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International Bird Area in Kenya saved from conversion into biofuel crop

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A campaign by NGO Nature Kenya has saved the Dakatcha Woodland Important Bird Area (IBA) from destruction for planting biofuel crops, reports BirdLife International. Located near Kenya’s eastern coastline, the forest is home to two IUCN Red List Endangered species, Clarke’s weaver (Ploceus golandi) and sokoke pipit (Anthus sokokensis), both of which are imperiled by habitat loss. The plan to covert 10,000 hectares of the forest in jatropha, used for biofuels, was recently rejected by Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

“It is heartening to see NEMA’s decisions being guided by science. We now urge NEMA to apply the same criteria to the proposed biofuel plantations in other sensitive areas such as the Tana River Delta,” said Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (BirdLife’s offshoot in the region), in a press release.

Jatropha has become a controversial biofuel. Used to date in a number of notable air flights, proponents argue that the crop is resistant to drought and pest problems, and may be competitive in the energy market. However, critics contend that the biofuel, as with many first generation biofuels, may actually produce more greenhouse gas emissions than burning fossil fuels if it is grown over natural ecosystems, such as the Dakatcha Woodlands.

Even as the Dakatcha Woodlands is spared, a Canadian biofuel company has proposed to grow 10,000 hectares of jatropha in nearby wetlands, the Tana River Delta. Covering 130,000 hectares the Tana River Delta is considered one of the most important watersheds in the country.

“Sadly this case is just one of an increasing number of European companies grabbing land in Africa to cash in on biofuel subsidies in the UK and Europe,” says Helen Byron with the Royal Society for the Protection of Bird. “Ultimately, the only thing will stop it is for governments to end support for biofuels and to focus on cutting carbon from transport through electric vehicles instead.”

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