Week in links – Week 24/2011: murder in Colombia, biofuels in Sierra Leone

– Amid all the policy chatter on the recently passed Victims’ Law in Colombia, a moment of reflection is due on the fate of Ana Cordoba, widowed and displaced in 2001, and murdered in cold blood a decade later for having had the temerity to mobilize her fellow displaced persons for the return of their homes.

– The BBC reports on a recent study by the Oakland Institute that adds to the mounting chorus of criticism against large scale investors in land driving the current ‘global land-rush’. Although many of the Oakland Institute’s accusations are familiar – non-transparent transactions, unequal bargaining power, corruption, tribal chiefs bought for “a bottle of Johnny Walker” – the language is quite tough, with hedge fund use of arable land to “make room” for export commodities such as biofuels and cut flowers described as “creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism”:

“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial manoeuvres are now doing the same with the world’s food supply,” the report said.

Interestingly, the BBC report includes a sidebar describing its reporters’ positive impression of a Swiss biofuel plantation in Sierra Leone, presumably in the interest of editorial balance. The juxtaposition does raise the issue of whether such investment in post-conflict contexts may – in some circumstances – provide valuable investment-driven rural job creation in a manner that fragile transitional governments can only dream of (as blogged on here in the case of Liberia).

More detail on this investment – along with the Oakland Institute criticism it has sailed into – is given in a New York Times article this week. The Swiss company investing in ethanol, Addax Biofuels, defends itself as a for-profit company that scrupulously follows existing corporate social responsibility guidelines and eschews non-transparent arrangements:

Construction begins this year, and the project is expected to be operational in 2013. It employs over 500 people and will create more than 2,000 jobs, according to Addax. The land will be leased from local landowners and tribal chiefs.

According to Addax Bioenergy, the deal follows evaluations of the social, environmental and economic effects with the government and local nonprofit groups. The memorandum of understanding was ratified by Sierra Leone’s Parliament last November, and according to local news media reports, it was supported by the political opposition as well.

Anyone who has followed coverage of the implementation of donor policies on involuntary resettlement in Cambodia on this blog will be aware that such guidelines may be worth little more than governments’ will to respect them. However, until someone comes up with a better idea, getting investment hungry governments and land hungry investors to take such standards seriously is probably the only realistic way forward.

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One response to “Week in links – Week 24/2011: murder in Colombia, biofuels in Sierra Leone

  1. A cautionary note on the assumption that investment in agri-industry projects creates much-needed jobs. Here in Colombia a few low-paid jobs are created by the bio-fuel industry (oil Palm) on land formerly provided food security, culture, and a way of life to its inhabitants. The original population in many cases was violently displaced by paramilitaries. That neo-colonialism and cultural genocide are justified on the grounds that they create much-need jobs is not a convincing argument for the four million plus internally displaced people here in Colombia, which, like Sierra Leon, was, for a while at least, considered to be in a post conflict situation.

    Colobia is not in a post conflict situation, nor will it ever be, unless land use and distribution issues are addressed and there is an end to land expropriation and the impunity that allows it to continue. The conflict will not be resolved militarily in the absence of justice.

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