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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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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Uganda: vanilla growers turn to biofuel crops

Vanilla farmers in Uganda's Mukono region have embraced the vice president, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya's call to grow and earn big from the Jatropha curcas tree (locally known as 'ekiroowa') with open hands.

On a recent tour of Mukono, Bukenya urged farmers to exploit the oil bearing shrub. "I was worried about the falling prices for vanilla. However, we can still earn a small income from vanilla and also sell jatropha to boost our earnings," Bukenya told farmers. He added that because of high fuel prices in the world, India has turned to jatropha as an alternative source of fuel. Bukenya, however, did not divulge details of the potential buyers, exporters as well as the price of the crop.

Falling vanilla prices
"My colleagues destroyed their vanilla plantations after the price fell. I am lucky not to have followed their footsteps. I will earn from both the vanilla and jatropha seeds," says Salif Kityo, a farmer in Ngogwe.

Because of a drastic fall in the price of vanilla, many farmers shunned growing the crop, with some even cutting down their plantations out of frustration. But Bukenya discouraged the farmers from destroying their vanilla plantations.

Herbert Kayizi, a farmer in Kyampisi sub-county says: "The extraction of fuel from jatropha is the only good news I have received regarding vanilla this year." Kasasa, a vanilla farmer in Buikwe sub-county urged the Government to ensure that vanilla prices increase again.

Combining crops
A survey by The New Vision showed that over 60% of the farmers who didn't destroy their vanilla plantations are benefiting from jatropha, a drought-tolerant perennial crop:
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Research has shown that jatropha, a potential support plant for vanilla, produces seeds with oil content of 37%. The oil can be combusted as fuel without being refined. It produces high quality fuel with similar properties to petroleum. The jatropha seed-oil can also be used as a biodiesel feedstock.

The plant is easy to establish and grows fast, producing seeds that can be harvested for up to 50 years. It also grows well in marginal or poor soils. By-products of the processed seeds include pressed cake, a good organic fertiliser that can also make insecticide.

Mohan distillers, an Indian company which makes biodiesel from jatropha seed, has already expressed interest in establishing a fuel extracting factory in Uganda.

Crop diversification and income security
The example of Uganda's vanilla farmers shows that biofuel crops offer an opportunity to break the dangerous trap which consists of investing in a single cash crop. In the developing world, millions of farmers speculate on planting one crop at a time prices are high, but a collapse of course means a tragedy for these farmers. Intercropping and combining biofuel with non-energy crops, offers a chance for diversification, which spreads the risk.

Those who say biofuel farming in the South will impact the food security of rural populations apparently do not understand this logic. They seem to be unaware of the fact that millions already grow one single non-food crop, aimed at exports. With the profits they earn from it, they buy food. If these farmers invest in biofuel crops and diversify their portfolio, their incomes and thus their food security is increased.

The idea, held by some NGOs who are critical of the biofuels opportunity, that farmers in the South should be self-sufficient food farmers, has no bearing on reality whatsoever. Even in the South, farmers trade their non-food products, and buy food with the profits. Just like in the developed world, they don't have to be farmers who grow their own food. Developing country farmers actively participate on markets and it would be dangerous to represent them as a group of people who should rely on some flawed ideology of autarky - which is what some NGOs are doing.

The vanilla farmers of Uganda - fully connected to the globalised market - are well aware of the biofuels opportunity. It is crucial, however, for them to have more access to market intelligence, so they can refrain from drastically switching from one cash crop (vanilla) to another (jatropha). But one thing is certain: if well informed, developing country cash croppers can benefit from growing biofuel crops, which boost their incomes and consequently their food security.

More information:
New Vision (via AllAfrica): Uganda: Mukono Vanilla Growers Turn to Jatropha - Jan. 23, 2007


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