Biofuel neocolonialism?

Senegal wants to be part of a green OPEC. India and Brazil want to help.

Andrew Leonard
November 2, 2006 4:34AM (UTC)

On Oct. 31, Energy Bulletin published the text of a letter to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change decrying the risks of biofuels. Calling biofuels "a disaster in the making," the signatories to the letter, who include the Global Forest Coalition and a host of other NGOs, asked the conference to "immediately suspend all subsidies and other forms of inequitable support for the import and export of biofuels."

There is nothing green or sustainable to imported or exported biofuel. Instead of destroying the lands and livelihoods of local communities and Indigenous Peoples in the South through yet another form of colonialism, we call upon Northern countries to recognize their responsibility for destroying the planet's climate system, to reduce their energy consumption to sustainable levels, to pay the climate debt they have created by failing to do so until now and to dramatically increase investment in solar energy and sustainable wind energy.

Meanwhile, SciDev.Net reports that on Oct. 27, Farba Senghor, Senegal's minister of agriculture, rural hydraulics and food security, announced a plan to ramp up biofuel production through a system of public-private partnerships in which "Brazil will provide scientific and technological know-how, Indian entrepreneurs will supply the capital, and Senegal will offer land and labor."


"The issues are enormous for our country, as biofuel will help us diversify our energy sources and reduce the increasing oil bill, while protecting the environment from pollution," Senghor said to AngolaPress.

"Senegal has considerable advantages to develop the biofuel sector, because the country presents good climatic and geological conditions necessary for the increase in plants used as raw materials for ethanol production," Josi Neiva Santos, head of the Brazilian delegation, said."

The Global Forest Coalition has valid concerns about biofuels, not least being the fact that the replacement of rain forest with monocultural plantations of genetically modified palm oil or soybeans has dire implications for biodiversity. (Though it's worth noting that the Senegalese project involves the jatropha plant, which grows in semi-arid areas, supposedly doesn't need much in the way of fertilizer, and is considered much more energy efficient than the usual biofuel suspects.)

But progressive NGOs that aim to resist the rollout of biofuel production are making a tactical error when they frame it in the classic rhetoric of North-South exploitation. When India and Brazil get together with Senegal, that's about as South-South as you can get. This is not to say that countries that once bore the brunt of imperialism and colonialization cannot turn around and inflict those sins upon others, but at some point, perhaps one should concede that a country like Senegal does have some agency of its own.

In July, Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal's president, convened the first meeting of the Pan-African Non-Petroleum Producers Association, calling it "a green version of OPEC" whose members "aspire to become leaders in the field of biofuels and alternative energy strategies, following in Brazil's footsteps." Seeking energy independence, by any means necessary, is hardly an exercise in neocolonialism.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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