africa. The proposal addresses insufficiently the problematic link between food and fuel; the 5% target is only to be applied to food-based biofuels, ignoring that other land-based biofuels have the same negative socio-economic and environmental impacts.  It is a step in the good direction that the Commission states that after 2020 biofuels which “are produced from crops used for food and feed should not be subsidized.”, but this should also be applied to all land-based biofuels.



However, EU environment Ministers recently blocked the Commission’s proposal, despite scientific evidence that first generation biofuels can have a worse impact on carbon emissions than fossil fuels. Some Central-European countries argued that so-called Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC)[1] criteria are an issue for third countries, but not for Europe. Therefore the Ministers of these countries argue that by simply keeping supply in Europe, the impact of monocultures abroad will be minimized. However, data suggests that EU companies increasingly invest in monocultures in third countries for the production of biofuels, in the process provoking large scale land grabs.



By discarding the Commission’s proposal member states would blatantly ignore the casual link between biofuel targets on the one side and climate change, land grabbing and hunger on the other. We believe that the EU should no longer incentivize biofuel investment in Africa that has dramatic socio-economic impact for the local population and therefore we demand to cancel consumption targets for biofuels. If the EU opts for a gradual phasing out like in the Commission’s proposal, it should broaden the phase-out to all land-based biofuels and not limit itself to food-based biofuels.

[1] Indirect Land Use Change : “The indirect land use change impacts of biofuels, also known as ILUC, relates to the unintended consequence of releasing more carbon emissions due to land-use changes around the world induced by the expansion of croplands for ethanol or biodiesel production.” (Mostly Forest clearances) (Wikipedia, 2013,


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