Nnimmo Bassey: “Bio-fuels is a scam.” Interview
Our editors met Nigerian environmental activist and laureate of the alternative noble prize, Nnimmo Bassey, on the occasion of a demonstration in Berlin against agricultural practices in Europe, where he was the keynote speaker. He had some candid answers to our questions concerning environmental issues in Africa.
eufrika.org: This event here is about agricultural issues, about agricultural dumping, and you are more known for fighting against the oil companies. Why are you here?
Nnimmo Bassey: Apart from fighting against the destructive activities of oil corporations I have always been very concerned about the creation of hunger in the world. Because hunger is not accidental. Hunger is engineered, packaged and sold to the world through industrial agricultural production. And this gathering today is so vital because we need to raise the voice of the people against a system of agricultural production that is clearly wrongheaded. This is very significant, especially when it got to the current situation in Germany and I am very encouraged to see thousands of people gathered here and I believe that at every day a strong message we send. Because the production of food in Germany, in Europe, directly impacts food production in Africa. Because through trade relationships a lot of excess food production is dumped into Africa, dumped into the markets of Africa. And through political manipulation this is done in such a way that local production is distorted, local production is stopped, and a lot of the farmers in Africa are put out of business. So it is simply that for me to be here today.
eufrika: What do you think is Africa’s role in the fight against those practices and against climate change? And what can Africa’s role be in this regard?
NB: I think if I say that Africa’s a victim in all this whole set-up I would not be far from the truth. That would be the truth. But we have a role to play. And there is a dichotomy between the government and the people. Government is in seat for directing policy and the people are the receiving end of the possible policies. And our struggle collectively, is to bring together governments and the people. In other words fighting for full sovereignty. And fighting for political sovereignty. The people had to recover their voice in the corridors of power. We need to recover people’s power, actually. Because the politicians and the governments are listening more to what industries say and also what internationalized institutions say, and these institutions are dominated by governments of Europe and North America . So, this is a critical issue. The average farmer in Africa wants to carry on business in a sustainable way. They want to produce, sell the excess, contribute to the well being of their region and to the world. But government idea is all about export. The governments in Europe think about export. So you have export, export, export everywhere and it is driving everybody to the ground. So this is a thing to commit the governments all over the world to listen. To the voice of reason. And this takes the people all over the world coming together to fight. And that is also why I’m here.
eufrika: So, what would you say Europe needs to do? What is your expectation of Europe in order that Africa can stand beside it as an equal partner in this fight?
NB: My answer is simple. We work with you through the grassroots, work with farmers groups and mobilization must be expanded. There has to be a concerted effort by farmers across the continent. In every country in Africa, across the continent of Africa and also farmers in Europe have to come together. It’s about building these bridges that we can take collective actions that would solve the problem. If we work individually we’re not going to go beyond competition. Competition created the problems today. Competition is driving the world to greater climate crisis. And unless we’re able to cooperate around the world and work in solidarity with one another, we’re not going to solve the problems.
eufrika: On a related subject, we have heard a lot about the practices of landgrabbing that is going on now in Africa. That is done by a lot of big companies for the sake of producing so-called bio-fuels in order to get away from industrial nation’s oil-dependence. What is your stance on that?
NB: The idea that bio-fuels or agro-fuels could solve, could take the world away from fossil fuels is just a convenient lie. I believe that everyone knows that this cannot happen. Even if you use the entire agricultural land in the world to cultivate crops for bio-fuel production you’re not going to replace fossil fuels. Bio-fuels is just another version of fossil-fuels. Just that this is not taking millions of years to form, but just a couple of weeks or months. And the world needs to move away from fossil fuels. Needs to move away from bio-fuels. And find genuinely renewable sources of energy. Also, the idea of bio-fuel production and the use by the food industry, by agribusinesses to grab land in Africa. Africa is being re-colonized all over again. Poor farmers are being pushed of the land. People are being deceived. Lands are being stolen. Not just paid for. They are being stolen. Because the agreements are not done in a transparent manner. And the real needs of the people are being ignored. Moreover, crops like jatropha was held up as a wonder-crop for bio-fuel production and now everybody is agreeing that is cannot deliver on the promise. This is the story of the bio-fuel industry. It’s a scam.