Sunday, October 31, 2010

The planned sell off of English forests



Don't sell our woodland walks
The Government's proposals amount to the biggest change of land ownership in Britain since the Second World War, says Geoffrey Lean

By Geoffrey Lean
29 Oct 2010

Don't sell our woodland walks
The Government's proposals amount to the biggest change of land ownership in Britain since the Second World War, says Geoffrey Lean.

It is perhaps the most audacious, and controversial, sell-off ever contemplated – the privatisation of Britain's wild places. But no sooner have ministers' plans to dispose of forests and nature reserves begun to emerge, than they have run into serious trouble.

At first, it must have seemed so simple. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suffered one of the most savage chops of the Chancellor's axe in his spending review. So the temptation to cushion the blow, by flogging off assets, was surely irresistible.

Sure enough, as The Sunday Telegraph reported this week, ministers drew up plans to sell off half of the Forestry Commission's woodland. And they have been aiming to privatise at least some of England's 224 National Nature Reserves, the country's most important wildlife areas.
The proposals amount to the biggest change of land ownership in Britain since the Second World War, raising immediate concerns that protected woodlands would be felled to make way for golf courses, housing, adventure grounds and Center Parcs-style resorts. Vital wildlife sites would be compromised, it was feared, and private companies would be given the right to cut down trees in, for example, the New Forest, Sherwood and the Forest of Dean.

Local protests broke out. Business Secretary Vince Cable materialised from his wife's cottage in the New Forest to call for the area to be preserved as "a national resource". And, most embarrassing of all, the Welsh and Scottish administrations – who, under their devolved powers, are responsible for three quarters of the Forestry Commission's land – announced that they had no intention of privatising any, leaving only England's 258,000 hectares in play. Indeed, the plans seem to have been drawn up on the back of a recycled fag packet, perhaps discarded by Nick Clegg before coming out as a smoker on Desert Island Discs.


The Treasury has long lusted after selling off the Forestry Commission, originally formed after the First World War to guarantee a supply of pit props for the trenches. One serious attempt was made under John Major, dropped in the face of public opposition, and another was internally discussed in Labour's last years, only to be killed off by the then environment secretary, Hilary Benn.

Experts say it would need primary legislation at Holyrood, as well as Westminster, to clear the way for privatising the Commission – which, given the Scottish government's stance, is nowhere in prospect. So ministers have dropped the idea, concentrating instead just on selling much of the land. But even that is looking less and less attractive.

Officials have held talks with environmental bodies like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to try to persuade them to buy both woodlands and nature reserves, only to be told that they don't have much money and that – if they did – they would already be using it to buy land. In desperation, the Government has privately offered them to the organisations for free, only to be reminded that they cost money to run. The groups would be happy to accept the gifts if ministers paid for their upkeep, but that would rather defeat the object of the exercise.

Commercially, too, they're less attractive than first appears. Nature reserves are protected by British and European law. The Commission's last chairman – former Labour cabinet minister, Lord Clark – ensured that public access was granted "in perpetuity" over all its land. That greatly reduces its value, but would take a highly unpopular Act of Parliament to reverse.
Elderly, wealthy people could well be tempted, all the same, as forestry is exempt from inheritance tax – but the government would then lose income as a result. Pension funds might also be attracted but they, too, could get tax relief.

By yesterday, some of this had begun to sink in, not least in Downing Street. Instead of, as expected, announcing its ambitious sell-off plans, Defra issued a cautious statement pledging to "diminish public ownership" of forests while promising to "preserve their public benefits".
There is no reason why this could not be done, and done effectively. But unfortunately, the Government is also planning to emasculate Natural England, the very body whose job it would be to enforce that promise – and which protects the National Nature Reserves themselves. Under pressure, ministers make clear that they are, in part, punishing it for being too effective in criticising government in the past.

And, on Thursday, the Cabinet Office introduced a new Public Bodies Bill, enabling Whitehall to abolish or change bodies such as the Commission, without having to get full legislation through Parliament. Then it could be privatised – and public access to forests withdrawn – very much more easily. So this week's skirmishes may only be the start of a long, and bitter, war.


www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/8097935/Dont-sell-our-woodland-walks.html

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Government clears path for Forestry Commission sell-off plan

Proposals expected to provide a boost to the biomass energy sector, but green groups remain concerned over commercialisation of the countryside

James Murray, BusinessGreen, 29 Oct 2010

Environment Minister Jim Paice has today confirmed reports that the government is considering selling off the Forestry Commission, although she insisted strong safeguards would be put in place to protect biodiversity.

In an open letter to MPs, Paice said that the Public Bodies bill introduced in parliament today will allow the coalition to deliver a "modernisation of the forestry legislation".

"By including enabling powers in the bill we will be in a position to make reforms to managing the estate," he said. "We will consult the public on our proposals later this year and will invite views from a wide range of potential private and civil society partners on a number of new ownership options and the means to secure public benefits."

He added that the government intended to deliver a "managed programme of reform" that would result in "a new approach to ownership and management of woodlands and forests, with a reducing role for the state and a growing role for the private sector and civil society".

The decision has prompted concerns among environmental groups, which have characterised the move as an attempt to sell off some of the UK's most prized natural assets.

Speaking earlier this week, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, said the sale of forested land to private developers would represent "an unforgiveable act of environmental vandalism".

"Rather than asset-stripping our natural heritage, government should be preserving public access to it and fostering its role in combating climate change and enhancing biodiversity," she said.

However, Paice said the changes would have relatively little impact, stressing that the Forestry Commission's estate covers only 18 per cent of England's wooded areas and that safeguards would be put in place to protect biodiversity.

"We will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests," he said in the letter. "Full measures will remain in place to preserve the public benefits of woods and forests under any new ownership arrangements.

"Tree felling is controlled through the licensing system managed by the Forestry Commission. Public rights of way and access will be unaffected, statutory protection for wildlife will remain in force and there will be grant incentives for new planting that can be applied for," he added.

It is hoped that the reforms could lead to a major boost to the UK's biomass sector, by encouraging landowners and renewable energy firms to expand managed forests to produce fuel for biomass plants.

According to recent figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, just 10 per cent of UK forests are managed, resulting in a huge untapped resource that could be developed in a sustainable manner.

A spokesman for Defra said the department planned to launch a consultation exercise on the plans before the end of the year.

He also downplayed fears that the move would lead to increased felling of forests, noting that the existing Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Town and Country Planning Act would ensure high levels of protection for existing forests.


www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2272444/government-moves-forward-forest

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Siat's Ghana Palm Oil To Go Green In 2011



Siat's Ghana Palm Oil To Go Green In 2011

Date: 27-Oct-10
Country: UK
Author: Michael Taylor

African palm oil producer Siat Group is set to get its Ghanaian output certified as sustainable by early next year, the Brussels based firm said on Tuesday.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry body of consumers, green groups and plantation companies, was formed in 2004 and aims to promote growth and use of sustainable oil palm products.

Annual production capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil jumped over the 3 million tonnes mark last month, according to the Roundtable. Certification for green palm oil started in August 2008.

"In Ghana we expect to be certified in January 2011 ... we have submitted our files to the RSPO board and they are hopefully going to approve it in Jakarta," Gert Vandersmissen, group director of operations for the Siat Group, told Reuters.

Vandersmissen, who is currently the alternate member for the rest of the world group on the RSPO board, was speaking ahead of the RSPO's annual meeting in Jakarta from November 8-11.

The company, which has palm oil plantations in Ghana, Nigeria and Gabon, produces about 50,000 tonnes per year.

Siat's customers include Unilever and Nestle.
"We are planting every year -- in every country where we are, we're planting something like a thousand hectares a year," Vandersmissen said. "The world population will not go down ... there is already a (palm oil) shortage."
Palm oil is used in products such as food, cosmetics and biofuels.

Golden Agri-Resources, the second-largest plantation company listed in Singapore, and the world's biggest listed palm oil firm, Wilmar are looking to develop land in Africa.

Established 1991, Siat has invested about 130 million euros in its African palm oil plantation business.

"We know that it takes seven years before we get something back from our investment," he said. "It is an investment over a generation -- we have a 20 year business plan.

"We are planting in area that has already been de-forested before by loggers followed by traditional slash and burn farming techniques."

Vandersmissen said the advantages of producing African palm oil for African consumers, is that it keeps transportation costs down at a time when there is a shortage in the region, which also pushes prices higher than in Asia.

Malaysia and Indonesia account for around 90 percent of the world's supply of palm oil."The advantages are the shortages, so we always have a market for our product," he said. "Secondly, if they want to import, it has to be transported and some countries have import taxes."

"We sell our oil here at much better prices than the world market price," he added.
Vandersmissen said that Africa imports more than 2 million tonnes of palm oil every year. This compares with about 8 million tonnes in India and 7 million tonnes in China.

The objective of Siat, which stands for Societe d'Investissement pour l'Agriculture Tropicale, is to invest and manage agro-industrial ventures in the tropics.

The group employs in excess of 8,000 people and has a turnover of about 160 million euros in 2010, with an estimate of around 230 million euros in 2011.

On Tuesday, Malaysia's benchmark January palm oil futures ended near two year highs at 3,053 Malaysian ringgit from 3,071 at Monday's close.

"They will go up another 20 percent (next year)," Vandersmissen said. "People are buying more -- it's the cheapest vegetable oil available.

(Editing by William Hardy)

Reuters
© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved
http://www.planetark.com/enviro-news/item/60005

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Green propylene project underway



<Another demand for sugar cane bio-ethanol>

28/10/2010 13:44:00
Braskem launches project for green propylene industrial unit

Braskem, the largest thermoplastic resin producer in the Americas and a company committed to bringing to market products and solutions with high technical performance that are aligned with the principles of the low-carbon economy, announces the conclusion of the conceptual phase of the project to build a green propylene plant.

In 2011, work will be concluded on the basic engineering studies and, once final approval is obtained, the project's installation will begin, with operational startup expected in the second half of 2013. The plant should require investment of around US$100 million and have minimum green propylene production capacity of 30 kt/year.

To produce green polypropylene, Braskem will adopt technology that has already been proven on an industrial scale and use as an input sugarcane ethanol, which is recognized as the world's best renewable energy source. The green polypropylene will have the same technical, processability and performance properties as polypropylene made using traditional production routes.

The preliminary eco-efficiency study has shown very favorable results, given the benefits from the environmental advantages of green ethylene. The study was conducted in partnership with Fundação Espaço Eco and was based on conceptual engineering data. Each ton of green polypropylene produced captures and sequesters 2.3 t of CO2.

Braskem considers this plant part of its strategy to develop biopolymers and is committed to expanding its portfolio and production capacity, enabling the growth and adoption of green plastic by a growing number of clients and applications, thereby increasing the product's benefits for the environment.

Braskem has been working with green polypropylene for a long time. In 2008, during BioJapan, the company announced the production of the first green polypropylene sample made 100% from renewable resources, which was verified in accordance with ASTM D6866. Braskem also has research projects to develop a new production route for green polypropylene, including the partnerships announced with Novozymes in 2009, as well as with UNICAMP and LNBio

Polypropylene is the second most used plastic in the world and features unique properties among all polymers, such as excellent balance of physical properties, possibility of high transparency and high resistance to impacts at low temperatures, high performance in production processes, stability of properties over the long term, low density (which allows for lighter parts) and high versatility in terms of applications.

http://www.braskem.com.br/site/portal_braskem/en/sala_de_imprensa/sala_de_imprensa_detalhes_10415.aspx


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Protest against proposed wood power stations in Tasmania



No Future In Forest Furnaces

27/ October/2010

Independent Forest activists painted a 20 meter slogan reading "No Future In Forest Furnaces" on prominent Hobart southern outlet Water tower.

Activists are responding to the industry push for investment into
Woodfired power development during recently announced forest
negotiations. We see this as a provocative and very unhelpful move by
forestry interests to cling to a dying woodchip industry, dragging
down Tasmania's native forests with them.

There are currently three proposals for wood-fired power stations in
Tasmania: at the Southwood facility in the Huon Valley, at Circular
Head in the North-West of the state and at Gunns planned pulp mill in
the Tamar Valley. Combined, these power stations would consume many
hundreds of thousands of tonnes of timber from Tasmania's high
conservation value native forests if they were to be allowed to use
native forests.

The Industry claims these proposed forest furnaces would produce
`green' and `renewable' energy where in reality committing to Bio fuel
development would be a dangerous step seeing a range of destructive
practices concerning both Tasmania's native and HCV forests and local
communities.

Top American Health organisations have called for a ban on new
woodfired power stations due to public health risks of particulates
and other pollution. Yet the Tasmanian government and Forest industry
continue to talk up such archaic practices as a modern new move for
the `new' forest industry.

We Urge the forest industry and the broader community to consider the
long term social and environmental repercussions of committing to
Bio-Fuel forest furnaces in Tasmanian communities.

Burning our native forests for electricity would produce similar
amounts of carbon as burning coal as well as destroying threatened
species habitat and valuable carbon sinks. We need to act now to halt
such proposals and move towards a real renewable future with
investment into legitimate renewable energy such as wind and solar.

http://indymedia.org.au/2010/10/28/no-future-in-forest-furnaces

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Amazon suffers worst drought in decades



Amazon suffers worst drought in decades
Jeremy Hance
October 24, 2010

The worst drought since 1963 has created a regional disaster in the Brazilian Amazon. Severely low water levels have isolated communities dependent on river transport. Given a worsening situation, Brazil announced on Friday an emergency package of $13.5 million for water purification, tents, and food airdrops.

The drought has also hit local fishermen who are unable to transport wares down the rivers. In some places the rivers are so desiccated, all the water is evaporated and the riverbed is cracking up. Ships have been stranded and accidents have been blamed on the low river levels.

Greenpeace activists say such droughts are likely to occur more frequently in the future due to climate change.

"There is already a climate change going on at some level. Greenpeace is tracking the impacts this can have on the Amazon, the impacts that the global warming—some two degrees—may bring to the Amazon […] This year was out of the line," Rafael Cruz, a Greenpeace Amazon forest activist, told Aljazeera.net.

Scientists have warned that climate change combined with widespread deforestation could push the Amazon rainforest ecosystem past a tipping point, whereby it would change from rainforest to savannah.

A particularly severe hurricane season is also likely to have contributed to the drought: hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean draw moisture out of the Amazon when they form.

The rainy season begins in November.

http://news.mongabay.com/2010/1024-hance_amazon_drought.html


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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FT article on soya/corn prices - 2.5m acres more US corn needed to meet demand next year



Article by market insider - head of commodities research at Morgan Stanley.
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/e81d369c-e114-11df-90b7-00144feabdc0.html 

Demand outweighs supply in soya/corn commodity markets - sort of obvious - but he says the balance is much finer now than in past - less spare capacity, and then quote: "Growing domestic demand for livestock and ethanol, together with growing export demand, supported by robust income growth in emerging markets, will require US farmers to plant at least 2.5m more acres of corn next year, and this to simply keep balances steady at today's tight levels."  

This in turn will push out US Soya production, forcing Soya prices up.  High soya prices needed from market view to incentivise Soya expansion in Mato Grasso. 

 2.5m acres = about 1m hectares. 


Keyword(s): ethanol
Frequency: Daily at 00:00 London Time
 
October 26, 4:41pm
Don't blame the speculators for rising soya prices
Corn, soyabean and wheat prices, have rallied markedly over the last several months. The impact is being felt by consumers facing higher prices at the supermarket, companies whose margins have been squeezed and policymakers in emerging economies who are having to deal with sharply higher food inflation.As is often the case, some are blaming the participation of speculators for these moves higher.
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/e81d369c-e114-11df-90b7-00144feabdc0.html
 
 
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Councillor Andrew Boswell
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Forest logging zones in Malaysia to be converted for oil palm



Forest logging zones in Malaysia to be converted for oil palm

October 25, 2010

The government of Terengganu, a state in peninsular Malaysia, will clear forests along its border to establish oil palm plantations, reports Malaysian state media.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said, chief minister of the state, said converting the forest area to plantations would help stymie illegal logging in the area bordering the states of Pahang and Kelantan. It wasn't immediately clear how much forest would be converted, but Bernama quoted Said as saying, "We found that of the 500 acres of logging areas awarded, some 200 acres had been illegally logged."

He also said the state government would "gazette 30,000 hectares of logging areas as forest reserve to prevent development," according to Bernama.

http://news.mongabay.com/2010/1025-terengganu.html

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brazil: Sustainable on paper - the eucalyptus plantations of Bahia



- Brazil: Sustainable on paper - the eucalyptus plantations of Bahia

Endless rows of tree trunks pass before our eyes behind the car window. In the utmost south of the Brazilian state Bahia, eucalyptus plantations are a common sight. Sometimes we can see the remains of the Mata Atlântica, the majestic Atlantic Rainforest that used to cover the region. Now there is only four percent left. Logging companies and sawmills have made huge profits here.

After the deforestation, something new was introduced to the region: eucalyptus, the new green gold. The plantations we pass are all owned by Veracel.

David Fernandes, Veracel's forestry official, guides us over sand roads through a giant maze of eucalyptus plantations. The car halts at a slope with a view on the company's pride: the mosaic landscape. Fernandes elaborates enthusiastically on the harmony between the eucalyptus on the higher plateaus and the rainforest on the steep slopes and alongside the rivers.

Further down the road the greenery makes room for an arid plain, where everything has been cut down. But next to the dry land, young eucalyptus is already growing for a future production cycle. We drive between two huge walls of stacked tree trunks. Big machines, resembling mechanised prehistoric predators, are cutting down the mature eucalyptus trees at incredible speed. It takes a mere 25 seconds to cut down, debark, saw and stack a tree. Fernandes: 'For each hectare we plant 833 trees. After seven years the trees are thirty meters high and ready to be harvested.'

Bahia's climate allows a higher productivity than elsewhere in the world. 'It's only during the first year that we spray nine litres of glyphosate per hectare. It's a Monsanto weed killer, more commonly known as Round Up. It's a perfectly safe product, there's nothing wrong with it.' The FSC agrees, according to them the use of the weed killer does not endanger sustainability. But what Fernandes lacks to mention, is that Veracel uses 'large amounts of a chemical product blacklisted by the FSC', as stated in an ASI [a company inspecting for FSC certificators] report concerning Veracel's certification. Plantations infested by ants are sprayed with Sulfluramide. The company asked and received an exceptional permission from the FSC in 2008.

IBAMA, the federal environmental agency, had to impose some restraints on Veracel's use of chemical herbicides as well. The company used weed killers on land intended for the regeneration of rainforest, resulting in the destruction of a large amount of indigenous trees. Veracel was fined 400.000 real (€160.000).

Illegal paper

In 2008 Veracel was convicted by the federal court for deforestation of the Atlantic Rainforest, and was fined twenty million real (eight million euros). During the trial it was revealed that Veracel did not have a valid environmental impact assessment for its eucalyptus plantations. The judge ruled the licenses for the 96.000 hectares of plantations to be illegal.

'The consumer buying cellulose from Veracel has to realize that he is buying an illegal product and that the sustainability label doesn't reflect reality', warns João Alves da Silva, public prosecutor in Eunápolis.

Indigenous protest

Respect for the rights of indigenous people is the third principle that companies have to obey to obtain the FSC label. Eliane Anjos, sustainability officer at Veracel, assures us that Veracel maintains an excellent relationship with all Indian communities in the region. Biribiri, a leader of the Pataxó Indian Community Coroa Vermelha, gladly confirms.

However, Coroa Vermelha is the exception that proves the rule. In the region of Veracel's eucalyptus plantations, only four of the nineteen Pataxó and Tupinambá communities have their own territory. The inhabitants of Guaxuma, an Indian village alongside the BR IOI road, have been waiting on the recognition of their territory for more than ten years. The territory they claim reaches far beyond the plantations that come closer every second.

Since a couple of years they are completely surrounded by eucalyptus. Kuhupyxa – we can call him Antonio – tells us that ten years ago, his community was hunting in rainforest that has now turned into eucalyptus. He takes us to the fence next to his house. 'Veracel wanted to plant eucalyptus up to here. Ten meters from my house. They sprayed everything with poison while the kids were playing outside. We chased them away with bow and arrow. They don't have the least bit of respect for us.'

Led up the plantation path

An elementary condition to be recognized as a sustainable plantation, is that the plantation cannot be situated in places which recently housed natural forests or rainforests.

Still we can read in the audit reports of SGS Qualifor that Veracel did deforest rainforest after 1994, in order to plant eucalyptus.

The research centre CEPEDES in Eunápolis has video images of Veracel, at that time operating under the name Veracruz, destroying the rainforest with tractors and chains in the nineties. For them it is crystal clear that the company does not deserve a sustainability label.

In a devastating report, the ASI inspection team crushes the work of SGS Qualifor. SGS Qualifor did not allot enough time for a thorough audit, and was pleased with figures and studies provided by Veracel without checking or verifying anything. The report reveals that ASI would not have granted the label. But the power of ASI is limited to inspecting certificators. Only SGS Qualifor can retract the label.

Nobody eats eucalyptus

On a rainy day we meet a group of men and women assailing young eucalyptus trees with machetes. They are members of MLT, a small organisation for landless farmers. Rose Lemos explains: 'This land is terra devoluta, it is property of the state and is intended for land reform. Veracel doesn't have the right to plant here', she says. Social organisations assert that Veracel has planted eucalyptus like this on roughly 30.000 hectares of government property. MLT is still waiting on the judge's verdict about this particular piece of devoluta: 'We want to grow food crops again, because people don't eat eucalyptus. This region has the capability to export food instead of importing it, which it does now.'

Further down, MLT has already planted cassava, beans, corn, pumpkins and other crops. The 65 families living under plastic sheets dream of the day they can supply the city, because now all the food comes from other states.

In the eyes of Veracel, the actions of the landless farmer organisations are nothing more than vandalism, costing the company already five million real (two million euros) since 2009.

The city of Eunápolis now has 85.000 inhabitants. There are a lot of new, flourishing businesses owing their success to the presence of Veracel. But the drug trade has increased as well. Here, armed young boys barely twelve years old ride their bicycles through town hunting for cellphones and other valuable collaterals. On the outskirts of a favela, Roberto Joaquina dos Santos, living in the gut of the city, tells us how everything has changed: 'The people who moved here only knew sowing and harvesting. They weren't prepared for a life in the city. The slums grew and brought violence and drugs with them.'

Sustainability without borders?

If the stakeholders give the green light, Veracel will increase the production of its pulp factory from 1 million tons to 2,7 million tons. In order to do that, Veracel needs another 92.000 hectares of eucalyptus. The environmental applications for licenses have already been filed. According to ASI Veracel still has a long way to go to obtain the FSC label for the extended land. But SGS Qualifor has the final word on this matter. Manager Sergio Alipio is definitely optimistic: 'If we keep complying with all the principles and criteria of the FSC, as we did up until now, then it's only normal that the new plantations will be certified as well.'

Social and ecological conflicts, the question of indigenous people, problems with food security, rural flight and the decline in farmland are all enhanced by the expansion of eucalyptus, writes IMA, the environment agency of Bahia, in a report in 2008. For that matter, IMA expects that the conflicts will increase due to the coming of BahaBio, a project providing 300.000 hectares of sugarcane and 64.000 hectares of African palm for the production of biofuel in the region. 'There's a desperate need for an integrated vision', the government report concludes.

Excerpted from the report "Sustainable on paper: the eucalyptus plantations of Bahia, Brazil" by Leopold Broers and An-Katrien Lecluyse, September 2010, funded by Fondo Pascal Decroos. The full report was published by the Flemish magazine MO* and is available at http://www.mo.be/index.php?id=340&tx_uwnews_
pi2[art_id
]=29629&cHash=45bfb71da2

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, October 2010, www.wrm.org.uy

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Global food crisis forecast as prices reach record highs



Global food crisis forecast as prices reach record highs

Cost of meat, sugar, rice, wheat and maize soars as World Bank predicts five years of price volatility

  • guardian.co.uk,
  • An Indian farming family
    An Indian farming family carry bundles of paddy from a rice field in the northeastern state of Tripura. India has had food price inflation of 17% in the last year. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Rising food prices and shortages could cause instability in many countries as the cost of staple foods and vegetables reached their highest levels in two years, with scientists predicting further widespread droughts and floods.

    Although food stocks are generally good despite much of this year's harvests being wiped out in Pakistan and Russia, sugar and rice remain at a record price.

    Global wheat and maize prices recently jumped nearly 30% in a few weeks while meat prices are at 20-year highs, according to the key Reuters-Jefferies commodity price indicator. Last week, the US predicted that global wheat harvests would be 30m tonnes lower than last year, a 5.5% fall. Meanwhile, the price of tomatoes in Egypt, garlic in China and bread in Pakistan are at near-record levels.

Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/25/impending-global-food-crisis

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Leading scientists accuse thinktanks of being logging lobbyists



Leading scientists accuse thinktanks of being logging lobbyists

Open letter accuses two 'independent' groups of distorting facts and having close associations with multinational logging corporations

  • guardian.co.uk,
  • COP15 REDD rain forest or rainforest , Deforestation Continues In Sumatra
    Logging in Riau, Indonesia. Photograph: AFP Twelve leading scientists, including the former head of Kew Gardens and the biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank, have written an open letter accusing two international thinktanks of "distortions, misrepresentations, or misinterpretations of fact" in their analysis and writings about rainforests and logging.
    The unprecedented attack on the tactics and objectivity of the two groups who claim to be independent is contained in an open letter sent to the Guardian. It accuses the Washington-based World Growth International (WGI) and Melbourne-based International Trade Strategies Global (ITS) of having close associations with politically conservative US thinktanks and advancing "biased or distorted arguments" on palm oil plantations and logging.

    The scientists claim that ITS Global is "closely allied with", and "frequently funded by" multinational logging, wood pulp, and palm oil corporations and lobbies for one of the world's largest industrial logging corporations which has has been repeatedly criticised for its environmental and human-rights records.

    "WGI frequently lobbies public opinion on the behalf of Sinar Mas holdings, a conglomerate of mostly Indonesian logging, wood-pulp, and oil palm companies," added the scientists.

    "These organisations portray themselves as independent thinktanks or NGOs, but are actually lobby groups that are aggressively defending and funded by some of the world's largest logging, oil palm and pulp-plantation corporations. These corporations are playing a major role globally in the rapid destruction of tropical forests," said William Laurance, research professor at James Cook University in Cairns and Prince Bernhard chair of the International Nature Conservation at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

    The scientists include Sir Ghillean Prance, former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Thomas Lovejoy, chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank; Prof Omar R. Masera, director of the bioenergy lab at the National University of Mexico and Nobel laureate on behalf of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others from Oxford, Stanford and Imperial College, London. Together, they accuse the two organisations of promulgating "serious misconceptions" about tropical forestry and reaching conslusions that are "strongly at variance with refereed scientific matrial."

    "WGI and ITS have failed adequately to recognise that many forests of high conservation value are being destroyed and fragmented by plantation development —a process that is mostly driven by corporations, not small holders. While routinely accusing several environmental organisations and the IPCC of bias and scientific misrepresentation, WGI and ITS have, in our opinion, advanced a range of biased or distorted arguments themselves," says the letter.

    WGI has in the past launched fierce attacks on Greenpeace, whom it has accused of "falsifying data", as well as Rainforest Action and WWF over their analysis of deforestation in Indonesia. Earlier this year WGI attacked the IPCC over "glaciergate", when a mistake was found in the panel's 2007 report about the date glaciers in the Himalayas would melt. Yesterday it accused WWF, the world's largest conservation group, of "deceiving business", saying that "working with WWF ultimately harms business and economic growth".

    Environment groups have long been at war with US conservative thinktanks, but this is one of the few times that leading scientists have become involved in the debate.

    Alan Oxley, chairman and director of both groups, is a former Australian diplomat and corporate lobbyist for free trade agreements. He is a prominent climate sceptic who set up the now defunct denial website Climatechangeissues.com and runs the Asia-Pacific pages of Tech Central Station – a conservative website funded by ExxonMobil.

    Along with other directors of World Growth, he has worked with DCI Group, a leading Republican political lobbying firm that had close ties to the George W Bush administration. DCI specialised in setting up third-party industry groups which lobbied as independent NGOs.

    Oxley and both groups were contacted by the Guardian but have so far failed to respond to the allegations by the scientists.

    [Comments]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/26/scientists-open-letter-logging

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Via Campesina: Small Farmers' Solutions to the biodiversity crisis



Press Release- La Via Campesina

Small Farmers' Solutions to the biodiversity crisis


(Nagoya, 26 October 2010) Small farmer delegates from different parts of the world who are members of the international peasant movement La Via Campesina are attending the Convention of Biodiversity conference in Nagoya, Japan. They represent hundreds of millions of small farmers and family farmers in the world.


Colleen Ross from the National Farmers Union of Canada following the process said "We are disappointed in many of the initiatives discussed in the working groups of the conference, such as "sustainable biofuels". What we call "agrofuels" are actually not sustainable and do not constitute a renewable source of energy. It is really no solution to climate change, or of any benefit to farmers, indigenous people or local communities, but just a way for agribusiness to make more money".


Many small farmers in the Global South are facing exclusion and bankruptcy due to the expansion of agrofuel plantations. They loose their biodiversity due to monoculture plantations and they lose their land and territories. Hunger and poverty is everywhere in the rural areas. Worse, agroethanol and agrodiesel do not even solve the climate crisis, they actually increase it.


History has shown that it is small farmers and indigenous people that have defended their territories and protected biodiversity through ecological farming. Therefore the Convention of Parties (COP) of the CBD should not just recognize the importance of sustainable family farming agriculture but actively support it. Such a support would be a major achievement of the CBD for the protection of biodiversity.

In this COP10 - CBD La Via Campesina farmers demand :

  • An end to the expansion of agrofuel plantations, and the reduction of consumption of agrofuel. There is no "sustainable biofuel".

  • Mandatory information on the origin of biological resources used for each commercialization of all products.

  • A moratorium on Genetically Used Restriction Technologies such as "terminator" and transgenic seeds.

  • No patents or breeding rights on living organisms, their parts and derivatives and the cancellation of all existing property rights on these.

  • Access and use of biological resources and knowledge should be conditioned on the prior consent of indigenous and local communities.

  • No market mechanisms on biodiversity and climate change solutions.


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The Doomsday Machine and the Race to Save the World



The Doomsday Machine and the Race to Save the World: Geoengineering Emerges as Plan B at the 11th Hour

How close are we to space sunshades, mountaintop painting, 'fertilizing' the oceans with iron, and redirecting hurricanes? Closer than you might imagine
  
When it comes to climate change, any discussion of "cap and trade" legislation usually generates a bit of controversy, but there is another proposition for tackling our global warming woes that should be causing even more friction -- the little-known set of futurist techno-scenarios collectively known as geoengineering. At the opening plenary of the Convention on Biological Diversity last week in Nagoya, Japan, the ETC Group -- the same civil society outfit that led the charge for an international ban on Monsanto's infamous "terminator seed" a decade ago -- called for a moratorium on geoengineering experiments.   The group's new report,Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering calls geoengineering, "a political strategy aimed at letting industrialized countries off the hook for their climate debt."...

[Continue reading at the above link, including references to biochar]

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www.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-forests: Our forests aren't for sale



This will open up a 'free for all' in destroying the UK's woodlands and forests for the biomass industry.  Already, demand is greater than supply for biomass fuel.  If plans for large scale biomass takes off as the Govt want, then the survival of our forests will depend on the 'free' market.  Please forward widely.  

The government is getting ready for a huge sell-off of our national forests to private firms. This could mean ancient woodlands are chopped down and destroyed.  Walkers and endangered animals, like red squirrels and owls, would have to make way for Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, and logging companies. [1]

We need to stop these plans. Ancient forests like the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest are national treasures - once they're gone, they are lost forever. A huge petition will force the government to rethink. If we can prove how strongly thousands of us are against this, we can make them back down.

Please click here to add your name to a petition saying "save our forests":
http://www.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-forests

The government needs to get new laws through Parliament before these plans can go ahead. That means we have time to stop them. If we build a huge petition, we will prove that the public doesn't want precious woodland to be flogged off. That will make MPs think twice about voting for it.

When we work together, we can stop the government from forcing through these kind of bad plans. They probably think that with all the focus on cuts, no-one will have time to spare to speak up for forests. 38 Degrees members know how to work on more than one issue at once. We're already standing up for the NHS and the BBC. We're winning our fight against the massive cow factory farm in Lincolnshire. Now let's stand up for Britain's ancient forests together, before it's too late and they're gone for good.

Please help build the pressure before it's too late. Add your name to our "save our forests" petition:
http://www.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-forests


Thanks for being involved,

David, Hannah, Johnny and the 38 Degrees team

P.S. If we can build a big enough petition quickly enough, we can get the government to drop these plans right now. Please forward this e-mail to all your friends and family, and ask them to sign the "save our forests" petition by clicking here: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-forests


NOTES
[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/8082756/Ministers-plan-huge-sell-off-of-Britains-forests.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/government-plans-huge-selloff-of-britains-forests-2115631.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/24/forests-government-heritage-private-developers


 


The bigger we are the more we can do. Please forward this email to your friends and ask them to get involved.

38 Degrees brings you together with over 175,000 people to take action on the issues that matter to you and bring about real change. To find out more visit our website, Facebook or Twitter.

Donate: 38 Degrees doesn't accept money from government, big business, or political parties. We rely on donations from individuals to help pay for the technology, the research, the equipment and the small office we need to organise campaigns. Support our work by donating here


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38 DEGREES 2009 Registered Company No. 6642193


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Monday, October 25, 2010

UN report on water and invasives




NEW UN REPORT WARNS OF RISKS OF BIOLOGICAL PRODUCTION OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
New York, Oct 25 2010  5:05PM
Sources of energy derived from biological sources may reduce global dependence on fossil fuels that emit harmful gases, but they entail the use of large volumes of water and pose the risk of introducing undesirable crops into ecosystems, the United Nations Environment Programme (<"http://www.unep.org/">UNEP) warns in a report released today.

The report, "<"http://www.unep.fr/energy/bioenergy/documents/pdf/Assessing%20Biofuels-Su mmary-Web-.pdf">Accessing Biofuels," recommends new planning and management approaches to balance the beneficial effects of the production of biofuels - which do not produce gases associated with climate change - with their environmental and social consequences.

"There is no doubt that we need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and move to cleaner, more environmentally friendly options," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director. "But we need to make sure we are not creating more problems than we solve.

"Biofuel production has risks and opportunities. We need to examine all the risks, so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities for emissions cuts, for new green jobs, and for raising the standards of living for some of the world's poorest communities," Mr. Steiner said.

According to the report, bioenergy development can have an impact on biodiversity on a number of levels, including directly through land-use change, the introduction of potentially invasive species for use in biofuel production, the overuse of water, and indirectly by pushing agricultural production into previously high-value conservation areas.

UNEP cites research which shows that 2 per cent, or 44 cubic kilometres, of the global water withdrawals for irrigation are being used for bioenergy production, and notes that if current bioenergy standards and targets are fully implemented, a further 180 cubic kilometres of irrigation water would be needed.

The water demand would create additional pressure on water resources and potentially have an effect on food production and water supplies, especially in areas already experiencing water shortages.

In an issue paper published in the report, UNEP argues that while many of the currently available biofuels are produced from existing food crops, some of the plant species being considered for advanced biofuels are potentially invasive.

The agency notes that the very qualities that make these plants ideal for biofuels - fast growth, ability to outperform local vegetation, abundant seed production, tolerance of and adaptability to a range of soil and climatic conditions, resistance to pests and diseases and lack of predators - mean they could become invasive in a given landscape.

Invasive species can cause serious damage to the environment, local livelihoods and economies, according to the report, which was released at the 10th conference of parties to UN Convention on Biological Diversity that is currently under way in the Japanese city of Nagoya.

Meanwhile, a <"http://www.biodiversitya-z.org/">website spotlighting some 35 important areas worldwide, including the World Heritage sites and Protected Areas, was launched at the conference today.

The electronic guide also explains the species and habitats they seek to protect, as well as their legal status and the extent to which local communities are present.

"The A-Z guide is a useful reference to support business and other sectors with their biodiversity commitments to mark our contribution to the Year of Biodiversity,", said Jon Hutton, Director of the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (<"http://www.unep-wcmc.org/">UNEP-WCMC) which created the guide with the support of several partners.

It is intended to assist the business community, governments as well as non-governmental organizations by providing useful expert reviewed information, links to tools with spatial data, and further online resources to raise awareness and support decision-making about areas important for biodiversity conservation.
________________
For more details go to UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news

To change your profile or unsubscribe go to:
http://www.un.org/apps/news/email/


Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker



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Downturn for Monsanto



Monsanto, the giant biotechnology agriculture company that created genetically modified corn, soybeans and herbicides, isn't riding so high this year in the stocks department, as news comes in that its products aren't working like they'd hoped.

According to the New York Times, weeds are becoming immune to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, and its latest genetically modified, 8-gene corn is a flop, producing yields no higher than the company's less expensive corn, which contains only three foreign genes.

"Monsanto has already been forced to sharply cut prices on SmartStax and on its newest soybean seeds, called Roundup Ready 2 Yield, as sales fell below projections," the Times said. "And the Justice Department is investigating Monsanto for possible antitrust violations."

"Until now, Monsanto's main challenge has come from opponents of genetically modified crops, who have slowed their adoption in Europe and some other regions. Now, however, the skeptics also include farmers and investors who were once in Monsanto's camp."

continues at :

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/23/monsanto-finally-reaping-its-just-desserts.aspx

Source NYT article (4 October):

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/business/05monsanto.html?_r=2

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ArborGen Intervenes In Engineered Eucalyptus Trees Suit



ArborGen Joins Fray Over Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

By Samuel Howard, Law360,

New York (October 21, 2010) -- ArborGen Inc. has intervened in a suit that seeks to shut down the company's field-testing of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees on the grounds that the federal government's approval of the experimental plots didn't take into account environmental dangers.

Judge K. Michael Moore of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Tuesday let ArborGen in on the action, given the fact that the company will have to cut down its experimental cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees if the plaintiffs prevail in overturning the planting permits.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups filed suit in July against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the judge found that ArborGen deserved the opportunity to defend against allegations that the hybridized eucalyptus trees posed unexamined environmental risks and threatened to run amok.

In its motion to intervene, ArborGen noted that if the permits were revoked the company would have to chop down its hybrid eucalyptus trees, as many had reached maturity and were too tall to safely remove flowering buds by hand.

The suit targets 28 confidential ArborGen sites on hundreds of acres across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas, claiming the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service failed to properly assess the trees' invasive potential before permitting the field tests.

The environmental groups claim the government hasn't weighed the risks that the eucalyptus hybrid will escape beyond the experimental plots and become an invasive species in the region, or interbreed with current eucalyptus trees that are already invasive.

ArborGen is petitioning the APHIS to deregulate the tree in order to proceed with commercial plantations for pulp and biofuel production, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint earlier in October, arguing that the APHIS has violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to study the combined environmental impacts of the trees. Instead, the service has performed two limited environmental assessments that address just three of the seven planting permits, according to the complaint.

The lax oversight also fails to comply with the 2008 Farm Bill, which requires rigorous regulation of field tests of genetically engineered organisms, the suit contends.

By allowing the experimental eucalyptus trees to flower, the government has put hundreds of threatened and endangered species at risk throughout the Southeast, according to the green groups.

CBD attorney Marc Fink said that the agencies involved need to be more exacting if they want to prevent experimental plantings from spreading.

"There are already a number of environmental problems in the Southeast including a high number of endangered species and the spread of invasive species, and the continued planting of this genetically engineered Eucalyptus tree will only increase uncertainty and threats in the region," Fink said.

A spokeswoman for ArborGen could not be reached for comment Thursday.

ArborGen is represented by Arent Fox LLP's Donald McLean, Karen Carr and Rachel Lattimore and Akerman Senterfitt LLP's James McCann Jr.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Food Safety's George Kimbrell, Barry University School of Law's Jeanne Marie Paben and the Center for Biological Diversity's Marc Fink.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service et al., case number 10-cv-14175, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
http://globaljusticeecology.org/stopgetrees.php?tabs=2&ID=463


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Ministers plan huge sell-off of Britain's forests



Ministers plan huge sell-off of Britain's forests

Ministers are planning a massive sell-off of Britain's Government-owned forests as they seek to save billions of pounds to help cut the deficit, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

By Patrick Hennessy and Rebecca Lefort
23 Oct 2010

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce plans within days to dispose of about half of the 748,000 hectares of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission by 2020.

The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies.

Legislation which currently governs the treatment of "ancient forests" such as the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest is likely to be changed giving private firms the right to cut down trees. Laws governing Britain's forests were included in the Magna Carta of 1215, and some date back even earlier.

Conservation groups last night called on ministers to ensure that the public could still enjoy the landscape after the disposal, which will see some woodland areas given to community groups or charitable organisations. However, large amounts of forests will be sold as the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) seeks to make massive budget savings as demanded in last week's Spending Review.

Whitehall sources said about a third of the land to be disposed of would be transferred to other ownership before the end of the period covered by the Spending Review, between 2011 and 2015, with the rest expected to go by 2020.

A source close to the department said: "We are looking to energise our forests by bringing in fresh ideas and investment, and by putting conservation in the hands of local communities." Unions vowed to fight the planned sell-off. Defra was one of the worst-hit Whitehall departments under the Spending Review, with Ms Spelman losing around 30 per cent of her current £2.9 billion annual budget by 2015.

The Forestry Commission, whose estate was valued in the 1990s at £2.5 billion, was a quango which was initially thought to be facing the axe as ministers drew up a list of arms-length bodies to be culled.
However, when the final list was published earlier this month it was officially earmarked: "Retain and substantially reform – details of reform will be set out by Defra later in the autumn as part of the Government's strategic approach to forestry in England."

A spokesman for the National Trust said: "Potentially this is an opportunity. It would depend on which 50 per cent of land they sold off, if it is valuable in terms of nature, conservation and landscape, or of high commercial value in terms of logging.

"We will take a fairly pragmatic approach and look at each sale on a case by case basis, making sure the land goes to the appropriate organisations for the right sites, making sure the public can continue to enjoy the land."

Mark Avery, conservation director for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said: "You can understand why this Government would think 'why does the state need to be in charge of growing trees', because there are lots of people who make a living from growing trees. "But the Forestry Commission does more than just grow trees. A lot of the work is about looking after nature and landscapes."

"We would be quite relaxed about the idea of some sales, but would be unrelaxed if the wrong bits were up for sale like the New Forest, Forest of Dean or Sherwood Forest, which are incredibly valuable for wildlife and shouldn't be sold off.

"We would look very carefully at what was planned. It would be possible to sell 50 per cent if it was done in the right way."
A Defra spokesman said: "Details of the Government's strategic approach to forestry will be set out later in the autumn. "We will ensure our forests continue to play a full role in our efforts to combat climate change, protect the environment and enhance biodiversity, provide green space for access and recreation, alongside seeking opportunities to support modernisation and growth in the forestry sector."

Allan MacKenzie, secretary of the Forestry Commission Trade Unions, said: "We will oppose any land sale. Once we've sold it, it never comes back. "Once it is sold restrictions are placed on the land which means the public don't get the same access to the land and facilities that are provided by the public forest estate.

"The current system means a vast amount of people can enjoy forests and feel ownership of them. It is an integral part of society." In 1992 John Major's Conservative government – also looking to save money in a recession – drew up plans to privatise the Forestry Commission's giant estate, which ranges from huge conifer plantations to small neighbourhood woodlands.

John Gummer, then the Agriculture Minister, wrote to cabinet colleagues saying that he 'wanted to raise money and get the forest estate out of the private sector'. Mr Major backed the sell- off which, it was hoped, would raise £1 billion. However it was later abandoned following a study by a group of senior civil servants, amid widespread public opposition.

www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/8082756/Ministers-plan-huge-sell-off-of-Britains-forests.html

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South Africa- Watchdog Condemns Moves to Include Maize in Biofuels Strategy



Press Release – The African Centre for Biosafety
15th October 2010, Johannesburg

WATCHDOG CONDEMNS MOVES TO INCLUDE MAIZE IN BIOFUELS STRATEGY

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) is deeply concerned about the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Tina Joemat-Petersson's statements on 8th of October 2010 that South Africa's biofuels strategy should be revised to include maize. The Minister's stance has been influenced by the huge surplus of conventional and GM maize produced by South African farmers this season and the difficulty encountered by them to find markets for this maize. Nevertheless, the Minister's position reneges on prior government commitments to exclude the use of maize for biofuels because of food security reasons.

The ACB further notes with extreme disquiet the vociferous lobbying taking place by industry and the Portfolio Committee on Energy to have maize included as a biofuel feedstock. The ACB has been closely monitoring South Africa's huge maize surpluses, which has done nothing to alleviate the plight of millions of South Africans living below the poverty line. "The looming financial crisis among South African maize farmers further attests to the folly of mortgaging the country's future on the mass production of global commodities that can be bought and sold at the whim of financial speculators" said African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) Director, Mariam Mayet.

Haidee Swanby of the ACB expressed dismay at the suggested change to the Biofuel Strategy, stating that "the use of maize as feedstock for agrofuels has contributed to massive hikes in the price of food on the global market. The 2008 global food crisis was largely attributable to the diversion of maize in the US to ethanol production."

The ACB released a detailed critical analysis of the South African National Biofuel Strategy when it was released in 2007ii, pointing out that the so- called `green energy' strategy was a blatant attempt to open up `marginal' lands in the former homelands to an industrialised agricultural model that has led us all towards climate chaos and chronic global hunger. "The proposed policy shift is extremely short sighted and reactive; we need real solutions to energy and food security. It's time our government began to support environmentally sound agricultural practices for local consumption rather than chemical intensive mono-crops destined for global markets." said Swanby.

`Civil society and local communities will continue to strongly oppose any attempts to compromise food security and risk increases in food prices in order to protect the interests of the agro-fuel lobby," concluded Mayet.

ENDS

www.biosafetyafrica.net/index.html/images/stories/dmdocuments/biofuels_PR_Oct_2010-3.pdf

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Palm Oil Free campaign; worst SE Asia haze in 4 years; RSPO news



1.  New Palm Oil Free campaign supported by Planetark.org.  See http://palmoilfree.planetark.org/

 
2.  http://planetark.com/enviro-news/item/59960
 
Worst Haze From Indonesia In 4 Years Hits Neighbors Hard
Date: 22-Oct-10

Worst Haze From Indonesia In 4 Years Hits Neighbors Hard Photo: Vivek Prakash

A combination of two photos shows Singapore's financial district skyline on a clear day (top) and shrouded in haze (bottom). Illegal forest clearing by fire in Indonesia's Sumatra Island is sending haze across the Straits of Malacca
Photo: Vivek Prakash

Illegal forest clearing fires in Indonesia's Sumatra Island are sending haze across the Malacca Strait to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, causing the worst air pollution since 2006, officials said on Thursday.

Despite pledge among governments to deter fires, the haze prompted Malaysia to alert vessels in the Malacca Strait of poor visibility as short as 2 nautical miles and shut many schools.

Singapore, covered in thick smoke this week, saw its air pollution index hit the highest level since 2006 on Wednesday. The port and international airport are still functioning as normal.

"The suspicion is that this is coming from forests that have been opened up for plantations. We think it may be for palm oil," Purwasto Saroprayogi, head of the land and forest fires department at Indonesia's Environment Ministry, told Reuters.
Saroprayogi said the haze was caused by fires lit to clear land illegally in Dumai and Bengkalis districts in Riau province, in the north of Sumatra island.

Indonesia has a long history of weak forestry law enforcement and illegal land clearing by palm oil developers is not uncommon.

Fires clear land quickly and reduce the acidity of peatland soil, but release vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air.

The haze returned to the region less than a week after environment ministers in Southeast Asia met in Brunei to address land and forest fires, which drew immediate flak from neighbors.

"This is not the first time that we have informed the Indonesians that they should pay attention to hotspots in Sumatra and Borneo," Singapore's Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim told reporters on Wednesday.

Yaacob said if the haze worsened, "we will register our concerns again, perhaps on even stronger terms, to our Indonesian colleagues," adding Singapore may seek to reconvene another meeting to find "additional measures" to mitigate the problem.

Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Kuala Lumpur was seeking "more cooperation" from Jakarta in tackling the haze problem, state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.

"According to the reports we've received, the haze originates from there (Indonesia). We are not simply making accusation but we want action before the haze spreads and becomes more detrimental to Malaysia," he said.

Muhyiddin, also education minister, said schools in Muar town in southern Johor state had been closed and about 5,000 masks were distributed after air quality hit hazardous levels, the Star newspaper reported on Thursday.

The worst haze hit the region in 1997-98, when drought caused by El Nino led to major Indonesian fires. The smoke spread to Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand and cost more than $9 billion in damage to tourism, transport and farming.
(Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh in Jakarta and Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Miral Fahmy)
 
 
3.  Green Palm Oil Output Must Rise 5-Fold By 2015: AAK
Date: 25-Oct-10
Country: UK
Author: Michael Taylor

Production of sustainable certified palm oil needs to increase about fivefold in the next five years, to meet buyers' commitments, the British unit of Swedish oils manufacturer AAK said on Friday.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry body of consumers, green groups and plantation companies, was formed in 2004 and aims to promote growth and use of sustainable oil palm products.

Annual production capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil jumped over the 3 million tonnes mark last month, according to the Roundtable. Certification for green palm oil started in August 2008.

"Many blue-chip companies are making statements that by 2015, they will use only certified palm," Ian McIntosh, president, west division at AAK, told Reuters on Friday.

"We need to promote the reasons why plantations should pursue certification -- the principle reason is that the market expects and demands it," said McIntosh, who is currently the treasurer at the RSPO. "It has got to be 15 million tonnes."

Palm oil is used in products such as food, cosmetics, tyres and biofuels, but the there has been weak demand for certified palm oil due to the higher cost involved.

Palm oil planters have also complained that premiums for eco-friendly palm oil are not high enough to encourage production.

Accusations from green groups over deforestation have led to some firms boycotting certain plantation companies.

AAK recently sent an audit team to its supplier United Plantations, after a series of critical newspaper reports aimed at its working practices.

The audit reported back in September and found no wrongdoing.
 
 

4.  Greener Palm Oil Needs More Asia Support: Unilever
Date: 20-Oct-10
Country: UK
Author: Michael Taylor

Palm oil buyers in India and China need to join those in Europe in signing up for a certification scheme to promote sustainable palm oil, consumer goods giant Unilever said on Tuesday.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) an industry body of consumers, green groups and plantation companies, was formed in 2004 and aims to promote growth and use of sustainable oil palm products.

"We need to increase the uptake of certified oil in the market," Jan Kees Vis, global director sustainable sourcing development at Unilever told Reuters. "We know that the demand from Europe is not enough."

Annual production capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil jumped over the 3 million tonnes mark last month, according to the Roundtable. Certification for green palm oil started in August 2008.

"Global production is about 45 million tonnes -- India takes 8 million tonnes, China 7 million tonnes, Europe about 6 million tonnes, United States and Egypt 1 million tonnes," added Vis, who was elected to lead the RSPO at its conception in 2004.
 
Read more: http://planetark.org/wen/59926

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Farmers Hurt As Pressure On Arable Land Grows: U.N.



Farmers Hurt As Pressure On Arable Land Grows: U.N. 
Date: 22-Oct-10
Country: UNITED NATIONS
Author: Silvia Aloisi in Rome

Land purchases by foreign investors in poor countries and the growing use of biofuels are boosting pressures on agricultural farmland and helping make 500 million small farmers hungry, a U.N. envoy said on Thursday.

Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said the combination of environmental degradation, urbanization and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors formed an "explosive cocktail" for small farmers.

"The plots cultivated by smallholders are shrinking year after year. Farmers are often relegated to soils that are arid, hilly or without irrigation," he said in a new report presented to the U.N. General Assembly.

"This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations."
Each year, up to 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of farmland are lost due to severe degradation, conversion to industrial use and urbanization.

On top of that, more than a third of large-scale land acquisitions -- which last year reached some 45 million hectares -- are intended to produce agrofuels rather than food, according to the World Bank.

"All these developments have a huge impact on smallholders, indigenous peoples, herders and fisherfolk who depend on access to land and water for their livelihoods," De Schutter said, urging states to recognize these people's land rights.

There has been a steep rise in the number of land deals since a 2008 spike in food prices, with countries like China, South Korea and rich Gulf Arab states seeking to secure their food supplies by buying large swathes of farmland mostly in African nations.

The problem of land rights and ownership is particularly acute in Africa, where according to a U.N. conference in Rome last week 90 percent of the land being targeted by investors is not legally documented.

De Schutter said that transplanting Western concepts of land property to developing countries through land registration and individual titling processes may backfire, benefiting local elites or foreign investors rather than farmers.

"Rather than focusing on strengthening the rights of landowners, states should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land users," he said, calling for land redistribution in case of grave inequalities.

(Editing by Jim Marshall)
http://planetark.com/enviro-news/item/59953

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