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    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

FAO calls for steps to boost farm output in poor countries to counter soaring food prices; points to Malawi's success

The UN's FAO is urging governments and the international community to implement immediate measures in support of poor countries hit hard by dramatic food price increases. It calls for steps to improve poor farmers' access to inputs like seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to increase local crop production. The FAO refers to the the success in Malawi's farm sector, which succeeded in turning itself around from being a food importer to producing a huge excess of food as a result of simple interventions, proving that the current situation can be altered.

Biopact thinks the crisis offers an exceptional opportunity to point to the roots of the many problems experienced by developing countries:
  • tariffs and subsidies for biofuels in the US and the EU, which take food off the market for the production of inefficient biofuels like corn ethanol or rapeseed biodiesel;
  • the contrary example of Brazil's ethanol sector, showing that highly efficient biofuels can be produced without increasing food prices (the international price of sugar has declined despite record sugarcane ethanol output);
  • the catastrophic effect of political crises in developing countries, leading to the destruction of the agricultural sector and food insecurity; over the long term, creating political stability is the absolute priority in the fight against hunger
  • bad governance and corruption by developing country governments and local economic elites, who neglect their own farm sectors and favor imports from a small number of multinationals (some have called bad governance the single biggest immediate cause of hunger - earlier post)
  • the emblematic success of Malawi's super harvest, showing that simple interventions in the farm sector can turn a hungry country into a major food exporter in a single year's time; Malawi kicked out both the World Bank's experts (who were against state support for the farm sector) and NGOs who advocated against the use of fertilizers; instead, Malawi launched a national fertilizer subsidy campaign, with a massive output of food as a consequence; the example shows agriculture in Africa can become self-sufficient and produce a vast excess of food, if only very simple interventions are implemented
But these factors point to what the situation should be, not to what it actually is today. Currently 37 countries worldwide are facing food crises due to conflict and disasters, the FAO says. In addition, food security is being adversely affected by unprecedented price hikes for basic food, driven by historically low food stocks, droughts and floods linked to climate change, high oil prices and growing demand for biofuels. High international cereal prices have already sparked food riots in several countries.

In its November issue of Food Outlook, FAO estimated that the total cost of imported foodstuffs for Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) in 2007 would be some 25 percent higher than the previous year, surpassing US$ 107 million.
Urgent and new steps are needed to prevent the negative impacts of rising food prices from further escalating and to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries. Without support for poor farmers and their families in the hardest-hit countries, they will not be able to cope. Assisting poor vulnerable households in rural areas in the short term and enabling them to produce more food would be an efficient tool to protect them against hunger and undernourishment. - FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
Note that Diouf does not blame biofuels as such, on the contrary. Recently he said:
Much of the current debate on bioenergy [...] obscures the sector's huge potential to reduce hunger and poverty.

If we get it right, bioenergy provides us with a historic chance to fast-forward growth in many of the world's poorest countries, to bring about an agricultural renaissance and to supply modern energy to a third of the world's population. - FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
The real problem is with the current geographical distribution of bioenergy production: European and American farmers produce biofuels from food in a highly inefficient way, from crops that do not yield much energy. They can only do so because they are protected by import tariffs and by massive subsidies. For this reason, Diouf and many others have called for the abandonment of these trade and market distorting factors. Biofuels should be produced by those who can make them in an efficient manner from high yielding energy crops, without impacting food prices. That is: countries in the South, like Brazil (sugar prices have declined, despite record sugarcane ethanol production). In short, we need a major rethink of the biofuels sector - the case for a 'Biopact' has never been stronger.

Short-term support
The FAO is calling for urgent action to provide small farmers in LIFDCs that depend heavily on food imports, with improved access to inputs like seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to increase, in particular, local crop production.

Within countries, improved access to these inputs could be provided by issuing poor farmers with vouchers to buy seeds, fertilizer and other inputs for major staple crops, which should increase local food production. Such steps could help to alleviate the persistent threat of severe undernourishment of millions of people, FAO said.

FAO will support a catalytic model programme in close cooperation with the private sector. At the same time, FAO aims to assist countries in mobilising resources required to strengthen their productive capability, market access and other measures required for long-term household food security.

Malawi’s success

Some countries like Malawi have proven that it is possible to boost local food production through the provision of vouchers for farm inputs, the FAO says. The Malawi programme has over the last two years produced spectacular results whereby maize production in 2006/07 was one million metric tonnes higher than national maize requirements, Diouf says:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The value of the extra production was double that of the investment provided. Many small-scale farmers have benefited and have increased production for their own consumption. The Malawi success could be replicated by other countries facing a very difficult food production environment.

Short-term intervention will by no means replace medium and long-term investments for enhancing the production capacity in the target countries, FAO said.

"On the contrary, we want the pressure on governments to finance expensive food imports to be eased so they can focus on long-term solutions. Short-term investments have to be accompanied immediately with measures to ensure water control, increase rural infrastructure and improve soil fertility and guarantee long-term sustainability of food production," Diouf said.

FAO will fund a model programme of interventions from resources put at its disposal by member countries and will encourage national governments, international institutions and other donors to replicate and expand successful interventions in line with ongoing international initiatives.

FAO: FAO calls for urgent steps to protect the poor from soaring food prices - December 17, 2007.

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: FAO forecasts continued high cereal prices: bad weather, low stocks, soaring demand, biofuels, high oil prices cited as causes - November 07, 2007

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007


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