Global interest in using alternative energy has accelerated along with rising agricultural commodity prices and concerns about climate change. The Government of Ghana has set a goal of 10 percent renewable fuels for electricity and transportation by 2020, and encourages international investment in the pursuit of job creation and economic growth. As of 2011, the country had attracted over 20 companies from around the world seeking to acquire tracts of land to cultivate biofuels such as jatropha, oil palm and sugarcane.
The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) facilitates such investments by helping investors with permits and acquiring land for a land bank. Though data is incomplete, as of 2009, around 452,000 hectares had been claimed by investors in three approved projects. At the same time, GIPC claimed that Ghana had 8.3 million hectares of uncultivated arable land that could be open to investors. Yet 80 percent of undeveloped land in Ghana is claimed under customary tenure and is vital to local livelihoods.
If done well, large-scale investment in land could benefit smallholder farmers—whether through employment, secured markets, technology exchange or infrastructure development. If done poorly, however, the conversion of large tracts of fertile farm land from food production to biofuel cultivation can threaten livelihoods and food security.
Documented cases in Ghana have highlighted examples of investments that displace local residents, or deprive them of access to natural resources. Farmers living near biofuel plantations have alleged that they were not consulted by their chief or the commercial investors about biofuel development plans. Poorly planned biofuel production can lead to the loss of pastoralists’ grazing lands, and to the draining of marshlands needed by fish and other wildlife.
Three types of large-scale biofuel cultivation projects have arisen in the country. Cultivation by: small-scale farmers, or “out-growers,” linked to commercial biofuel production or processing; large industrial farms (100 hectares or larger) for local consumption; and large industrial farms for national and international consumption.
Without transparent and comprehensive policies to regulate land acquisitions for biofuel investments, large-scale biofuel projects could continue to threaten communities’ access to the land and livelihoods on which they depend, and cause extensive land transformation and biodiversity loss.