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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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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Burkina Faso: enhancing food security by growing biofuel crops

Quicknote bioenergy economics
The West-African country of Burkina Faso offers us an interesting example of how investments in biofuel production help enhance the food security of small farmers and alleviate the endemic poverty that affects rural populations. 80% of the entire Burkinabese workforce is dependent on small-scale agriculture.

Burkina Faso is one of the largest producers of cotton, on a per capita basis. Some 500,000 people are directly employed in growing cotton, 2 million indirectly (roughly one in five of all Burkinabese people, and 1 in 3 households). The cash crop represents 5 to 10% of the country's GDP, 30% of its export revenues and 60% of all agriculture related incomes. In short, as the Burkinabese themselves say, "cotton means life".

Now a look at the micro-economics of agriculture at the household level reveals some interesting facts which are important for the biofuels debate. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) [*French], despite the low cotton prices of recent years, farmers who grow the crop in combination with food crops such as maize, form the healthiest group amongst the rural population. Both their incomes, their health status as well as their food security and nutritional status are better than those of farmers who grow food crops only (in this case maize, millet and sorghum). Despite often heard critiques to the contrary, growing a cash crop can indeed be beneficial. By doing so, small farmers get linked up to a world market and take advantages of dedicated infrastructures which make their production competitive; whereas 'autarkic' food farmers operate in very small, local markets only. The reasons behind the WHO findings are easy to understand: cotton-farmers receive relatively high extra cash incomes (compared to food farmers), which they spend on food, education and health.

But over-dependence on a single, globally traded cash-crop, like cotton, of course holds its own risks. The biofuels opportunity offers a way out. For this reason, Burkina Faso is going to diversify away from cotton by investing in sunflowers for biofuels. Assessments of the country's potential are bright: there is enough suitable land to satisfy both the food, fuel and fibre needs of the rapidly growing populations, as well as to grow feedstocks for an export-ortiented biofuels industry. On the level of the Burkinabese state, expenditures on costly oil can be cut, and the savings invested in poverty alleviation, education and health care. For the small farmers, the logic will be the same as with cotton: those who invest in all three crops (biofuels, fibres, food), will have more stable and secure incomes, with which they can enhance their food security status and combat poverty, than those who stick to producing food crops only. They will remain at the bottom of the pyramid.

This logic only holds in countries where the market is not constrained by competition between land for food and land for non-food crops (which would drive up prices for both). Burkina Faso is one such country. Obviously, the complexity of such micro-economic analyses would take us to far here, but the WHO's findings on the food security situation of Burkinabese cotton farmers definitely reveal an important element of the debate on biofuels in the South [entry ends here].
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