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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Paul Collier: Africa profiting from commodity boom, but good governance key to long-term success

Sub-Saharan Africa is benefiting from the massive commodity boom that has come to dominate world markets. The continent is profiting from its immense wealth in oil, minerals, agricultural products, wood and other commodities. But the past has shown that these booms are shortlived and most often don't benefit the poor - 'the bottom billion' - at all. The teeth of the 'natural resource curse' often bite after a few years of high commodity prices, and devour all the gains that were made earlier.

An age old question is how Africa can escape this curse. How can we, the highly developed world, help to make sure that the massive amounts of cash that are flowing in, benefit the African economies at large and permanently? Our international aid to African countries is dwarfed by what they are currently receiving from selling their commodities. So maybe we must focus far more on how the profits from this trade are used and distributed, instead of merely giving aid. This is exactly what professor Paul Collier urges us to do.

Collier is a renowned development economist known for his courageous attempts at bridging the gap between advocates of aid and those who prefer trade as a development paradigm. In his latest work, which he recently presented in a TED-talk, Collier focuses on how we can build international structures and simple rules that strengthen governance in resource rich developing countries. It is these rules and the good governance they promote, which are key to ensure that profits from commodities are invested in a responsible manner.

Biomass and biofuels have become such internationally traded commodities. And the potential for their production is greatest, indeed, in developing countries, most notably in Central Africa and Latin America. Millions of farmers there are already benefiting from the increased prices for agricultural products. And their future looks ever brighter, as oil prices keep increasing. But these current and future gains must be reinvested in rural and social development in these countries, else biofuels just become part of the larger natural resource curse. This is why all those involved in thinking about the biofuels industry's massive potential for poverty alleviation in the South, must take note of Collier's message.
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