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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Controversy over transgenic cassava project: US accused of pushing GM cassava for biofuels from Africa

In a saga that has been raging for a while now, controversy has deepened over a multi-million dollar USAid-supported cassava research programme, which proponents had said would help boost millions of East Africans' food security, but which critics have dismissed as an attempt by the United States to develop alternative sources of starch overseas, from which to make ethanol. Once the GM crop would have been introduced, African farmers would have become dependent on the American companies that commercialise the variety (the story of Roundup Ready Soya is well known). But now it is revealed that the prestigious USAid biotech project has failed.

In the latest twist, the project's leading American biotech research facility, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre, (which just received a US$15 million grant from Monsanto) has admitted that varieties of genetically-modified cassava that it had claimed to be disease-resistant are actually vulnerable to the devastating cassava mosaic disease (CMD), the leading cause of farm losses for the crop and the main focus of the project.

CMD routinely leads to losses of over 30 per cent of the cassava harvest in some farms. A statement by the centre dated May 26, 2006, says that though resistance to CMD had been established through genetic engineering seven years ago, "the resistance was subsequently lost, and [changes to] the plant's DNA had taken place." [See Cassava Viral Resistance Review Update and Danforth Centre Cassava Update].

The dramatic revelations of the resistance failure come just in time, as plans were at an advanced stage to have the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) actually test the transgenic cassava plants under natural field conditions as a preamble to its release to farmers. The genetically modified cassava varieties were developed through the Disease-Resistant Cassava for Kenya Project [*.pdf], which is funded by USAid, whose stated goal was "to develop and deliver transgenic, disease-resistant cassava planting materials to farmers in Kenya to increase their harvests and improve their food security."

The entire project is now under scrutiny, because the Danforth Center's dangerous links with big agribusiness (Monsanto) and with the US government's bioenergy research program (see below), are creating more and more suspicion about the 'aid' project.

Critics of the cassava-research programme now say that the objectives of the project go beyond food security, and touch on the search by the United States of a cheap source of starch other than maize to manufacture ethanol to help wean it from oil. The development of a GM cassava would also help break down resistance to the introduction of genetically-modified crops across the region. [See GM Watch's critique].

According to the critics, a senior scientist at Danforth Centre, Dr Claude Fauquet, admitted as such when he said in a briefing paper that the "acquisition of the cassava genome sequence will provide a platform to explore the vast biodiversity within cassava wild species. Ultimately, these activities will position cassava as a valuable source of renewable bio-energy."

As we reported earlier, together with several other US research facilities, the Danforth Centre, has in addition to being involved in the effort to develop disease-resistant varieties of cassava been contracted by the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE-JGI) to sequence the plant's entire genome as part of a vast bioenergy research effort:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The DOE-JGI itself acknowledges that cassava is an excellent energy source which "is grown worldwide as a source of food for approximately one billion people, raising the possibility that it could be used globally to alleviate dependence on fossil fuels."

According to the South African-based African Centre for Biosafety, these admissions mark a "dramatic about-turn from previous commitments to address hunger and the nutritional needs of people in developing countries."

Proponents of the research programme, however, contend that its critics are opposed to it purely because of the fact that it involves genetic-modification, a controversial issue in most African countries outside South Africa.

Before the latest announcements of setbacks, the Danforth Centre had released an elaborate programme in which the disease resistant varieties would be rolled out across East Africa, starting with the distribution of the region's most popular cassava variety – Ebwanatareka – for adoption by 32,000 Kenyan farming families.

"Successful achievement of the project goal will help 200,000 Kenyan cassava farmers and their family members increase their food security by controlling CMD and increasing their cassava harvests by 50 per cent on a sustainable basis," the Danforth Centre says in its website. "A 50 per cent increase in yield for these families will generate an additional 63,000 tonnes of food each year."

The Ebwanatareka variety would then be distributed to Uganda, where it was projected to substantially raise the country's cassava out-put.

"By deploying the same transgenic variety in Uganda, annual production of cassava in that country will increase by over 600,000 tonnes, and the total number of beneficiaries in both countries will increase to over one million persons," says the Danforth Centre's statement.

More information:

- GMWatch, Mariam Mayet: GM cassava fails in Africa - 4 sept. 2006
- The East African: Doubts over cassava project - 10 sept. 2006
- New Scientist: Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004

- African Centre for Biosafety
- FAO website on Cassava Mosaic Disease

Presentation of the original project
- USAid: USAID Africa: Agricultural Initiative to Cut hunger in Africa[*.pdf] - 19 Feb 04
- Danforth Center: Danforth Center Spearheads Effort to Sequence Cassava at National Research Center

- The Danforth Center has issued two updates in which it explains where the project went wrong:
Cassava Viral Resistance Review Update
Danforth Centre Cassava Update

Photo courtesy: USAid.


Robert Rose said...

Dear Biopact, Lou Rademakers, and Lauren Rademakers-

Regarding an article that is posted to the Biopact Web site entitled “Controversy over transgenic cassava project: US accused of pushing GM cassava for biofuels from Africa” http://news.mongabay.com/bioenergy/2006/09/controversy-over-transgenic-cassava.html you’ve included an editor’s note that “the Danforth Centre has taken all its admissions about the failure offline. Check back often to see if the documents come back online. They should be found here: Cassava Viral Resistance Review Update and here Danforth Centre Cassava Update.”

The Danforth Center has never taken the statements announcing the cassava setback off of the Danforth Center Web site, and these cassava statements have been available via the News & Media tab on the Danforth Center Web site since each of these announcements were made on June 30 and July 18 respectively. The Center has taken a proactive approach to announcing the cassava setback. We contacted all partners involved in the cassava research program, have distributed the two statements to members of the media, and posted the two statements about the cassava setback on the Danforth Center Web site.

The editor’s note by Biopact stating that the “Center has taken the all its admissions about the failure offline” is not true. Please visit the Danforth Center and update the appropriate links in the Biopact article. After doing this, the Center asks the editor of Biopact to remove the editor’s note because it is not true. The Center is available to Biopact, and all media, to provide any additional information about all of the Center’s research initiatives and to discuss the cassava setback in greater detail. Please contact me to discuss this matter in greater detail.


Rob Rose

Robert H. Rose
Director - Public Relations and Government Affairs
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
975 N. Warson Road
St. Louis, MO 63132-2918
Office: 314/587-1231
Fax: 314/587-1331
Cell: 314/803-3460

5:05 PM  

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