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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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Saturday, November 01, 2008

UN: 1 million flee Congo violence

The Congo War was the deadliest but most underreported conflict since WWII, killing more than 5 million people. The current situation in Eastern Congo is edging towards yet another humanitarian catastrophe. According to the UN, around 1 million people are now fleeing the violence. There is news of refugee camps being emptied, burned, and looted. Cities are no longer safe-havens and people are retreating to the forest again, to hide.

Political tensions between Congo and Rwanda are growing. There are signs that both camps are scrambling their allies to prepare for war.

Obviously, no matter how hard we and many others try to help Central Africa's rural populations combat poverty, all these efforts will have been in vain if war breaks out again. Likewise, all conservation efforts - be they related to forest or wildlife protection - will have been futile, as war ravages entire ecosystems (the first Congo wars have led to an ecological disaster of unprecedented proportions in Congo).

So please help in keeping this crisis on the top of the agenda of the international media and of those who can make a difference.

Write to any of the following people in power and urge them to intervene, either on the front of diplomacy or militarily, if you think that's wise. France, Belgium and other EU member states want to send troops to stabilize the situation and to strengthen the U.N. Peacekeeping force MONUC.

European Union
Mr Louis Michel
European Commissioner for development and humanitarian aid
[email protected]

Mr Javier Solana
Secretary-General and High Representative for common foreign and security policy, European Council
Via his spokesperson Cristina GALLACH
[email protected]

Mr Bernard Kouchner
Minister of Foreign Affairs of France (Currently holding the EU Presidency)

U.N. Security Council

Mr Jan K.F. Grauls, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for Belgium
[email protected]

African Union

H.E. Dr. Jean PING
Chairperson of the African Union
[email protected]

H.E. Mr. Ramtane Lamamra
Commissioner for Peace and Security
[email protected]

Mrs. Julia Dolly Joiner
Commissioner for Political Affairs
[email protected]

United Nations news focus on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Friday, October 31, 2008

Global methane levels on the rise again

After eight years of near-zero growth in atmospheric methane concentrations, levels have again started to rise. This is bad news for future global warming, says CSIRO’s Dr Paul Fraser, who co-authored a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Over recent years, the growth of important greenhouse gases, namely methane and the CFCs, had slowed. This tended to offset the increasing growth rate of carbon dioxide that results mainly from large increases in the consumption of fossil fuels, particularly in the developing world. But now that methane levels have resumed their growth, global warming may accelerate.

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after carbon dioxide, accounting for nearly 20 per cent of global warming since the industrial revolution. Methane is emitted to the atmosphere from natural wetlands, rice fields, cattle, forest and grassland fires, coal mines, natural gas leakage and use, and other sources.

Over the past decade these methane sources have been close to balancing the absorption of methane through atmospheric oxidation and into dry soil, Dr Fraser says. This fragile balance has resulted in little growth of methane in the atmosphere. Apparently some sources have been increasing, such as from fossil fuel use, cattle, and rice, while others have been decreasing, particularly natural tropical wetlands. However, over the past year, the total sources have overwhelmed the total sinks, and methane has again started to rise.

Dr Fraser says that recent analyses of global data by CSIRO and collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Bristol suggest that the methane increase is, at least in part, due to methane releases in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

One surprising feature of this recent growth is that it occurred almost simultaneously at all measurement locations across the globe. However, the majority of methane emissions are in the Northern Hemisphere, and it takes more than one year for gases to be mixed from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. Hence, theoretical analysis of the measurements shows that if an increase in emissions is solely responsible, these emissions must have risen by a similar amount in both hemispheres at the same time.

A rise in Northern Hemispheric emissions may be due to the very warm conditions that were observed over Siberia throughout 2007, potentially leading to increased bacterial emissions from wetland areas. However, a potential cause for an increase in Southern Hemispheric emissions is less clear.

An alternative explanation for the rise may lie, at least in part, with a drop in the concentrations of the methane-destroying OH. Theoretical studies show that if this has happened, the required global methane emissions rise would have been smaller, and more strongly biased to the Northern Hemisphere. At present, however, it is uncertain whether such a drop in hydroxyl free radical concentrations did occur because of the inherent uncertainty in the current method for estimating global OH levels:
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To help pin down the cause of the methane increase, Ronald Prinn - TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science - said, "the next step will be to study this using a very high-resolution atmospheric circulation model and additional measurements from other networks." But doing that could take another year, he said, and because the detection of increased methane has important consequences for global warming the team wanted to get these initial results out as quickly as possible.

"The key thing is to better determine the relative roles of increased methane emission versus an idecrease in the rate of removal," Prinn said. "Apparently we have a mix of the two, but we want to know how much of each" is responsible for the overall increase.

It is too early to tell whether this increase represents a return to sustained methane growth, or the beginning of a relatively short-lived anomaly, according to Rigby and Prinn. Given that, pound for pound, methane is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the situation will require careful monitoring in the near future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified the need to understand causes of the variations of methane growth rates as a priority area of research. The reality is that scientists have only a very basic understanding of these methane variations, Dr Fraser says.

In order to predict the future contribution of methane to climate change, continuing high-quality observations, in particular in tropical and boreal locations, are required as input to, and verification of, sophisticated climate models.


M. Rigby, R. Prinn, P. Fraser, P. Simmonds, R. Langenfelds, J. Huang, D. Cunnold, P. Steele, P. Krummel, R.Weiss, S. O’Doherty, P. Salameh, H. Wang, C. Harth, J. Mühle, L. Porter. "Renewed growth of atmospheric methane", Journal of Geophysical Research. 28 pages 2008

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Interview: Axel Tarrisse makes biogas from drought-tolerant cacti

High energy prices and concerns about climate change have pushed a number of countries to invest in renewable energy. However, renewables have their drawbacks. Wind and solar are intermittent sources, and cost-effective energy storage options are not available yet, making these sources dependent on fossil fuel baseloads (previous post). Biomass power plants provide an excellent green alternative baseload, but not all countries have the necessary biomass resources. Drought-prone and semi-arid regions in particular would find it difficult to rely on energy crops. However, perhaps there is a solution: what if we could grow drought-tolerant crops on marginal land and convert them into biogas?

Axel Tarrisse with a 3 year old Opuntia.
For the past years, Axel Tarrisse has been researching the issue and found that Opuntia – a genus of spineless cacti – could be an excellent candidate for the job. Tarrisse made a case-study about the potential of the prickly plants in Turkey and found promising results. His previous research on drought-tolerant fodder crops and his worries about the rising costs of energy and fertilizers for farmers, allowed him to design a highly integrated biogas production concept in which nothing goes to waste. Biopact's Jonas Van Den Berg had a talk with the researcher. A powerpoint presentation of Tarrisse's research on Opuntia and biogas can be found here.

Biopact: How did you come to research Opuntia as a feedstock for biogas?
Axel Tarrisse: I have been concentrating my studies on the use of drought tolerant fodder shrubs for the rehabilitation of marginal lands. Then I discovered the use of maize silage as a feedstock for biogas production in Germany. The impressive yield of biomass obtained from spineless cacti could be used instead of maize silage in biogas production.

Using spineless cacti as an energy crop is offering serious perspectives to countries prone to drought and relying on imports for their energy consumption. Under a mediterranean climate, Opuntia can easily be cultivated under rain fed conditions without any supplementary irrigation, whereas maize cannot be cultivated without it.

Opuntia planted in March 2008 and growing well into July.
Biopact: What are the advantages of spineless cactus species as energy crops?
Tarrisse: Spineless cacti have a high water use efficiency, they can be grown with limited water on marginal lands, creating a valuable source of biomass on degraded land in semi-arid regions.

Biopact: Opuntia may be drought-tolerant, but do these cacti yield enough biomass?
Tarrisse: Opuntia ficus indica inermis respond very strongly to fertilization and irrigation. 100 tons of fresh biomass (12 t DM) /ha/year can be harvested with 300 mm of rainfall. 500 tons of fresh biomass/ha/year is obtained in Santiago de Chile and in the North East of Brazil where it is harvested just one year after planting under intensive cultivation.

Under the same irrigated and fertilized intensive culture Opuntia can yield around 120,000 kWh/ha/year, which is twice as much as maize under a mediterranean climate.

Micropropagated Opuntia.
Biopact: You wrote a case-study about the potential of Opuntia in Turkey. Can it replace a lot of natural gas?
Tarrisse: 4000 m3 of natural gas equivalent can be produced per hectare per year under rainfed conditions with an annual rainfall of 300-350 mm. Opuntia isn’t well known in Turkey, but 2 million hectares of marginal and low productive agricultural land is available for it. There's a potential for the creation of 200,000 to 300,000 new jobs, with an industry representing US$2 billion in economic value:
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North Africa and the North East of Brazil have 500,000 ha of Opuntia plantations each, South Africa has around 300,000 ha where the crop is used as a drought fodder.

Tunisia imports 2 billion m3 of natural gas annually, while the country already has 500,000 ha of spineless cactus plantations which could replace this entire amount of natural gas. This way it could save US$400 million on imports each year.

In the North East of Brazil 1,400,000 ha of Opuntia plantations under intensive cultivation would be enough to replace Brazil's entire annual 21 billion m3 of natural gas consumption, which corresponds to US$4.2 billion.

Biopact: Can the cultivation of the cacti be integrated in existing cropping systems?
Tarrisse: Yes indeed. The integration of Opuntia into existing cultivated areas can be done in strips (strip-cropping). That way existing cultures are not replaced by the cacti, but supported by this culture as the residue from biogas production would be returned to the soil as an organic fertilizer.

Biopact: How about the economics? Would Opuntia-biogas be competitive with natural gas at current prices?
Tarrisse: I estimate the total cost of producing biogas from Opuntia in Turkey — including the investment, the running cost, and the biomass — at €25/MWh of gas produced. The price of natural gas in September 2008 in Turkey was €39/MWh. In short, Opuntia-biogas would be competitive. This is mainly due to the fact that he cost of the biomass feedstock alone is around €10/MWh of gas, which is definitely lower per unit of energy produced than other dedicated energy crops used as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion. The income generated by the production of organic fertilizer shouldn’t be overlooked either, as it covers the cost of biomass production.

Vermicompost made from digestate from Opuntia.
Biopact: It seems like your research could provide a base for projects in developing countries, in particular in semi-arid regions. Are any projects being planned? Have you had feedback from potential investors?
Tarrisse: I have planned the possible implementation of a bioenergy park for the organized industrial zone of Adana in the South of Turkey.

The French and Turkish investors I have met so far were mainly interested in electricity generation. The guaranteed price of €0.05/kWh for electricity isn’t enough for the economic viability of the project if electricity is the only output to be sold. Work should be done on legislation promoting the injection of biomethane into the natural gas network, as it has been done in Turkey for biodiesel and bioethanol, or in Germany for biogas.

It is important for investors to take a multidisciplinary approach to the project, taking into account the value of the other outputs: organic fertilizers and heat recovery (steam, hot water) when electric generation is intended. If seen as an integrated concept, Opuntia-biogas production can offer both a competitive and sustainable source of renewable energy.

Axel Tarrisse was born in 1985 in Montpellier France, spent his childhood in Istanbul, attending primary and secondary schools at the Lycee Français d’Istanbul and later studied Geography land management and Rural Resources Management at the Lyon III University in France and at the Hohenheim University in Germany. He focuses his work on the efficiency of farming systems and development issues in semi-arid areas. Axel can be contacted at .

Slideshow: all pictures reproduced with kind permission from Henri Noel Le Houérou.

Pictures in text, credit: Axel Tarrisse 2008.

Tarrisse, A. “Biogas from Opuntia: A Source of Renewable Gas and Fertilizer” - powerpoint presentation, October 2008.

Tarrisse, A. Natural gas consumption of Turkey and the strategic use of drought tolerant energy crops for biogas production, Thesis, ESE-IER-Lyon III University - September 2008.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Future of plant sciences explored in new primer

America's National Academies have released a (freely available) new primer [*.pdf] on the achievements and promise of plant genome sciences. Based on an expert consensus report [*.pdf] from the National Research Council, the booklet explores the potential of the National Plant Genome Initiative [*.pdf] - a federal multiagency project that coordinates research in plant sciences to understand and ultimately harness plants' properties to help meet agriculture, nutrition, energy, and human health needs. For example, by knowing how plants cope with less water, rising temperatures, and other environmental stresses, scientists could develop crops that withstand changing climate conditions.

Sections of the booklet examine mutations and manipulation of food crops, the promise and challenges of biofuels, environmental stewardship, biomedical advances, and how scientists can maximize the use of plant sciences [entry ends here].
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Earthworms can help sequester carbon in forest soils

Earthworms can change the chemical nature of the carbon in North American forest litter and soils, potentially affecting the amount of carbon stored in forests, according to Purdue University researchers.

The Purdue scientists, along with collaborators from the Smithsonian Institution and Johns Hopkins University, study the habits of earthworms originally brought to North America from Europe. They want to determine the earthworms' effect on forest chemistry by comparing carbon composition in forests that vary in earthworm activity.

Some earthworms eat fallen leaves and other plant material - the litter of the forest floor - while others eat roots or soil organic matter. This begins a decomposition process in which organic materials pass through the animals' digestive tracts and back into the soil.

The research team found that forests with greater numbers of invasive earthworms tend to have litter and soil organic matter enriched in the plant material lignin, which is typically harder for bacteria to decompose, said Purdue biogeochemist Timothy Filley. Sites with low numbers of these earthworms accumulate plant carbon in forms more easily degraded by bacteria.

Overall, the amount of carbon in the litter and duff layer, which is the surface mat of decaying organic matter and roots, decreases because of earthworm activity. However, the change in carbon chemistry may make it harder for soil organisms to decompose the carbon remains. After earthworms feed on forest litter, they take the carbon down into the soil and mix it in, potentially leading to a buildup of carbon in the soil.
If the litter just stays on the surface of the soil, then it's likely that normal oxidation of organic matter happens and a lot of that carbon will just go into the atmosphere. However, if carbon can bind to the soil particles, such as clay, it might be a long-term way of stabilizing carbon. - Cliff Johnston, Purdue environmental chemist and professor of agronomy
Another way earthworm activity may affect the fate of carbon and the environment is in the thickness of layers of leaves and debris left on forest floors. Bare soil is generally very dark, absorbing more sunlight, which may dry it out quickly. A layer of lightly colored leaves is moderately reflective and holds moisture near the soil. Either condition may affect factors such as the warming of forest soil and the timing of snowmelt.

Ultimately, the scientists will look at such things to determine the potential invasive earthworms have in changing the flux of CO2 out of the forest and how much that could impact climate change, said Filley, who also is an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences:
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The earthworms that the team studies were brought to North America by early European colonists, probably in the ships' ballasts or in plant soil. In northern North American forests the settlers found land devoid of such creatures because the worms never reoccupied soils formed when the glaciers melted.

In addition, earthworms don't move very fast. It's estimated they have migrated under their own power only about 100-200 kilometers in the past 10,000 years since the glaciers.
In some forests, such as ones we are working at in northern Minnesota, we find soils where earthworms are only now being introduced. The main agents of introduction in such areas are discarded fishing bait in nearby lakes, transport between forest sites in tire treads and the movement of soil. - Timothy Filley
The research team reported findings of their ongoing study in a recent issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research. The National Science Foundation has provided funds to continue the work.

For this study, Filley, Johnston and their collaborators monitor earthworm activity at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center forest area in Maryland. The scientists set up plots in which they manipulate the amount of litter on the ground and watch how fast the worms remove it.

In some areas of the forest, more than 350 worms can be found in one square meter. The impact of that many worms is huge for the forest ecosystem as from spring to fall they actively consume litter and mix it into the soil, leaving only a bare surface by year's end.

In contrast, sites that have no earthworms have many years of accumulated litter and organic matter above the soil. This has implications for plant seed germination, water holding capacity and infiltration of the forest floor, among other things.
The earthworms fundamentally change how the microbial community is decomposing. When they eat roots, they also eat other organisms that help to distribute nutrients between plants. Worms may throw off the timing of nutrient delivery. - Timothey Filley
Other members of the research team are Melissa McCormick and Dennis Whigham, both of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Susan Crow of the Purdue Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and now at Queen's University Belfast, UK; Katalin Szlavecz of the Johns Hopkins Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; and Ronald van den Heuvel, formerly of the Smithsonian center and now at Landscape Ecology, Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University, Netherlands. Both Johnston and Filley are members of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.

: Earthworms' appetites may facilitate carbon storage so the chemical isn't released into the atmosphere as CO2, which potentially could help curb climate change. Tim Filley, a Purdue University environmental chemist, checks one of the plots at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland, where he and Cliff Johnston, another Purdue environmental chemist, monitor how much and how fast the worms eat leaves and other materials on the forest floor. This is part of a National Science Foundation-funded collaborative study by Purdue, Johns Hopkins University and the Smithsonian Institution. Courtesy: Cliff Johnston, Purdue University Department of Agronomy

Timothy R. Filley, Melissa K. McCormick, Susan E. Crow, Katalin Szlavecz, Dennis F. Whigham, Cliff T. Johnston, and Ronald N. van den Heuvel, "Comparison of the Chemical Alteration Trajectory of Liriodendron Tulipifera L. Leaf Litter among Forests with Different Earthworm Abundance", J. Geophys. Res., 113, G01027, doi:10.1029/2007JG000542.

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World food prices collapsing: were biofuel critics wrong?

A whole army of biofuel critics may have been wrong: contrary to what they said, it is now becoming clear that green fuels like ethanol and biodiesel have played virtually no role in the recent global surge in food prices. The spectacular trends in agricultural commodity markets prove it.

Prices of major grains and oilseeds that are used to make biofuels - like corn, wheat, soybeans, and palm oil - are collapsing. Corn and soybeans have lost more than half of their value, whereas wheat dropped even more and now costs 55% less than at its highpoint in March of this year. Canola fell from a high of $730 per ton earlier this year to $400/ton today. Prices of other internationally traded farm products are following the same downward path. Both cocoa and coffee have crashed, losing more than 40%. Cotton is in full free-fall as well. Clearly, all major agricultural commodities are seeing huge drops, while there is no outspoken 'demand destruction', as is the case with oil. This phenomenon proves that those who said biofuels played little to no role in the recent rise in food prices, were right. While a whole army of biofuel critics was wrong.

The Guardian is one of the few newspapers to openly admit its mistake (note, The Guardian has since taken this article off-line; please find the Reuters version to which that newspaper referred, here):
Heavy demand for corn from ethanol makers was seen as a key driver of corn futures to record highs in June, but since then the sharp decline of corn along with other commodities shows that belief was mistaken.

Corn is down about 50 percent from its record high in June, even as the amount of the grain used to produce the renewable fuel in the United States remained the same.
"The record high prices were a speculative bubble".
Here at Biopact, for once, we will not hesitate to take pride in the fact that we have made the correct assessment all along - against the grain and as a lone voice, because the temptation to jump on the simplistic "biofuels push up food prices"-bandwagon was very strong indeed.

The best illustration of the role of biofuels in this bizarre 'food versus fuel' story can be found by looking at the price movement of rice, one of the world's staple crops. It's an example we've presented before: rice has not been used as a biofuel feedstock on any significant scale, but its price suddenly accelerated at the beginning of this year, in line with record oil prices, only to drop just as spectacularly in recent weeks. No biofuels, no demand destruction, but excessively volatile prices, following the path of oil... this can only be the result of other market forces.

The correlation between the rapid decline of oil prices - which fell from a record $147 to below $65 today - and crashing agricultural commodity prices is obvious. The movements of all the internationally traded grains were part of a bigger speculative commodity boom, tied to oil, which itself fluctuated alongside the value of the dollar (and possibly in anticipation of the credit crunch). Biofuels output rose only very gradually over the course of the past two years, whereas prices for feedstocks jumped and then crashed. Today, the same amount of biofuels is being produced, world wide, than before the food price crash, and people are not eating less. But prices of feedstocks and food are in free-fall.

So it seems those who blamed biofuels for pushing up prices of major grains made a problematic mistake. The more cautious (and often less noisy) experts - like the Wageningen University's agrocommodity specialists - were correct, when they said biofuels played a 'marginal' role at best. At a time when biofuel critics were at their harshest and prices at their highest, the Wageningen experts even dared to write, calmly, that world food prices would continue...to decline. The European Commission's agrocommodity analysts too went so far as to say that biofuel was responsible for only 1 to 2% of the total rise in food prices. They put the blame elsewhere, mainly on the doorstep of commodity speculation and high oil prices. They too, were right.

Lessons learned
The fact that so many biofuel critics got it all wrong, holds an important lesson for the future of the green fuel debate. Some parties in this debate have an ideological agenda that is so strong it pushes them to ignore the most basic and rational analyses based on sound thinking and straightforward economics. They cannot afford to repeat this mistake in the future, because it would ruin their credibility once and for all.

But bioenergy experts and advocates have learned important lessons too: as they were designing strategies and scenarios to carefully assess any potential future impact of biofuels on food markets, they were surprised to see an unprecedented speculative frenzy unfolding in this very market. An at times ferocious 'food versus fuel' debate ensued, much earlier than expected. This debate made explicit a whole range of very important topics which can, indeed, better be discussed sooner rather than later. Issues like biofuels' impact on the environment and on biodiversity, on rural and urban communities in the developing world, and on big and small farmers. Trade regimes became a hot topic. And many reports and papers delved into complex issues like 'indirect' land use change effects resulting from the rush to biofuels. On the policy front, ambitions and expectations were reviewed. Best of all, bioenergy stakeholders were forced to dump 'bad' biofuels - because food based fuels are a bad idea - and to come up with smarter ones (like the by now famous 'low impact high diversity polycultures' of perennial grass species, which are so promising; or alternative bioconversion techniques, like pyrolysis and gasification).

In any case, the collapse of world grain and oilseed prices settles the debate for now: biofuels have played no or at best a marginal role in the sudden rise in global food prices. A new cycle of discussions can now begin, with this important knowledge in mind. The bioenergy expert's view that smart and sustainable biofuels can actually help lower food prices and that they could become a strong instrument in the fight against rural poverty and hunger, has lost none of its strengths.

Biopact: Wageningen UR: biofuels not to blame for high food prices; decline in world food prices to continue - June 17, 2008

The Guardian: Ethanol no longer seen as big driver of food price [*cache] - October 23, 2008. [Note: The Guardian has since taken this article off-line; the original text on which it was based can be found at Reuters UK.]
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Virunga's Gorilla Park headquarters under attack by rebels

Rebels in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo have attacked and are now occupying the headquarters of Virunga National Park's gorilla sanctuary. News is coming in that the forces of renegade general Laurent Nkunda are vandalizing the area, and are keeping the rangers trapped. Virunga National Park is a world heritage site and is home to the last 700 remaining mountain gorillas. In 2007, rebels killed 10 gorillas.

The park rangers, the Congolese and international staff of the Gorilla Park are asking for your help. Find out how you can support them by visiting their website: http://gorilla.cd/blog/

This saddening news is a stark reminder of the fact that violence and war are key drivers of biodiversity destruction (previous post on conflict & the environment). The two recent Congo wars not only killed more than 4.5 million people, they have also had a devastating effect on the country's rich natural diversity, in particular its forests. Vice-versa, researchers have found that a lack of farming opportunities correlates with the emergence of civil conflict and war in the developing world, with Central Africa being the prototypical example (previous post).

Congo thus faces a terrible catch-22: as long as its vast rural population cannot farm (and tap the country's "huge" biofuels potential) in peace, the risk of political instability and conflict increases; and as long as there is war, agriculture and conservation are under threat.

The situation in the East of Congo is deteriorating rapidly again, and hundreds of thousands are fleeing the violence once more. We hope this new wave of violence does not remain underreported, like the last two wars. Please help in making the Congo crisis known to more people.
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