Friday, December 28, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Chile: Mapuche reclaim ancestral lands stolen by tree plantation company

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 185, December 2012, 

Chile: Mapuche communities reclaim ancestral lands stolen by tree plantation companies

Chile is currently debating amendments to Decree Law 701, which was passed during the first years of the military dictatorship and has been used for decades to promote the expansion of large-scale monoculture tree plantations. This expansion is driven by hefty government subsidies, and has been achieved at the expense of the violation of the rights of Mapuche indigenous communities, who have been violently evicted from their lands and left marginalized in their own ancestral territory.

The amendments are aimed at enabling the further expansion of tree plantations onto peasant and indigenous lands, in order to raise the total plantation area from the current 2.6 million hectares to 5.7 million hectares. The government is promoting tree plantations with false promises of the benefits this activity will bring to peasant and indigenous communities. It is estimated that there are two million hectares of land currently under the control of peasant farmers and indigenous people on which tree plantations could be expanded.

But Mapuche communities are all too familiar with the results of decades of policies promoting the spread of this so-called "forestry" activity. Above all, because it is precisely on their lands that this expansion has taken place. Moreover, as a result of this "forestry" model, the municipalities with the largest areas of tree plantations are the poorest in the country, with some of the lowest rankings on the Human Development Index.

The three regions in the south where tree plantation activity is concentrated are the poorest in Chile. The Mapuche have also witnessed the disappearance of native forests, the destruction of water sources, the loss of biodiversity, forced migration to the cities, and the destruction of their culture.

The Mapuche have been struggling to recover their territory for years. As a result, they have faced violent repression and been criminalized when they fight back against the occupation of their lands. Nevertheless, they are not prepared to give up. Today there are numerous ongoing processes of resistance and the reclaiming of ancestral lands. 

Lafkenche Mapuche communities in the municipalities of Carahue and Tirúa Sur have initiated one of these processes. A total of 60 families have taken back 2,000 hectares of land that belongs to them and was being illegally occupied, primarily by the plantation company Forestal Mininco, which forms part of one of the most powerful business groups in Chile.

While the families have still not moved into the area recovered to live, as first steps they uprooted newly planted pine trees and then began to fence off and sow the land. They have now planted 300 hectares of crops and the first harvests are expected in February. They have also carried out inspections of the land. This is because, although they are familiar with this territory, they do not know what condition the soil is in, and how productive it is, after so many years of being subjected to chemical spraying by the plantation companies. They first needed to conduct tests to determine if crops were actually able to grow here.

These Mapuche communities have also begun to carry out religious ceremonies called "guillatunes" (1) here on their sacred land. "We have been holding guillatunes and working on planting crops," they report.

Mininco, which is currently in the process of having its plantations certified by the FSC, does not appear to be prepared to negotiate, nor to recognize that these lands rightfully belong to the Mapuche communities. On the contrary, there have been violent confrontations, and some community members have even been unjustly slapped with criminal charges.

The Mapuche have been accused of setting fires in tree plantations, despite evidence demonstrating that companies have started fires on their own plantations in order to collect the insurance, since the pine trees planted there had been killed and thus rendered unusable by an infestation of wood wasps.

Mapuche communities are rewriting their history. In the words of one of our Mapuche brothers, "We want to go down in history as the ones who recovered our territory."

(1) The guillatun (also spelled nguillatun) is a Mapuche ceremony that connects our world to the spirit world in order to ask for well-being, to strengthen the unity of the community, or to offer thanks for what has been received. It may be carried out to ask for good weather, for successful sowing and harvests, for good health and an abundance of food, and for physical and spiritual strength. Individual communities carry out these ceremonies periodically, usually at least once a year.

Teresa Pérez, WRM,, based on data obtained during a visit to the region with members of the Chilean organization Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales (OLCA), carried out in November 2012.


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[biofuelwatch] Sierra Leone: Socfin´s oil palm plantations violating human rights

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 185, December 2012, 

Sierra Leone: Socfin´s oil palm plantations violating human rights


On 1st of December 2012, aggrieved landowners from 36 villages in Malen Chiefdom, affected by large-scale oil palm plantations of the Socfin company, sent a letter through their local association (MALOA) to the Human Rights Commission in Sierra Leone, denunciating human rights abuses such as ongoing harassment, molestation and intimidation. They declare in the letter that "…we will no longer allow the Socfin Agricultural Company personnel and or their machines to enter upon or operate on our land." They oppose the land deal the company made with the Paramount Chief and Chiefdom authorities.

Socfin Agricultural Company S.L. Limited (SAC) is a subsidiary of the Belgium company, Socfin. SAC leased over 6,500 hectares for oil palm and rubber plantations in Malen chiefdom, Pujehun District, for more than 50 years with a possible extension of 21 years. The compensation of US$ 5 per acre is only half going to the land owners, while women are not compensated at all. Only unskilled employment is offered against a very low payment of 10,000 Leones (about US 2.30) per day. Expansion of the plantations for another 5,500 ha under similar conditions is in progress.

Research of local NGOs confirm the complaints of the communities and add that communities neither were consulted, nor gave their consent to the plantations, and that communities lost farmland. The local authorities are aware of the situation, including of a complaint of communities that Socfin employees destructed their tree-crop plantations. In spite of several initiatives of the authorities to address the situation, the communities´ grievances have not been solved.

The communities end their letter saying "It is in this regard that we are humbly requesting for your timely intervention so as to forestall any further eventuality. We are now desperate and can no longer tolerate the operations of the Socfin Company on our family land."

Green Scenery and other NGOs in Sierra Leone that are working on large scale investments in agriculture are calling for a moratorium on land deals, a review of signed lease agreements and Memorandum of Understandings and binding regulations. Up to date more than 20% of the arable land in Sierra Leone is leased or is about to be acquired by large scale foreign investors.

Main shareholder of Socfin is the French Bolloré group, a key player in oil palm and other business, present in many African countries and, for example, known for its abusive practices in Cameroon.

Sent by Joseph Rahall ( letter and resolution of MALOA can be accessed at . For more information see also On Bolloré in Cameroon, see


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Thursday, December 27, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Liberia: Our future is now - communities gather to discuss oil palm expansion

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 185, December 2012, 

 Liberia: Our future is now - communities gather to discuss oil palm expansion and to repair and prevent human rights violations

Under the slogan ´Our Future is Now´, more than 150 people – men, women, youth and elderly - from communities inside oil palm concession areas in Liberia gathered between 27 and 29 November in Bopolu City – Gbarpolu County - to discuss the expansion of export-oriented oil palm plantations in Liberia and the impacts of this expansion on their livelihoods. Two big oil palm companies are active in Liberia: the Malaysia-based company Sime Darby with a 311,187 ha concession area, conceded through a 63-years contract with the Liberian government, signed in 2009. The company is allowed to plant 220.000 ha of oil palm. The other company active in Liberia is Golden Veroleum, controlled by the Singapore-based Golden Agri company, with a 65-years contract for a concession area totaling 350,000 ha.

The conference meeting was organized by the Liberian NGOs Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Save my Future Foundation (SAMFU) and Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev), and facilitated by members of the Development Education Network in Liberia.

The event allowed an important 3-days exchange of information between communities from Cape Mount County, already affected by the Sime Darby oil palm plantations, and communities from other three counties in the concession area who are still not affected.

Also the participation of international activists from countries with a large experience on the impacts of industrial oil palm plantations, like Indonesia and Nigeria, contributed so that communities could have access to all the relevant information on oil palm plantations and their impacts and listen to what happened in other places to people's lives and, most important, know about how people organize and struggle in other places to halt industrial tree plantations and, at the same time, guarantee their rights over their territories and livelihoods.

One general complaint that could be heard during the meeting was the fact that people have not been informed, neither asked if they wanted that oil palm plantations would cover huge areas of their territories. Instead they have got many promises from the company of which little or nothing has happened in practice. Several testimonies from the people in Cape Mount County, affected by Sime Darby, mentioned serious human rights violations such as losing of farm land crucial to secure food and food sovereignty to the families. Other complaints included water pollution and the resulting lack of access to safe drinking water. Also the lost of forest areas, on which people severely depend for their livelihoods, was mentioned. Forests also play a role in maintaining religious traditions, which are at risk when oil palm plantations destroy sacred sites in forest areas. Although jobs have been created, also many complaints could be heard about the type of job that has been given – unskilled and often temporary labour – and only to some of the communities; furthermore, people complained about the low salary and the lack of a labor contract that includes the respect of fundamental rights of workers. (More on the impacts of the Sime Darby oil palm plantations can be found in , a recent publication of SDI produced in collaboration with WRM).

It was concluded that the ongoing large-scale oil palm expansion in Liberia is benefiting especially the companies, and nor the communities neither the Liberian state that through its government signs the concession contract with the companies. It was also mentioned that the contracts cover a much too long period of more than six decades, during which the oil palm companies can make use of the peoples' lands almost for free. The companies also have right to tax breaks. And after this period, the lands instead of being returned to the communities will be given to the Liberian state.

A new land law now under discussion in Liberia was seen as a crucial process that must be accelerated and could contribute to preventing human rights violations by oil palm expansion in future through guaranteeing effectively the rights of communities over their territories, farmlands and forests on which they depend. Another basic policy that needs to be put in place and emphasized by representatives of farmers organizations, is that governments should support peoples agriculture and strive to food sovereignty for their nations. It is more than evident from all the experiences in Southern countries that small-scale agriculture can guarantee much more effectively peoples livelihoods than large-scale oil palm development. Nowadays, ministers of agriculture from Southern countries that deal both with oil palm concession and with the support to the agriculture of communities use to prioritize the concession to large-scale agribusiness projects, in the detriment of small-scale agriculture that the huge majority of the people practice, and that potentially can much more benefit these people and countries in terms of food sovereignty. Large-scale agribusiness concessions tend to lead to food imports and increases in food prices, which is another violation of people´s basic right to food.

The meeting ended with the formulation and approval of a declaration, signed by the participants from the communities. The document makes an appeal to the Liberian authorities for justice, and declares e.g. that "We are the rightful owners of the land where our communities have made our farms, raised our children, and practiced our traditions"


The complete declaration can be accessed (in English) in, and also a press release was published and can be accessed at

Winnie Overbeek, WRM, email:


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[biofuelwatch] Fwd: Ethanol Makers Get Creative With Corn

From the Wall St. Journal:

Ethanol Makers Get Creative With Corn

Someday soon, your breakfast muffin might include fiber from the same company that makes ethanol fuel for your car.

U.S. ethanol producers are finding creative ways to earn more money as demand for their flagship product stagnates. These companies are using corn not only to make ethanol but also ingredients for products ranging from baked goods and nutrition bars to industrial coatings to fish food.

Poet LLC and Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. GPRE +2.41% are among several large makers of corn-based ethanol that are turning their facilities into versatile refineries to pump out specialized products alongside ethanol.

Their plans to diversify have gained urgency as the $40 billion ethanol industry copes with its second sharp downturn in four years. The sector, which boomed through much of the past decade, is encountering resistance to the use of higher ethanol levels in gasoline, as well as pressure on margins from volatile corn and energy prices.

For several years, ethanol makers increased profits by boosting production capacity to keep up with government requirements for billions of gallons of biofuels to be blended into motor fuel. But now supplies are ample, and demand has hit a wall. Auto makers, wary about potential engine wear, have been hesitant to embrace a 2010 government rule change allowing some vehicles to use as much as 15% ethanol, above the prior limit of 10%. The Energy Information Administration forecasts U.S. consumption of ethanol will rise less than 1% this year to 12.9 billion gallons.

Several companies idled ethanol plants this year as profits were pinched by sluggish gasoline demand and record corn prices amid the severe U.S. drought.

Now they want to tap into new markets to diversify their revenue and buffer themselves from cyclical swings in energy markets. Ethanol companies are trying to earn money from each of the four main components of a corn kernel: starch, protein, fiber and oil.

In the past few years, many companies have retrofitted their dry-mill ethanol plants to produce corn oil, which can be sold for use in animal feed or biodiesel fuel. The new product helped those companies counter negative ethanol margins this year and fueled interest among industry executives in pursuing other new revenue streams based on the protein and fiber in corn.

Poet, the second-largest U.S. ethanol producer by production capacity after Archer Daniels Midland Co., ADM -0.97% is developing a fiber product to be sold for use in cereal, baked goods and nutrition bars. The South Dakota company is working with a food-ingredient company to develop its new fiber product, which would compete with oat and wheat fiber, Chief Executive Jeff Lautt said.

Poet used to sell the fiber as an animal-feed ingredient, but has developed a way to purify it for human consumption, which would be more profitable. The company is likely to announce the name of its partner and the product's brand name in 2014, Mr. Lautt said.

Poet and other ethanol companies also are starting to produce a protein called zein that is extracted from distillers' dried grains, an animal-feed product that has traditionally been the main byproduct of ethanol. Zein can be used in industrial packaging, adhesives and coatings.

In five to 10 years, Mr. Lautt said, Poet might get as much as 40% of its revenue from co-products of ethanol, up from 15% to 20% historically.

Green Plains, the fourth-biggest ethanol producer, is capturing carbon dioxide—released when starch is fermented to make ethanol—to grow algae for use in fish food and high-value chemicals. A joint venture among Green Plains, Clarcor Inc.CLC -0.38% and BioProcessH2O LLC puts the gas into bioreactor tubes that grow the algae.

Green Plains CEO Todd Becker said he hopes the company can make all its profit during future industry downturns from algae sales, while breaking even on ethanol production.

The Omaha, Neb., firm has already benefited from corn oil. For the first nine months of this year, Green Plains reported an operating loss of $32.4 million on ethanol production. But it had an operating profit of $25 million on corn-oil production, which yielded an operating margin of 57%.

Some ethanol companies are also diversifying by selling feed products specialized for different animals.

Badger State Ethanol LLC, a small Wisconsin producer, now get 5% of its revenue from an animal-feed product that contains less fiber than standard distillers' grains. The lower fiber makes it easier to digest for hogs and poultry than distillers' grains, which are mainly fed to cattle, said company President Gary Kramer.

Badger State's focus on developing co-products has helped it remain profitable "through what I would call very dark, stormy times," Mr. Kramer said.

These diversification strategies carry risks, say industry observers. The efforts might require significant investments, and for niche products, the exact market sizes aren't yet clear.

Companies would likely have to slash the manufacturing costs of products meant for industrial use, such as zein protein, to compete effectively with petroleum-based products. "Petroleum products are still probably fitting the need at a cheaper cost," said Chad Hart, an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University.

The ethanol industry is following a path previously taken by petroleum refiners. Gasoline has been the industry's main output since the invention of the automobile, but over the past century, refiners repeatedly seized on opportunities to expand by selling other products derived from crude oil, including diesel and jet fuel.

"Where gasoline might be weak, diesel fuel might be strong, like it is right now," said Bill Leffler, owner of Venus Consulting, an energy-industry consultancy in Houston. "With multiple products, you're probably going to get less-violent swings than if you're just producing ethanol."

Write to Owen Fletcher at

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Monday, December 24, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Tanzania takes major step towards curbing land 'grabs'

Tanzania takes major step towards curbing land 'grabs'

Tanzania has set a ceiling for investors wanting to buy its agricultural land, a move welcomed by land rights campaigners

From January 2013, Tanzania will start restricting the size of land that single large-scale foreign and local investors can "lease" for agricultural use. The decision follows both local and international criticism that major investors are grabbing large chunks of land here, often displacing small-scale farmers and local communities.
The permanent secretary in the prime minister's office, Peniel Lyimo, confirmed that the government would limit the amount of land leased to investors in this east African nation. Previously, there were no limits.
"For a large-scale investor who wants to invest in sugar, the ceiling has been put at 10,000 hectares [24,710 acres]. [The limit for] rice is 5,000 hectares. The ceiling for sugar is significantly higher due to the fact that it may also produce electric power," Lyimo told IPS. Sugarcane fibre is used in the generation of electricity.

Read more:


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[biofuelwatch] Fwd: Energy from willow shrubs in upstate NY

Begin forwarded message:

Updated: 1:37 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012 | Posted: 1:37 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012

Energy from willows comes of age in upstate NY

The Associated Press
Energy from willows is moving out of the experimental stage and into commercial production in New York.
Farms are growing willow shrubs and selling them to a utility, a nursery sells them commercially and plans are being made for refineries.
"The industry has a lot of potential," said Robert McDonagh, owner of Celtic Energy Farm in Cape Vincent on Lake Ontario, which was formed by a group of investors a few years ago to grow shrub willow in northern New York as a renewable energy source.
The farm owns or rent 1,100 acres where it grows willow to supply ReEnergy, a renewable energy producer with power plants in northern New York and several other states.
"The biofuel industry is in its infancy; we're in on the ground floor," McDonagh said.
A 2007 federal law established the National Renewable Fuel Standard with a production target of 36 billion gallons of biofuel per year by 2022. It also requires that biofuels reduce greenhouse gases 50 to 60 percent compared with petroleum-based fuel.
With a typical yield of five dry tons per acre per year, 800 acres of willow could produce one megawatt of electricity, enough for 750 homes for one year, said Timothy Volk, a researcher at SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. Economic models predict willow cultivation would create 4.5 to eight jobs per thousand acres, he said.
Because of its rapid growth, willow produces eight times as much yield per acre as a typical Northeastern forest, said Larry Smart, an associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University.
"One of the really important factors with these energy crops is finding the right place on the landscape to use them," said Tom Richard, a biofuels researcher at Penn State. "Willow is very well adapted to our region. We're looking to place energy crops where they can provide maximum environmental benefits and minimal effect on food crops."
Willow grows well on land that's not suitable for other crops. Because it has deep roots and is perennial, it's more tolerant of flooding and drought than annual crops are, Richard said.
To promote planting of fuel crops to meet the 2022 target, a group of universities, businesses and government agencies formed a group that's working on two commercial-scale refineries that will produce gasoline and diesel fuel from willow and other biomass.
This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture invested $4.3 million to encourage the growth of shrub willow as a renewable energy fuel in central and northern New York. Landowners must have at least 100 acres available and have a contract to sell the harvested and chipped willow wood to ReEnergy.
Development of shrub willow for bioenergy began in Sweden in the mid-'70s. New York researchers started breeding it as a fuel crop suitable for the Northeast and Midwest in the mid-'90s but before it could become a viable crop for large-scale production, researchers had to breed varieties that were resistant to beetles and diseases and provided a high yield per acre.
Smart has developed varieties that are now commercially available through Double A Willow, a plant nursery in Fredonia in western New York. The 20-foot-tall, multi-stemmed willow bushes are ready to harvest in about three years and provide repeated harvests over 25 years.
Willow is also being grown on a smaller scale to heat institutional buildings at Colgate University in central New York, Cornell's Finger Lakes campus and Middlebury College in Vermont.
Several companies have built plants to process different types of liquid biofuel from woody plant material, including willow. "The price is going to drop as more commercial plants are built," Richard said.
Innovative willow-to-fuel technologies will develop faster when the supply of willow increases, McDonagh and fellow investors in the Celtic Energy Farm believe.
"If there's a crop in the ground and available, the projects will come," McDonagh said. "We won't really know for 10 to 15 years."
New York state could dedicate up to 1.7 million acres of non-forest land to growing bioenergy crops such as willow, estimated Volk.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 190 million acres of land in the United States could be used to produce energy crops.


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Sunday, December 23, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Honduras: Bajo Aguán – Cry for the Land

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 185, December 2012, 

Honduras: Bajo Aguán – Cry for the Land: New video denounces rights violations under the exploitative oil palm plantation model

The documentary video "Bajo Aguán: Grito por la Tierra" (Bajo Aguán: Cry for the Land) (1) was presented in Honduras on December 10 during a Human Rights Forum organized by the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras.

The documentary is aimed at exposing to the international public the state of constant threat faced by peasant farmers in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras. Its goal is to "unmask an exploitative model of production, based on large-scale monoculture plantations, in this case of oil palm, which violates human rights in the broadest sense.

The oil palm plantation industry concentrates land ownership, displaces local populations, and denies them the right to access to land, infringing on their food sovereignty. But it also criminalizes and violently represses social protest, denying the most basic rights to thousands of organized peasant families," said Giorgio Trucchi, a Rel-UITA correspondent, at the presentation of the video. (2)

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) began to promote monoculture oil palm plantations in Honduras in the 1970s. Beginning in the 1990s, the Law on the Modernization and Development of the Agricultural Sector fostered land grabbing and the concentration of land ownership, mainly in the hands of three very powerful economic groups, and promoted large-scale plantations.

Over time, and in response to the growing world demand for palm oil, the large landholders tried to forcibly evict thousands of peasant families in order to expand their plantations.

But the peasants also needed land, especially after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which left many families destitute. From that point on, peasant farmers created a large number of cooperative agricultural ventures on Agrarian Reform lands which benefited more than 20,000 people. Beginning in 2000, after drawn-out and fruitless negotiations, the peasants decided to recover their lands, initiating a process of taking back lands planted with oil palm which they claimed as their own. (3)

The land conflict intensified against an increasingly polarized political backdrop, until the most conservative sectors staged a coup d'état in 2009. The new government of right-wing Porfirio Lobo did not provide a solution for the needs of the peasants. It was then that the peasant organizations launched a major offensive to recover more than 20,000 hectares of land. The reaction was swift: as the peasant mobilization grew stronger, the repression, torture and murder of peasant farmers were stepped up. The perpetrators were different actors in the service of large landholders in the region.

Although the situation now appears to have been normalized, the tension in the Bajo Aguán continues, and the repression of the peasant movement – organized in the struggle to defend their right to the land – has expanded in a context of total impunity. Those responsible for these crimes and human rights violations have never been charged.

"After the coup, human rights violations have grown much worse here, because there have been more murders. These are no longer sporadic murders, but are now carried out continuously. The problem is that the authorities have always governed for the oligarchy, for the big business owners. And so here, for the neediest people, for the poorest, there is no justice. This is the problem that the peasants have faced. They have been murdered, they have been shot at, and they have been persecuted," Haydee Sarabia, general secretary of the Coordinating Committee of Popular Organizations of the Aguán Valley (COPA), declares in the video.

According to Gilberto Ríos of FIAN Honduras, the large landholders "have also created a private army with security guards who at some point could even be considered mercenaries. They capture, torture and investigate as if they were a state institution. Most of the murders that have occurred in the Bajo Aguán have been attributed to the security guards."

But, despite the repression, peasant farmers continue to organize in the Bajo Aguán, defending their right to the land. "We have many peasant comrades who have died for the same cause, because our crime is that of fighting back, of reclaiming our rights, our lands, where as peasant farmers we grew corn, beans, cassava, all those things, and suddenly the landowner doesn't want us to, he says that we peasants cannot cultivate our land. But that is why we are fighting, and we will continue to fight with our banner held high," declares Francisco Correa, of the Nueva Vida community.

1.- Video produced by Alba Sud and Rel-UITA, with the collaboration of the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), FIAN International and the Coordinating Committee of Popular Organizations of the Aguán Valley (COPA). The video is available in Spanish at:
The video will soon also be available in English, French and Portuguese. 
2.- See "Monocultivo: Un ataque directo a la soberanía alimentaria. Fue presentado video sobre el Bajo Aguán"
3.- See WRM Bulletin 176


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