Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ethanol's African Land Grab: Mozambique has survived colonialism & civil war - But can it survive the ethanol industry?

Ethanol's African Land Grab
Mozambique has survived colonialism and civil war. But can it survive the ethanol industry?
By Adam Welz
March/April 2009

Massingir is an unremarkable town. The electricity supply here in rural Mozambique is erratic, clean water is hard to come by, and the hotels—well, calling them hotels is a little too polite. The town center is two ragged blocks of colorful bars, stores, and market stalls arranged along a reddish sandy furrow—the main street—with goods packaged in the smallest possible quantities to match the pinched cash flow of local buyers: individual quarts of fuel in old bottles, spoonfuls of soap powder in bright little packets, single cigarettes, microcans of tomato paste and sardines, all laid out in creative patterns to catch the eye. Babies doze in the shade while their mothers gossip, pausing on the way back from the unicef tent outside the shabby clinic; loose-limbed teenagers play rough games of pool under a thatched roof by the side of the road.

Hardcore nature nuts sometimes pass through Massingir; tourism has been picking up as word spreads of the giant Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a "peace park" that will merge the Mozambican wilderness of the nearby Limpopo National Park with South Africa's world-famous Kruger National Park (just across the border) and some adjacent Zimbabwean wildlands to make one of Africa's largest protected areas.

But I'm here for something bigger than elephants. This backwater is also the beachhead for an enormous project that promises to spend some $500 million, employ at least 2,000 people, and use nearly 75,000 acres of native woodland and savanna—an area five times the size of Manhattan—to grow sugarcane and produce ethanol for the growing global biofuel market. Known as ProCana, it's an endeavor that could not just transform Massingir, but also, via a mess of land claims and conflicting promises, put at risk the transnational park and other significant conservation projects.

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