On April 28, 2009 MELCA Mahiber hosted a consultative workshop on biofuels at Ethiopia Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The intent of the workshop was to enhance the capacity of Oromia Regional Government officials when making decisions concerning biofuel investments. Workshop participants, including representatives from agriculture, rural development, environment, energy and investment sectors, donors, NGO’s and CSO’s, government research institutes, and academicians, developed the following guidelines for future interventions:
– Biofuel development strategy of Ethiopia should require Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval as a pre-implementation requirement.
– All biofuel development investment proposals should pass through EIA procedures to offset the significant economic, social and environmental consequences.
– The new investment proclamation, which overrides the EIA proclamation that asserts the necessity of implementing EIA before the granting of land for any kind of investment, should be amended.
– The already begun effort of producing land management plans for Oromia region should continue and future allocation of land should consult this document.
– All the concerned bodies should work to build the capacity of zonal and woreda government officials so that they have the capacity to review investment applications and enforce laws.
– The government officials should pay periodic visits to biofuel farms and inspect whether or not the investment addresses environmental and social concerns.
– MELCA should continue research based advocacy as it is of great importance for informed decision making.
– Universities and research institutes should engage themselves in further studying the feedstock plants of agrofuel productions and their environmental impacts.
During the course of the workshop, four papers on biofuels were presented. The first, International Trends in Agrofuel Development: Opportunities and Risks recommended at least a five year moratorium on biofuel investment and cautioned stakeholders to ‘stop, think and act.’ Moreover, the report highlighted the fact that, according to a World Bank report from April, 2008, biofuels have triggered a 75% increase in world food prices. The demand for biofuels derives from the big three consumers, the US, Europe and China, making a political push to diversify their energy and fuel consumption sources. Developing countries are paying the price for these ill-advised political agendas by allowing investors to rapidly convert their lands to biofuel production.
Rapid Assessment of Biofuels Development in Ethiopia, provided a general context of the biofuel investment sector in Ethiopia. The paper highlighted the need to include an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to allocating land to biofuel investors and warned against allocating forest and agricultural lands for such investment. Currently, 75% of land allocated for biofuels is forest and agricultural land.
Ecological and Socio-Economic Impact of Biofuel Development: The Case of Babile/ East Hararge summarized an in-depth study of biofuel feedstock production in East Hararge Zone/ Babile of the Oromia region. Again, it was recommended that conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment and gaining project permission from the local community is absolutely vital. The current biofuel project being conducted in Babile and East Hararge is damaging the environment as well as the livelihood of the local people.
Ecological and Socio-Economic Impact of Biofuel Development: The Case of Wolaita, determined that the economic benefit of the land is greater if food crops are grown rather than if the land is used for castor/ jatropha production. Specifically, it noted that farmers lost more than 27,000 ETB per hectare planted in jatropha as opposed to yams. The report also highlighted the loss of biodiversity when farms are converted to monoculture biofuel farming, as it claimed that the typical farmer in that area grows about 22 varieties of crops, vegetables and root crops.
Obviously, biofuel investment policies in Ethiopia, or any developing nation for that matter, should be examined closely. Policy makers should assess social, environmental and economic costs when determining the viability of supporting biofuel investment.
JTV & MELCA staff
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia