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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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Friday, October 27, 2006

Senegal in the spotlight: cooperation with Brazil, EU on bioenergy and migration

Illegal migrants from Senegal arrive in the Canaries where tourists are sunbathing. Thousands of economic refugees from Africa attempt to enter the EU this way each year, with many meeting their deaths in the process. Senegal, a major transit country, is now betting on the development of a bioenergy industry in the countries of origin to partly curb this flow of migrants.

When it comes to tapping the economic and social potential of bioenergy, Senegal is rapidly becoming one of the most creative countries. Several developments show that the nation is exploring ways to tackle different social problems by investing in sustainable development in which biofuels will play a key role.

Earlier, the country's president, Abdoulaye Wade announced the formation of a 'Green OPEC' of sorts, the PANPP (Pays Africains Non Producteurs de Pétrole) (earlier post), while hinting at the potential of a biofuels industry to bring wealth to the rural parts of the country. This in turn is hoped to result in weakening the push factors that lead to mass 'illegal' emigration to Europe. These announced commitments (on which we reported earlier) are now taking a more concrete shape:
  1. As announced earlier, a Brazilian delegation of biofuels experts has arrived in Senegal to exchange information on and to assist the country in kickstarting a biofuels industry. Exploratory meetings held last week showed encouraging results.
  2. European Union Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, who has made economic development in Africa his top priority, is currently touring the region, visiting Senegal, Guinea and Mauritania. His aim: to find strategies to stop the flow of African immigrants into Europe.
  3. The country's own attempts to halt the mass exodus have been coupled to a project called 'REVA' (Retour vers l'agriculture), with a segment called 'Retour des Immigrés Vers L'Agriculture'. The goal is to use increased investments in rural development as a lever to stop internal emigration from the countryside to the cities (and on to Europe). Biofuels play an important role in REVA, and Commissioner Michel has hinted that the EU might put funds into the scheme.
Brazilian expertise driving South-South exchanges
At the expert meetings that took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Brazilian delegation stressed that Senegal has all the means available to create a vibrant bioenergy sector. Youssou Lô, coordinator of the 'Programme de gestion durable et participative des énergies traditionnelles et de substitution' (Progede / 'Program for sustainable and participatory development in traditional energies') listed the resources: good climatic conditions and arable land for the cultivation of fermentable feedstocks like sugarcane (first ethanol experiments underway by the Compagnie Sucrière de Sénégal), potential for the expansion of agro-forestry based bioenergy using Anacardium trees, as is demonstrated by the country's forestry service in Kaolack, expansion of oil palm production (currently in the Casamance region), potential for the use of widely grown traditional crops like sorghum and maize for bioenergy.

At the meeting, Lô stressed Senegal's dependency on foreign oil and the heavy burden this is for the country. He thinks that "global consumption of oil products keeps rising, whereas global reserves are being depleted. This implies that oil exporters will experience more economic and political chaos, despite high oil prices, because they become objects to prey on. Political instability will limit investments in the sector, and this in turn will make it impossible to secure steady supplies of oil." It is therefor crucial for Senegal to be a step ahead of these developments:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

For his part, Ibrahima Niang, responsible for the study of energy supply and demand at Progede, focused on the urgency of finding alternatives to petroleum. "Increasing prices over the past few years have had a dramatic effect on Senegals oil expenditures: whereas they used to be around 180 billion CFA in 2000, they amount to 300 billion CFA today. Niang added that "this strong dependence makes the country very vulnerable on the front of energy security and must signal to us that the time has come to start working towards energy independence."

The Senegalo-Brazilian meeting, headed by former Science Minister Christian Sina Diatta, made no naive projections: Senegal's current electricity shortages will perdure for a certain time, despite state efforts to solve them by investing in fossil fuel alternatives, which take time to develop. The Brazilian delegation repeated its commitment to aid Senegal in its effort create a biofuels industry, and held a plea for an open exchange of knowledge and technology.

Louis Michel to meet President Wade
The tragic problem of illegal immigration is a top priority on the agenda of the European Commission. Even though the EU is trying to tackle the problem with many different strategies (amongst them: increased repression and policing) in many different places (countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries), Commissioner Louis Michel focuses on the root cause of the problem: underdevelopment in sub-Saharan Africa itself.
His field trip to Senegal, Guinea and Mauritania that is currently underway, is placed under the sign of exploring the links between migration and development by looking at the realities on the ground.
The Cotonou Agreement of 2000, signed by 25 EU member states and 78 countries from Africa, the Carribean and the Pacific forms the framework for negotiations on migration and development policies. The African signatories are bound by article 13 of the Agreement which states that they must accept illegal immigrants that are repatriated, while at the same time they have to work towards bettering the socio-economic conditions of those segments of society most likely to emigrate, by creating jobs and providing education in their countries of origin.

The bilateral aspects of the visits focus on recrafting strategies for sustainable development in the countries of origin: Guinean authorities must implement reforms so that EU aid, which was suspended in 2004, can be relaunched; working towards political stability and ensuring that the planned elections (2007) are held in a transparent and democratic way is key to the stabilization effort. Without political stability, there is no chance of curbing the flow of illegal emigrants from Guinea.

In Sénégal, Michel will meet with President Abdoulaye Wade and the prime minister, to talk about European cooperation aimed at maximizing job and wealth creation. He has already announced that the REVA program - in which biofuels industry creation plays a significant role - might be a good strategy to activate and stimulate growth in rural areas, from where many migrants depart to Europe.

Europe suspended its aid to Mauritania after the coup d'etat of august 3, 2005, but relaunched it since july 2006. It will now assist the government of Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, in organising transparent and democratic municipal and legislative elections which are due to take place on november 19 and december 3.

Back to basics, back to agriculture
Senegal's REVA program hopes to curb the push factors that lead to illegal emigration of younsters: poverty in rural areas, unemployment in provincial towns and lack of investments in agriculture.
Immigrants that were sent back to Senegal from Europe are the focus of the program and by extension their families that were left behind, and the rural context in which they live.

The program is coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture and has three main pillars: (1) land distribution to repatriated emigrants (each family receives 100 hectares), (2) land distribution and job creation in new agricultural markets for youngsters (program coordinated by the Ministry for Youth Affairs), and (3) support for women's organisations, especially those in rural areas, because even though they have devised effective strategies to stimulate social development, more coordination and funds are needed the exploit their full potential.

All the beneficiaries of the project will be closely aided by technocrats and agro-pedagogues, who must ensure that the repatriated emigrants and those who are most tempted to emigrate, can actually acquire the skills needed to become self-sufficient. Agricultural extension services provide tools, farming equipment and seeds, whereas a special mechanism for affordable loans has been created.

Youngsters highly critical of REVA
Many stakeholders are very critical of the REVA project. The Conseil national de concertation et de coopération des ruraux (CNCR) rejects it because it was not consulted on the matter and because it thinks the program resembles a 'Sovchoz' approach to rural development that stands no chance of surviving in a free market economy. According to the CNCR, the program wastes money by trying to turn people with no experience in farming into agronomists, whereas those who know how to run a farm but need financial support are left in the cold (see their list of arguments, here).

But the youngsters at who the program is directed are outright furious over the plan. They went to Europe where they acquired basic skills in non-agricultural sectors, discovered exciting opportunities for modern approaches to development, and they have never had any hands-on experience with farming. They would never think of becoming farmers. (One group of youngsters that was recently sent back to Europe and that was introduced to the program, has now taken as its motto: "Barça or Barzakh" -- "Back to Barcelona or Death", signifying their total dissatisfaction with the program).

Moreover, the Union of Repatriated Senegalese claims that there is enough agricultural production in the country, but that the infrastructure to get it to market lacks. The spokesperson for the Union: "Piles of groundnuts are rotting in the country-side. We're not going to grow more of them!"

Finally, Senegal earlier tried to convince emigrants who were waiting in Ceuta and Melilla - from where they attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe - to return, with the REVA program in mind. Some of them accepted the offer but are still waiting "for the tractors and the equipment to arrive in Dakar, as promised". The other youngsters see this as proof for the fact that a government pushed program like this is too bureaucratic and slow. Meanwhile, they want to get on with their lives.

Government spokespersons say the program needs time and that the first batch of 1200 beneficiaries is only beginning to reap the rewards. Meanwhile, the government has created a "Project for the Development of Rural Markets in Senegal" (PDMS), in cooperation with the World Bank, which will focus on increasing the quality of agricultural products and improvement of marketing Senegalese produce on the international market.
Once these initiatives start to show their effects, the government thinks REVA will prove to be a success.

More information:

Wal Fadjri: Sénégal: Production de biocarburant, les techniciens sénégalais dans les champs brésiliens - Oct. 26, 2006

EU Rapid Press: Migration et développement: Louis Michel entame une tournée en Afrique de l’Ouest - Oct. 204, 2006

Afrik: Sénégal : le retour à l’agriculture, une solution miracle contre l’émigration clandestine? Jun. 6, 2006

CNCR: "Retour vers l’agriculture : Le Cncr rejette le plan de Wade" - Aug. 9, 2006


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