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DR Congo has great potential for biofuels says U.N. official

DR Congo has great potential for biofuels says U.N. official

DR Congo has great potential for biofuels says U.N. official
January 9, 2008

A UN economist is touting the potential of DR Congo for industrial biofuels production, reports Reuters.

In a telephone interview, Dr Schmidhuber said the worn-torn country could devote millions of acres for oil palm, soy, and other biofuel feedstocks.

“The DRC and many of the African countries have an enormous agri-ecological potential,” Schmidhuber is quoted as saying. “They have production potential for more than (sugar) cane: palm oil, maize, jatropha, cassava even soybeans — whatever is suited to tropical and highland conditions.”

Schmidhuber says that unlike tropical countries, environmental concerns would be less of an issue in DR Congo (DRC) since large areas of arable land lie outside rain forest zones.

WHRC: A preliminary global assessment of tropical forested land suitability for agriculture

“The normal perception is that biofuels destroy the environment, particularly palm oil on existing rain forest land, but that doesn’t have to be the case,” Schmidhuber said.

The economist also noted that energy crop production need not come at the expense of food production since rural abandonment and lack of stability have conspired to hold back agricultural productivity and food production in the country.

Schmidhuber comments come less than a month after a Woods Hole Research Institute study showed that DRC has the potential to convert 1.015 million sq km of forest for industrial agriculture, including 778,000 sq km for oil palm plantations.

Investors are already showing interest in DRC for palm oil. In October 2007, a Chinese company signed a billion-dollar contract to develop more than 3 millions hectares of the DRC from oil palm plantations. Still, analysis of the nascent market for carbon offsets through forest conservation, — sanctioned at the U.N. climate meeting in Bali last month — suggest that at a price of $3.33 per ton, carbon beats the opportunity cost of forging forest conversion for oil palm. As such, the development of energy crops may be best suited to non-forest areas, while forests preserved for carbon values and other ecosystem services.

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