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    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.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Landless Chinese farmers migrate to Africa in search of agricultural opportunities

Jacques Cassiman, a famous European geneticist with a heart for Africa, was once asked what the future has in store for Europe's youth, who live in a continent whose population is ageing rapidly. His answer: in a 'reverse migration' of sorts, the creative and courageous ones will move to Africa, where they will find countless exciting opportunities no longer available in the old, grey continent. And when they migrate, they will be surprised to find many Chinese collegues in their newfound African homeland.

It seems like the Afro-optimist's vision is partly becoming a reality. China's presence in Africa is growing rapidly. As is well known, the People's Republic is involved in massive infrastructure projects, in the construction sector, in the oil and minerals industry. But what few people know is that more and more poor Chinese farmers are migrating to the continent too, in search for agricultural opportunities (see story below).

In fact, the Chinese government is actively encouraging them to do so. Landless and small farmers, as well as rural Chinese forced off their land and unable to find urban jobs in the emerging megacities are called on by the country's Export-Import Bank to move to Africa to become farm owners and practise their agricultural skills.

Rural exodus
China's rapid urbanisation is transforming millions of farmers into urban dwellers - a process described by some as the largest rural exodus in the history of mankind - but finding them jobs is becoming increasingly difficult.

The plans for the city of Chongqing speak for themselves: under a National Development and Reform Commission plan for rapid urbanisation, the place is being turned into a gigantic megalopolis that will house several tens of millions of people. The central government embarked on an economic policy that is aimed at developing western China - the 'China Western Development strategy' - and Chongqing is planned to become the 'Gateway' that will open up this part of the country. Chongqing is located at the head of the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam and will see ocean going ships arrive at its quays soon. Beijing wants the city to become the 'Chicago of the East', and is pumping billions into its infrastructures.

The project is estimated to result in the transformation of some 12 million farmers into urbanites by 2020. A large proportion of these relocated people will not find jobs easily and would be better of utilizing their skills to help both African farmers and themselves - so the government thinks.

Li Ruogu, head of the Chinese Export-Import Bank, explains the overseas migration plan, the logic of which is simple but powerful.
Chongqing is well experienced in agricultural mass production, while in Africa there is plenty of land but food production is unsatisfactory. There is huge room for co-operation on both sides. We have already supported several agricultural projects in Africa, all of which are generating very sound profits. Chongqing's labour exports have just started, but they will take off once we convince the farmers to become landlords abroad. [...] the bank will give full support to the farmers in terms of capital investment, project development and product-selling channels.
Chongqing's deputy mayor Zhou Mubing says the local authorities and business sector too will encourage farmers to go overseas.

Boosting crop yields
Regional governments have been sending farmers to Africa for years, with more than 13,000 rural people from Baoding in Hebei province alone leaving for the troubled continent in the past decade, establishing 'Baoding villages' there. These farmers are working in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Senegal, growing crops efficiently with African partners and then turning them into food products.

The enormous availability of land and the potential to boost Africa's crop yields dramatically are key incentives for China's migrant farmers. African farmers themselves remain highly unproductive and their Chinese collegues may well be bringing the necessary catalyst to change this situation. They have the skills and increasingly the channels with which to import the basic inputs needed to make Africa's farming sector productive.

According to Liu Jianjun of the China-Africa Business Council, which helps Chinese firms find business opportunities in Africa, the mainland's farmers are effectively using their expertise to help Africans mechanise farms, select better seeds and inputs, manage production more efficiently, and market products better. The result is precisely what African countries need: an increase in crop yields and improved marketing of food:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

If the Chinese continue to help local ruralites acquire basic farming skills and cooperate with communities in marketing the products, this could prove to be a win-win situation for both. The process might be more effective than the countless asssistance programs offered by the West and international organisations, aimed at improving African agriculture.

Liu Jianjun, who has helped relocate more than 10,000 Chinese farmers, thinks the productive synergy between both continents will result in tens of thousands more farmers arriving in Africa over the coming years.
At first, people were not willing to go to Africa because it's too hot, there are diseases and there are wars. But after the Chinese government called for people to go, they were more positive.
There are no official figures on the total number of Chinese farmers in Africa yet, but the mainland's labour exports this year had grown by 33 per cent compared with last year, the Ministry of Commerce found. A gross estimate says that more than 750,000 Chinese are now making a living in Africa (in all sectors, including agriculture).

Personal motivation
This latest wave of Chinese migrants is, however, not the first to have travelled to Africa. In the 1960s, China's communist leader Mao Zedong forged close links with the continent in a bid to garner political support. But the Chinese who have moved to Africa in the last 10 years are going for economic, not political reasons as they did under Mao.

According to Chris Alden, of the South African Institute of International Affairs, who has written a book titled China in Africa, the Chinese are already changing the economic landscape there as they seek to enrich not just their companies and their country, but also themselves. And their influence is set to grow.

Alden says with so many poor farmers in China unable to make a living off the land, Africa presents a host of inviting opportunities. "There's not the sense that the streets are paved with gold but, for people who cannot find work, Africa is a realistic opportunity."
Story of a nurse-turned Chinese farmer in Zambia
An hour from Zambia's capital Lusaka towards the end of a 30-km highway and an 18-km rugged untarred road, Johnken Farm stands out like an oasis amongst the wilderness of Africa. This farm, as wild as any other surrounding unclaimed land 12 years ago, has now become a flagship and a token of the Chinese- Zambian cooperation in agriculture.

Eggs produced in Johnken Farm are sent to Lusaka and other cities every day, snatching 10 percent of the whole market of Zambia. Together with its 1,000 head of cattle and over 2,000 pigs, the 3,500-hectare farm is the biggest one among a dozen of Chinese-owned farms in Zambia.

Behind the success of Johnken is the middle-aged Chinese woman, Li Li, 43, who came to Zambia to support her husband, Wang Chi, former managing director of the farm, but ended to shoulder the task by herself after Wang passed away one and a half years ago.

The early days with the farm was a struggle of the couple against harsh wilderness, bad infrastructure and inexperience. Wang used to be a university lecturer in Beijing before he arrived in Zambia with his African dream. His wife, Li, gave up her nurse career in a famous hospital in the Chinese capital of Beijing and followed Wang here.

They had to begin their work with cutting down bushes and grass along with 100-plus local employees to turn the primitive area into cultivable farmland. Electricity was then connected to the farm and boreholes were drilled for irrigation.

They came to the farm in 1994 with 200 chickens. As there was no henhouse at that time, they had to share their house with the chickens. Li recalled that at the beginning neither she nor Wang knew the proper water temperature for unhairing until they finally looked it up shortly before they put their processed chicken on market.

With its good reputation and considerable profit return, Johnken Farm was awarded by the Zambian National Commercial Bank ( ZANACO) a loan of about 1 million U.S. dollars. With the loan, Johnken Farm began to expand its business by planting wheat after it installed a computer-controlled center- pivot sprinkling irrigation system, which is widely used in large- scale commercial farms but the first one in a Chinese-owned farm in Zambia.

"You have to become big and strong with modern advanced technologies and have a bearing on the market. Otherwise you will risk being edged out of the market," Li said. With that in mind, she suggests that small- and medium-sized Chinese farms in Zambia merge to challenge the competition from other large-scale farms.

Meanwhile, Li said the Chinese government should encourage state-owned conglomerates to come to Zambia to turn the vast agricultural potential into reality.

When it comes to bioenergy and biofuels, it is well known that Africa has the largest longterm potential of all regions. By 2050, the continent is projected to be capable of sustaining a production of around 300 Exajoules of exportable bioenergy, in an explicitly sustainable manner, that is after all food, fiber, fodder and forest products for rapidly growing local populations are met and without any deforestation. To turn this theoretical potential into a reality, more efficient farming practises are a basic requirement. It could well prove to be the case that the influx of skilled Chinese farmers, and their growing investments in rural infrastructures, signals a first step in that direction.

As for Cassiman's vision of a Euro-African 'reverse migration': the Chinese are coming. But when will the Europeans?

Photo: a Chinese agronomist cooperating with an African collegue. Credit: SciDev.

South China Morning Post: Landless farmers urged to migrate to Africa - September 19, 2007.

BBC: China in Africa: Developing ties - November 29, 2007.

People's Daily Online: Africa Feature: Story of nurse-turned Chinese farmer in Zambia - October 23, 2006.

Chris Alden, China in Africa, Zed Books, Series Title: African Arguments Series, 2007.

Two blogs by Biopact members on China's growing influence in Africa, but no longer maintained: China in Africa and Peaceful Rising.


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