Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mining, Biofuels and Other Forms of Abuse

I'd like to follow on from yesterday's theme about developing countries being used to provide wealthy countries with cheap raw materials and labour. These developing countries are never helped to or even allowed to produce their own higher value goods so that they can improve their economies. On the contrary, wealthy countries go out of their way to ensure that poor countries stay that way. Several recent articles discuss other ways in which developing countries are held back from developing.

The European Community (EC) has set a target to source 10% of its energy from renewable sources. Rather than look for genuinely renewable source, the EC has latched on to biofuels as a means of achieving this target. Warnings were raised about the dangers of biofuels as long ago as 2004 but no one was listening then and few are listening now. Biofuel prospecting has gone on, as predicted, to destroy vast tracts of land, increase the prices of fuel, dispossess people of their land and livelihood and cause numerous other social and economic problems.

Like the US, the EC preaches against the use of subsidies. Yet they subsidize biofuel production (and anything else that suits them). Growing biofuels cannot be sustainable, there just isn't enough land, even if everyone in Tanzania and other developing countries are thrown off their land to grow the crops. Growing, processing, transporting and using biofuels does not reduce carbon emissions, they increase it. So even the rich countries are not gaining much by their quest for biofuels. Somebody must be making money out of it but Tanzanians and people in other poor countries will suffer increased poverty and hunger as a result. And there will be global level losses too.

In addition to having a lot of land, which rich countries are busy grabbing right now, Tanzania also has a lot of minerals, especially gold. But various murky deals mean that the country makes very little money out of these resources. Most of the money is made by foreign owned companies, especially companies from Canada, South Africa and the UK. The royalties Tanzania gets are tiny whereas the profits the foreign companies make are huge and are amply enhanced by the privileges and tax incentives they receive at the expense of poor Tanzanians and even indigenous Tanzanian companies, who are unable to compete with the foreigners.

Despite mining companies having a deplorable human rights and corporate responsibility record, laws, neither Tanzanian nor international, do not adequately protect those who have to work for the industry. In particular, laws do not protect those who lose their land, those whose environment and water supply are contaminated and those who formerly made a living as artisanal miners. Tanzania has enough valuable resources to improve the living conditions for all Tanzanians but the revenue from these resources always seems to leave the country. All that ordinary Tanzanians get is the pollution, the industrial problems and the social problems, the majority remaining very poor.

In Kenya, similar things are happening. Land is being grabbed to be used to produce food and biofuels for rich countries. This viable land is currently occupied by Kenyans but is being sold as 'unoccupied' and 'marginal'. Whole ecologies are being destroyed to produce unsustainable crops for the benefit of non Kenyans, but at the expense of Kenyans. The Kenyan government appears to be doing little to protect its citizens and seems to be keen to promote the interests of this land grabbing. As if things were not bad enough in the worst affected area, the Tana River basin, Tiomin are going to do some kind of mining there, a Canadian company with a disgraceful record of wanton destruction.

The only good news is that a few hundred families in the Tana River basin have been awarded 2.55 million Kenyan shillings each as compensation for their land. Unfortunately, the people involved were displaced for environmental protection reasons. It seems unlikely that there will be any compensation for people displaced to make way for the miners and land grabbers. WTO rules tend to defend such land grabbing and resource exploitation, protecting only the interests of the very rich. Condemning vast populations to generations of poverty, disease, dependency and degradation is all in a day's work. It's been going on for a long time and it's not going to stop now, not as long as there is money to be made.


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