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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, January 19, 2007

Uganda: "agriculture and biofuels, the road to prosperity"

There are two types of NGOs: those in the West that look at problems from a global perspective with a 'bird's eye' view on things, and those on the ground, locally engaged in concrete actions based on immediate experiences and needs.

Harold Turinawe from the Ugandan NGO 'Kigezi Action for Development', belongs to the latter type. He wrote a short but interesting opinion piece in New Vision, a Kampala based journal, on why biofuels and bioenergy contribute to social development, food security and environmental protection and why they slow down deforestation, land degradation and the deterioration of watersheds. He also criticizes the ideology of 'micro-finance', which negates the obligations of the state and the responsibility of political actors. With permission, we publish it here in full, and add some of our own notes:

Agriculture, the Road to Prosperity for All
The architects of Bonna Bagaggawale ('prosperity for all') erred in looking at the project from the micro-finance approach, thereby missing vital elements of sustainable projects that can attract investment by the common man.

Many proponents have argued that the rural poor do not invest due to lack of start-up capital. On the contrary, the major impediment is lack of leadership in identifying viable and sustainable projects. Ideally, one would think of projects that fit in the routine activities of rural households.

Note: Bonna Bagaggawale is a nationwide micro-finance initiative hailed as a road to development, which shifts the responsibility of the Ugandan state to the individual household. Micro-finance is a buzz-word nowadays amongst charitable organisations and NGOs from the West. It propagates an ideology of micro-entrepreneurialism that effectively erodes the structural obligations of the state. As such, it must be classified as a typical 'neoliberal' development strategy. Many development economists do not take this type of micro-finance seriously, as it creates a climate in which the state's functions, needed to guarantee public services and investments in such much-needed things like infrastructures, are implicitly negated. Only the power and leverage of the state can create the conditions under which 'micro-entrepreneurs' can thrive in a sustainable way.

Our rural population can invest successfully in no business but agriculture, given their knowledge, skills and technology. Therefore, the vehicle to prosperity for all must rest on agriculture. Strategies to introduce new, market-oriented and agriculture-based projects should be the starting point. We should look at existing agricultural products and perhaps introduce new varieties of crops and animals. This can transform our poor communities into self sustaining societies.

Note: in most Central-African countries, like Uganda, agriculture is indeed the key to development. More than half of Central-Africa's population lives off the land; in some countries more than three quarters do. Thus, all development efforts should be directed towards these populations. Often neglected in the past, more and more governments and international development agencies are gradually taking agriculture up once again as the central focus point of their policies. In order to get the sector off the ground, large, 'top-down' initiatives, organised by states, are needed: investments in infrastructures (tertiary and secondary roads, railroads, ports), agricultural extension services, fundamantal R&D efforts, facilitating access to international markets (for machines, fertilisers, import and export opportunities), the creation of new markets (for example the biofuel market), and so on. In no way does 'micro-finance' ever contribute to these large efforts that need to be made by states and that are the preconditions for a successful modernisation of the sector. The first 'Green Revolution' was implemented by the state; there is no reason to assume that the African Green Revolution can ever be implemented by micro-financiers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Another area that is potentially viable is bio-fuel/bio-diesel. In principle, bio-fuels are got from seed oils of maize, simsim, groundnuts, sunflower, cotton, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and sweet bananas. These crops do well countrywide in Acholi, Lango, Bunyoro, Kigezi, Ankole, Toro, Bunyoro, Bukedi and other parts of rural Uganda. These crops can be promoted for smallholder farmers while at the same time new energy crops like Jatropha may be introduced for large-scale energy farmers.

With such a programme, masses would actively participate in crop production and co-operatives to promote quality and marketing of the produce. Government departments like NARO should carry out research in energy crops and soil fertility while the bio-fuel industries provide a ready market for the produce and manufacture bio-ethanol and other by-products.

The production and use of bio-energy also contributes to poverty alleviation, food security, creates employment, reduces land degradation and helps to mitigate climate changes. Sustainable bio-energy systems, once promoted, can prevent forest degradation or deforestation, deterioration of watersheds and loss of soil fertility. These are the major concerns of the rural people.

The writer is the program coordinator for Kigezi Action for Development (KAD), Uganda.


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