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Indian agribusiness sets sights on land in east Africa

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Workers at an 11,000 hectare farm in Bako, Ethiopia, run by the Indian company Karuturi. Photograph: Xan Rice

Indian agribusiness companies are ready to spend $2.5bn buying, or renting for decades, several million hectares of cheap land in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda in what could be some of the largest farming deals struck in Africa in the last 50 years.

But in a separate development, plans for a US-based investment company to lease up to 1m hectares of South Sudan for only $25,000 a year appears to have stalled following protests by local communities over the potential “land grab”.

A delegation of 35 Indian investors, including food conglomerates McLeod Russel, Kaveri Seeds, and Karuturi Global, has been touring Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda for the last week to seek land to grow palm oil, maize, cotton, rice and vegetables, largely for the burgeoning Indian market.

Karuturi said this week in Dar es Salaam that it was ready to spend $500m acquiring and developing 200,000 hectares of land for palm oil, 150,000 for cereals and 20,000 for sugarcane. This is in addition to $400m the company is spending to develop 100,000 hectares in Gambella province in Ethiopia. The investors have said they are each ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on what is some of the cheapest land in the world, being offered on decades-long leases for as little as $1.50 per hectare per year.

“There is huge potential for the agriculture sector in east Africa,” said Karuturi’s managing director, Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi. “The region has 120m hectares of arable land, the same size of arable land India has.”

The deals, if concluded, would swell growing concerns for the “land grab” phenomenon now taking place around the world. According to the UN, (pdf) at least 60m hectares of land, mostly in Africa but increasingly in Latin America, have been bought or leased for up to 100 years as western hedge and pension funds have moved to buy land as an alternative investment to property, and wealthy Middle East countries have sought land to grow food after food riots and droughts. China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as many smaller Middle East countries have led the deals.

Cash-strapped developing country governments have largely welcomed the “foreign direct investments”, arguing that they have millions of hectares of surplus land suitable for intensive arable farming. In addition, they say, the companies guarantee to provide thousands of jobs.

But there has been growing alarm at some of the handouts and tax exemptions in favour of the companies, potentially at the expense of local communities. Many of the projects have barely started producing food, but tens of thousands of people are expected to be evicted, and land traditionally used by pastoralist farmers is being fenced off. In addition, many companies are being allowed to grow food primarily for export despite increasingly hungry home markets.

“No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security,” said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. “These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors.”

“Most of these deals are characterised by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms,” said a recent report by US based Oakland Institute , following an investigation into contracts being agreed in six countries.

However, the largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9% of the country’s land is estimated by Norwegian analysts to have been bought in the last few years, is thought to have stalled after unrest by local communities. Texas-based Nile Trading and Development had reportedly agreed a 49-year lease of 600,000 hectares of Central Equatoria state for around $25,000 a year with an option to increase its holding to nearly 1m hectares. The company, headed by former US ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, would have been allowed to exploit all natural resources, including oil, and to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with millions of dollars a year.

But the deal is believed to have stalled after the community of Mukaya Payam in Lainya county, Central Equatoria state, appealed to MPs and the president of South Sudan. “We the chiefs, elders, religious leaders and the youth of Mukaya Payam unanimously, with strong terms, condemn, disavow, or deny the land-lease agreement reached on 11 March 2008 between the two parties,” said the community in a letter to MPs.

President Salva Kiir responded: “This issue has to be addressed according to your will. You are the government and you have powers.”

In a separate study, the US-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, has concluded that much of Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia in Latin America has been acquired by foreign companies to farm.

“In Paraguay, Argentine firms and individuals own about 60% of the 3m hectares of land used to cultivate soy. Foreigners own 19.4% of all Paraguayan land and Argentines own almost all of the 500,000 hectares of Uruguayan soil designated for soy cultivation, while foreigners own 25% of the country’s total arable land,” say the authors. Foreign agribusiness investors own or rent over 1m hectares of Bolivia, according to the report.

“Instead of allowing their lands to be exploited by multinational corporations, these Latin American countries must wean themselves off foreign demands and make their own food security their top priority,” say the authors.

Original Post: The Guardian

Environment

East Africa poised to monitor carbon emission

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A factory emits smoke.

East Africa will soon be able to monitor how much carbon dioxide or methane is produced by particular activity at any particular point in time thanks to a NASA-aided system that combines observable ground data, real time satellite measurements of carbon dioxide and next-generation microbial soil modelling.

Cornell University researchers will develop the system that combines what they called “bottom-up“ ecological modelling with “top-down“ satellite data, thanks to a three-year, $1 million NASA grant, which began on July 1.

The researchers said last week Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia have experienced deforestation will be covered by the system.

The system estimate will help in monitoring increase in carbon gained from potential afforestation, as well as how long this accumulation could take. These East African countries have ambitious climate mitigation programmes to sequester carbon in soils. Since the countries don’t produce a lot of energy that emits carbon, their mitigation measures rely on putting carbon into ecosystems such as soils.

It is hoped that the rigorous, accurate and low-cost carbon monitoring system will help policymakers verify the effectiveness of their efforts when they seek international climate financing. The data will also inform food-security policies, as more soil carbon provides crop resilience to climate change.

Carbon also helps store more water in soils, making crops more tolerant and resistant to droughts, which increases yields.

Original Source:   THE EAST AFRICAN

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Climate change will see East Africa get wetter say scientists

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Cows in flooded pastures in the Tana delta, Kenya. According to scientists, while temperatures are predicted to rise, the region will likely get wetter mid-century. 

East Africa could be the lucky exception to the disastrous effects of climate change as scientists predict increased precipitation as temperatures rise.

Four scientists — working with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) — Kizito Kwena, William Ndegwa, Imad Ali-Babiker and Hezron Mogaka — say the flipside to rising temperatures is that East Africa is likely to get wetter mid-century.

Citing separate studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank, the researchers say the projected 2°C increase in surface temperatures will result in an 11 per cent increase in rainfall over 80 per cent of the region.

“As unfamiliar as this counter-narrative seems, climate change presents the region an opportunity to think and act differently, to change the way it views growth and interacts with the environment,” says of their paper titled The curse of food insecurity and climate change in Africa.

The scientists say the 2025 zero hunger target set by African leaders is achievable, if governments in the region invest at least 10 per cent of their GDP in agriculture and direct resources into climate-smart agriculture.

READ: Climate-smart farming boosting food security around the globe

According to Dr Kwena, while most climate models remain optimistic about the rainfall situation in East Africa — where vast areas of land are arid or semi-arid — the challenge is that governments may not be prepared to maximise the associated benefits.

“Climate change is not disaster all round. Climate models are predicting drought in one part of the continent and increased rainfall in the other. That is a huge opportunity considering the vast areas in the region that are arid or semi-arid. The challenge is how we harness this opportunity,” said Dr Kwena.

And while there have been attempts, Dr Kwena said most climate-smart interventions have been limited to a farm or plot level, which restricts the impacts that could be achieved if climate smart agriculture technologies were applied on a larger scale.

There will also be a need for some adjustments. For instance, if the arid and semi-arid areas of the region become wetter, communities may be required to adopt new livelihood activities. These views stand in sharp contrast to other scenarios that predict that in many parts of Africa, every 1°C increase in temperature will result in a five per cent decline in food yields.

“Already, there have been several climate-induced grain shocks in the world. In the medium-term, climate change causes production losses and increases cost structures. In the long-term, climate change causes production collapse,” said Asareca’s executive secretary Professor Francis Wachira, adding, “With this kind of forecast, it is important to make our cropping systems better adapted to a warming world.”

Enhance resilience

Climate-smart agriculture would enhance the resilience of food systems while also contributing to reduction of emissions, Prof Wachira said, adding that every dollar invested in agricultural research and development results in a 68kg reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide while a one per cent increase in agricultural water productivity frees up 24 litres of water per person per day.

Prof Wachira added that despite its potential, Africa remains a net importer of food even as other regions of the world have tripled their output.

In East and Central Africa, crop yields have stagnated over the past half a century, leading to sharp declines in per capita food production and an increase in poverty and hunger.

He pointed to market failures and over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture as the major factors behind the under-performance of African agriculture, a situation he warns will be exacerbated by climate change.

Original Source:  THE EAST AFRICAN

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Finnish carbon offsetting firm Compensate finds 91% of carbon offset projects fail its evaluation process. Of course the remaining 9% will also not help address the climate crisis

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Compensate is a Finland-based carbon offsetting company set up in 2019 by Antero Vartia, an entrepreneur, actor, and former member of parliament. In 2020, Compensate created project criteria to evaluate the projects from which it buys carbon offsets. One year later, Compensate reported on its experience with the project criteria:

90% of evaluated projects fail the criteria. The reasons vary, but are all equally alarming. Some projects can not be considered additional, others have serious permanence risks. Some have unreliable baselines, because assumed deforestation is largely inflated. Worryingly, many projects also cause serious human rights violations.

“International carbon standards are fundamentally flawed”

Compensate’s report exposes some of the structural problems with the voluntary carbon market:

The voluntary carbon market is characterized by a plethora of actors, methodologies, project types, and standards. It’s a tough job for businesses, organizations and individual consumers to try to navigate this complex market. Outright opportunism and greenwashing are not uncommon.

Compensate points out that standards like Verra, Gold Standard, and American Carbon Registry exist to reassure offset buyers about the quality of the carbon offsets they are buying. “Still,” Compensate adds, “these leading standards leave a lot to be desired.”

Compensate writes that,

[N]ot even the most renowned international standards guarantee real climate impact. Compensate has come across projects with unbelievably overestimated impact, or, worse yet, no impact at all. The market is flooded with millions of essentially worthless credits. Still, these credits have the stamp of approval of the leading international standards, and offsetters keep buying them with no knowledge of the fact they’re engaging in a lie.

And Compensate writes that,

International carbon standards are fundamentally flawed, as they develop and accept project methodologies that allow for the issuance of millions of meaningless credits.

Compensate is critical of corporate promises to reach “net zero“:

While companies claim they only purchase carbon credits for offsetting unavoidable emissions, there is little transparency on companies’ efforts to reduce emissions from operations, and how much of net-zero targets are achieved by offsetting. Company emissions cannot simply be balanced out by purchasing carbon credits. It is known that emissions stay in the atmosphere for 300-1000 years, whereas a tree can sequester CO2 for several decades or until its logged and burned, then releasing all the CO2 back into the atmosphere. This is why the best way to mitigate companies’ climate impacts is to reduce emissions.

Which raises the obvious question: Why is Compensate in the carbon offsetting business?

Compensate’s report includes a section titled “Characteristics of a good carbon credit”. According to Compensate, the following characteristics have to be recognised: additionality, reliability (i.e. the climate impact is not overestimated), permanence, avoided double counting, and environmental and social net impact.

The section would have been better titled “Why offsetting cannot work”. Compensate acknowledges that many projects struggle with demonstrating financial additionality, and even fewer can tackle policy level additionality.

Permanence is a problem, Compensate writes, because “the majority of forestation projects have a lifetime of 30 years. If the protected forest is logged immediately after the project is completed, and the trees are used for energy, the CO2 will be released into the atmosphere.”

Compensate argues that “missing links between theory and practice have left room for double counting to happen quite often”:

Commonly, the two claiming parties are an organization offsetting its emission and the host country trying to reach its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement.

Compensate acknowledges that “Project developers can influence the number of credits issued with the selection of the baseline scenario.” And that this baseline “could be artificially inflated”. Buying credits from a project with an artificially inflated baseline “could actually add carbon into the atmosphere”.

But the problem of counterfactual baselines is not something that can be resolved with “robust methodologies” or “stricter additionality criteria” as Compensate’s report suggests. Larry Lohmann of The CornerHouse points out, “the problem is not ‘bad baselines’ but the concept of counterfactual baselines itself. That reality does more than invalidate any particular REDD project. It invalidates REDD (and all other offsets) as a whole.”

91% of carbon offset projects fail

91% of carbon offset projects fail

Compensate started using its criteria early in 2020. The company has evaluated more than 100 nature-based projects (mainly forest conservation and tree planting projects). All the projects are certified by international organisations such as Gold Standard, Verra, Plan Vivo, American Carbon Registry and Climate Action Reserve.

Only 9% of the projects passed Compensate’s evaluation process.

  • Compensate found that 52% of the projects are not additional. Examples include selling carbon credits by protecting forests that were never in danger. Commercial timber plantations do not pass the financial additionality criteria “as the project could be implemented without the need for revenue from carbon credits”. Compensate argues that when project activities are already included in national laws and policies there is a lack of policy level additionality. Compensate gives the example of Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo: “Examples include protecting a forest in a country where there is a moratorium on converting natural forests to palm oil plantations (Indonesia) or a moratorium on granting new timber concessions (Democratic Republic of Congo).” Leakage occurs when a government grants conservation concession status to the project area, but also grants a logging concession elsewhere.
  • Compensate found that 16% of the projects it evaluated had permanence risks due to an unstable political situation and high risk of corruption, natural disasters such as floods or fires, postponing timber harvest until after the project ends, or illegal logging.
  • 12% of projects had “unreliable baselines” according to Compensate’s evaluation. Artificially inflating baseline emissions generates more carbon credits for the project.But Compensate does not take into consideration the fact that all baselines are unverifiable because they are based on a counterfactual story about what would have happened in the absence of the project.
  • 6% of the projects Compensate evaluated failed because of community conflicts, for example through human rights violations and evictions, or a failure to deliver the promised benefits.
  • And 5% of the projects did not meet Compensate’s criteria because they offset emissions that take place today with hoped for removals in the future. Compensate gives the example of tree planting projects that calculate the amount of carbon the trees with sequester over the next 50 years.

Carbon markets need to be eliminated not reformed

Compensate is a non-profit organisation, but as a carbon broker, the company’s continued existence depends on selling carbon offsets. It’s a smart marketing ploy to claim that 91% of carbon offsets are flawed, in that it suggests that Compensate is particularly careful about selecting which projects it buys carbon offsets from.

Indeed, Compensate’s report states that,

Like investment managers manage a fund to deliver the best value, Compensate manages a diverse carbon capture portfolio to deliver the best possible climate impact.

Compensate doesn’t point out the fundamental flaw of carbon offsets. The companies buying carbon offsets are using them in order to continue burning fossil fuels. Offsetting does not reduce emissions, it just shuffles them around the world. Often it is the poorest of the poor who have to adjust their livelihoods in order that the rich can continue flying, for example.

And Compensate’s experts make no mention of the carbon cycle. At the end of 2020, 23 researchers and experts published an article in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter titled, “Misleading and false myths about carbon offsets”. The second myth that the authors highlight is that “We can compensate for fossil fuel emissions using so-called ‘nature-based solutions’ (such as carbon sequestration in vegetation and soils).”

The authors explain the carbon cycle as follows:

The carbon cycle has two parts: one fast cycle whereby carbon circulates between the atmosphere, land and seas, and one slow cycle whereby carbon circulates between the atmosphere and the rocks which make up Earth’s interior.

Fossil fuels are part of the slow carbon cycle. Nature-based solutions are part of the fast carbon cycle. This biological carbon storage is not permanent. Carbon stored in trees can be released by forest fires – something we are seeing more and more often as the climate heats up.

Rather than calling for carbon markets to be abolished, Compensate is calling for an oxymoron: “a more sustainable carbon market”.

Original Source: redd-monitor.org

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