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Kenya to convert 20,000 ha of key wetland for ethanol production

Kenya to convert 20,000 ha of key wetland for ethanol production

Kenya to convert 20,000 ha of key wetland for ethanol production
June 25, 2008

The Kenyan government will allow more than 20,000 ha (50,000 acres) of ecologically-sensitive wetland to be converted into a sugar cane plantation for biofuel production, reports The Guardian. Environmentalists were “shocked” by the decision.

The land lies in the Tana river delta, an area home to lions, hippos, primates, and 345 bird species. While the delta is used communally by fisherman and farmers, last week Kenya’s National Environmental Management Authority last week approved a bid by Mumias Sugar to develop 80 square miles for a £190 million ($370 million) plantation project. Local groups say the project — which includes a sugar factory — will cause pollution and degrade the delta’s ecological services, including flood prevention, water and carbon storage, and food provision.

Wetlands International, an international NGO, said it was “shocked” by the decision, while an expert from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told The Guardian that the plan would tarnish Kenya’s reputation for conserving key wildlife habitats.

“This decision is a very serious blow to Kenyan wildlife and to wildlife worldwide, since many migrating species use the Tana delta in internationally important numbers,” Paul Buckley told the newspaper. “Until now, Kenya’s support for global agreements to protect wildlife has been excellent but this development could severely damage Kenya’s reputation for caring for its environment.”

According to Wetlands International which last month released a report on Biofuels in Africa, sugarcane production requires millions of liters of water for every hectare planted. Ethanol production is only viable when thousands of hectares can be established around a mill.

“Thousands of people depend on the Tana wetlands as fishermen or farmers,” said Wetlands International in a statement. “Herdsmen also require the area for cattle grazing during the dry season. These functions — critical to their livelihoods – will largely disappear if the wetland is converted into a large-scale sugarcane production area.”

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