Monday, December 30, 2013

[biofuelwatch] Mozambique: Farmers in Mozambique Fear Brazilian-Style Agriculture

Mozambique: Farmers in Mozambique Fear Brazilian-Style Agriculture

Nampula — Rodolfo Razão, an elderly small farmer in Mozambique, obtained an official land usage certificate for his 10 hectares in 2010, but he has only been able to use seven. The rest was occupied by a South African company that grows soy, maize and beans on some 10,000 hectares in the northeast of the country.

He got nowhere filing a complaint with the authorities in the district of Monapo, where he lives, in the province of Nampula. And at the age of 78, he can't wait much longer.

Brígida Mohamad, a 50-year-old widow, is worried about one of her seven children, whose land was also invaded by a company.

"My son has nowhere to grow his crops; our 'machambas' [farms] aren't for sale," she complained when she met with IPS in Nacololo, the village in Monapo where she has lived her whole life.

These are two cases that help explain the fear among small farmers regarding the Programme of Triangular Cooperation for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannahs of Mozambique (ProSavana), which is backed by the cooperation agencies of Brazil (ABC) and Japan (JICA).

Inspired by the technology for tropical agriculture developed in Brazil, ProSavana is aimed at increasing production in the Nacala Corridor, a 14.5-million-hectare area in central and northern Mozambique that has agricultural potential similar to the Cerrado region - Brazil's savannah.

Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the Corridor, 80 percent live in rural areas, representing much higher population density than in Brazil and other countries, where the countryside has lost much of its population as agriculture has modernised.

Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the Corridor, 80 percent live in rural areas, representing much higher population density than in Brazil and other countries, where the countryside has lost much of its population as agriculture has modernised.

But in certain parts of the Corridor, it is possible to go two kilometres without seeing a house, as the families who depend on subsistence farming are spread out and isolated, on farms averaging 1.5 hectares in size.

Cassava is the basis of the local diet. The small farmers also grow maize, pumpkins, sunflowers and sweet potatoes for their own consumption, as well as cash crops: cotton, tobacco and cashew nuts.

The prospect of turning the Corridor into the country's breadbasket, where agricultural exports are facilitated by the Nacala port on the Indian Ocean, is expected to intensify conflicts over land by attracting companies focused on large-scale, high-yield production on immense estates that displace traditional farming populations.

The arrival of these big investors is a terrible thing, Mohamad said. She is opposed not only to the changes directly brought about by ProSavana, but to others that could be accelerated due to the programme's influence.

The coordinator of ProSavana, Calisto Bias, told IPS that peasant farmers will not lose their land. He added that the main objective of the programme is to support farmers living in the Corridor and help improve their production techniques.

But Sheila Rafi, natural resources officer with Livaningo, a Mozambican environmental organisation, said the way of life of local communities will be disrupted because the investors will bring in new employer-employee relations as local people produce crops for the companies, and monoculture will undermine the tradition of "producing a little of everything for their own diet."

Generating jobs by means of investment and value chains is one of ProSavana's stated missions. Another is modernising and diversifying agriculture with a view to boosting productivity and output, according to the website created by the Agriculture Ministry.

But the greatest fear, the biggest threat, is land-grabbing. Many are trying to protect their land by obtaining the "land usage right" based on customary occupancy (known as DUAT). But the certificate does not actually guarantee a thing, local farmers told IPS.

Under the laws of this southeast African nation, all land belongs to the state and cannot be sold or mortgaged. Farmers can apply to the government for a DUAT for up to 50 years.

Some 250 small farmers in Nacololo gathered Dec. 11 outside the home of the local chief to demand explanations about the alleged grabbing of nearly 600 hectares of land by Suni, a South African company.

The district of Malema, 230 km from the city of Nampula, is also experiencing turbulent times. Major agribusiness companies like Japan's Nitori Holding Company operate in that area. Nitori was granted a concession to grow cotton on 20,000 hectares of land, and the people who live there will be resettled elsewhere.

Another of the companies is Agromoz (Agribusiness de Moçambique SA), a joint venture between Brazil, Mozambique and Portugal, which is producing soy on 10,000 hectares.

The lack of information from the government has exacerbated worries about what is going to happen. "We only heard from the media and civil society organisations that there's a programme called ProSavana; the government hasn't told us anything yet," said Razão.

Costa Estevão, president of the Nampula Provincial Nucleus of Small-Scale Farmers, said "We aren't opposed to development, but we want policies that benefit small farmers and we want them to explain to us what ProSavana is."

The triangular agreement, which was reached in 2011 and combines Japan's import market with Brazil's know-how and Mozambique's land, has already proved fertile ground for controversy.

Social organisations from the three countries have mobilised against ProSavana, rejecting it or demanding that it be reformulated.

Brazil wants "to export a model that is in conflict," said Fátima Mello, director of international relations for the Brazilian organisation FASE and an active participant in the People's Triangular Conference on ProSavana, held in Maputo in August.

Millions of landless peasants, a major rural exodus, fierce land disputes, deforestation and unprecedented use of pesticides and herbicides have been the result of the model that has prioritised agribusiness, monoculture for export and large corporations, say activists who defend family farming as one of the keys to food security.

An important component of that model is the Japan-Brazil Cooperation Programme for Development of the Cerrado, which got underway in 1978 in central Brazil and is now serving as an inspiration for ProSavana.

The technology that will be transferred to farmers in the Nacala Corridor comes from Brazil.

The Brazilian governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa, is training extension workers and staff at Mozambique's Institute for Agricultural Research (IIAM), in ProSavana's first project, which will run from 2011 to 2016.

Brazilian participation is also decisive in the rest of the components of the programme: the master plan assessing the rural areas and crops with good potential in the Corridor, and the project for extension and models.

"The breadth and grandeur of the ProSavana Programme contrast with the failure of the law and the total absence of a deep, broad, transparent and democratic public debate," says an open letter signed by 23 Mozambican social organisations and movements and 43 international organisations.

The letter, addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Japan and Mozambique and signed May 23 in Maputo, also called for the environmental impact assessment required by law.

The signatories demanded the immediate suspension of the programme, an official dialogue with all affected segments of society, a priority on family farming and agroecology, and a policy based on food sovereignty.

They also said that all of the resources allocated to ProSavana should be "reallocated to efforts to define and implement a National Plan for the Support of Sustainable Family Farming."


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Sunday, December 29, 2013

[biofuelwatch] FW: [biodiv_civsoc] Re: URGENT appeal against the forced eviction of Sengwer and Cherangany communities in Kenya

Dear all,

This is urgent as the date for eviction seems to be 3rd January.


------ Forwarded Message
From: Ville-Veikko Hirvelä <>
Date: Sat, 28 Dec 2013 18:23:22 +0200
To: Biodiv_civsoc <>
Cc: Justin Kenrick <>
Subject: [biodiv_civsoc] Re: URGENT appeal against the forced eviction of Sengwer and Cherangany communities in Kenya [1 Attachment]

[Attachment(s) <#TopText> from =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Ville=2DVeikko_Hirvel=E4?= included below]   

Dear all

Thank you for the signatures of many of your organisations to the urgent appeal against the forced eviction of Sengwer and Cherangany communities in Kenya - which we sent to this e-mail list on 23rd December 2013.

Please find attached the appeal with the signatures we have gathered to it after 23rd December. (see below)

Still it would be very important to get also further signatures from other organisations of this e-mail list by 2nd of January, as the Kenyan government has threatened to start on 3rd January 2014 the eviction of the Sengwer and Cherangany communities

So, if you can sign, please send your organisations' signatures by 2nd of January to me and Justin Kenrick (not to the whole of this e-mail list, but) to our following addresses:

a) My address: 

b) To address of Justin Kenrick of the Forest Peoples Program:

The other organisations which have now signed so far you find listed in the attached appeal.

Thank you



------ End of Forwarded Message


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Thursday, December 26, 2013

[biofuelwatch] Jatropha biotech, jet fuel and broader implications [3 Attachments]

December 24, 2013

Start-Up Uses Plant Seeds for a Biofuel

SAN DIEGO — In an unmarked greenhouse, leafy bushes carpet an acre of land here tucked into the suburban sprawl of Southern California. The seeds of the inedible, drought-resistant plants, called jatropha, produce a prize: high-quality oil that can be refined into low-carbon jet fuel or diesel fuel.

The mere existence of the bushes is an achievement.

Hailed about six years ago as the next big thing in biofuels, jatropha attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, only to fall from favor as the recession set in and as growers discovered that the wild bush yielded too few seeds to produce enough petroleum to be profitable.

But SGB, the biofuels company that planted the bushes, pressed on. Thanks to advances in molecular genetics and DNA sequencing technology, the San Diego start-up has, in a few years, succeeded in domesticating jatropha, a process that once took decades.

SGB is growing hybrid strains of the plant that produce biofuel in quantities that it says are competitive with petroleum priced at $99 a barrel. Oil is around $100 a barrel.

Call it, as SGB does, Jatropha 2.0.

The company has deals to plant 250,000 acres of jatropha in Brazil, India and other countries expected to eventually produce about 70 million gallons of fuel a year. That has attracted the interest of energy giants, airlines and other multinational companies seeking alternatives to fossil fuels. They see jatropha as a hedge against spikes in petroleum prices and as a way to comply with government mandates that require the use of low-carbon fuels.

"It is one of the few biofuels that I think has the potential to supply a large fraction of the aviation fuel currently used today," said Jim Rekoske, vice president for renewable energy and chemicals at Honeywell, who has visited the company's jatropha plantations in Central America.

Mr. Rekoske and biofuel analysts say SGB's biggest challenge will be to replicate the yields it generates in the greenhouse on a commercial scale.

"Given that this crop has somewhat of a checkered past, ultimately getting growers to plant the crop is going to be the key hurdle," says Michael Cox, an analyst at Piper Jaffray.

At the greenhouse, the fruits of SGB's technology are apparent. A typical wild jatropha bush will produce a cluster of six to eight seed-bearing fruits, according to Robert Schmidt, a specialist in corn genetics who is SGB's chief scientist. He picked up a grapefruit-size cluster growing on a hybrid jatropha plant and counted 37 fruits. "We have examples in Guatemala where we have 60 fruits in a cluster," Dr. Schmidt said.

SGB's success at improving jatropha seed yields by as much as 900 percent persuaded a consortium that includes Airbus, BP and the Inter-American Development Bank to sign a deal with the company to plant 75,000 acres of jatropha in Brazil. The consortium, called JetBio, aims to develop sources of biofuel for the airline industry as the European Union, Australia and other countries impose caps on aviation carbon emissions.

"The demand is huge — every single airline would like to be flying on biofuel today," Rafael Davidsohn Abud, JetBio's managing partner, said in an email.

Jatropha's value as a cash crop, though, may pale compared with a potential genetic gold mine SGB has begun to discover, identifying traits, for instance, that make certain strains of the plant resistant to extreme heat or cold.

"If you figure out how to do heat tolerance for corn or soybeans, what is that trait worth as climate change accelerates?" asked Arama Kukutai, managing director at Finistere Ventures, a San Diego venture capital firm that has invested in SGB.

For now, SGB plans to license its technology to energy companies. But the company is securing patents on its hybridization process, creating a technology platform that can be deployed to discover genetic traits in other agricultural crops.

For instance, in November SGB signed a deal with the Yulex Corporation to use its molecular breeding technology to increase the yields of guayule, a wild plant harvested as a replacement for petroleum-based rubber. 

The technology also could be used to domesticate wild fruits and vegetables, company scientists said. They said the technology has the potential to unleash a new green revolution for a world that will need to grow 70 percent more food by 2050, according to the United Nations, as agricultural productivity is slowing,

The seeds of Jatropha 2.0 were planted in fall of 2008. That year, early on Sept. 15, a Monday, Kirk Haney, SGB's chief executive, went into the living room of his San Diego home to prepare for what was to be a watershed week for his year-old start-up. That Friday, SGB was set to close a $200 million round of financing from European investors.

"I turned on CNBC and Lehman Brothers had just failed and the Dow was plummeting," said Mr. Haney, 42, a technology entrepreneur with the laid-back demeanor and looks of a longtime California surfer.

SGB intended to use its financial windfall to plant sprawling farms around the world. Two days after Lehman fell, though, the investors had pulled out, forcing Mr. Haney and a team of top plant geneticists he had recruited from the University of California at San Diego to devise a new strategy.

Dr. Schmidt, SGB's chief scientist, had already concluded that jatropha showed little genetic diversity — a big roadblock to their plan because it would be difficult, if not impossible, to increase seed yields if all jatropha plants were essentially clones of one another.

Most jatropha bushes are descendants of plants grown on Cape Verde, an archipelago off Africa's west coast. Cape Verde became the epicenter of jatropha farming 300 years ago, and a single strain of the plant, then valued as living fence to corral livestock, was exported to tropical regions around the globe.

As Dr. Schmidt combed the scientific literature on jatropha, he stumbled across a reference to an obscure 30-year-old paper by the botanist Bijan Dehgan.

Dr. Dehgan had devoted his career to studying jatropha. He traveled the world collecting and cataloging the 175 species of the plant, speculating that the species originated in Central America.

Following up on Dr. Dehgan's thesis that Guatemala was a jatropha Eden, Dr. Schmidt went to Central America and began analyzing the genetic makeup of the plants there. "It was absolutely spectacular the amount of genetic variation that we collected from the center of origin," he said.

That discovery coincided with a plunge in the cost of DNA sequencing that has allowed SGB scientists to rapidly identify the most genetically diverse and productive plants and crossbreed them. It also lets them pinpoint profitable individual traits and mutations, like heat or cold resistance.

It costs SGB $350 to genetically map a single jatropha line to look for valuable mutations, a price that will drop to $50 in 2014.

The price five years ago? About $150,000, according to Eric Mathur, SGB's chief technologist. The machine that does the mapping cost $250,000 and is in SGB's laboratory in a suburban San Diego office park.

About the size of a small microwave oven, it is called a semiconductor sequencer and can map 10 to 15 plant lines at a time. It automatically compares those sequences with a master jatropha genome, which SGB spent $250,000 to create, to identify genetic variations that might indicate desirable traits.

"You simply could not do this three years ago without a really high cash flow out the door," Mr. Mathur said.

To domesticate a wild plant, scientists traditionally crossbred two promising lines and hoped for the best, waiting for them to flower to see if the hybrid proved viable. The process could last for years if not decades.

SGB's technology allows its scientists to identify potentially productive hybrids in the laboratory at the molecular level before the plants are crossbred.

"This used to be a 10-year discovery process," Mr. Mathur said. "It's more like a 10-month process now."

Much of the hard molecular biological work is done, Mr. Haney said, giving SGB a five-year head start over any agriculture giant that might try to replicate its success.

"It doesn't matter how much money you have," he said. "You can't make cells divide quicker."


Catching Rays in California, and Storing Them

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Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
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Friday, December 20, 2013

[biofuelwatch] New article on biomass on Friends of the Earth blog

Honey, I burned the tree

Kenneth Richter

19 December 2013

Christmas is a good time to talk about trees. Are you worried about the fate of the six million Christmas trees sold every year in the UK?

If we assume that the average weight of a household Christmas tree is unlikely to be more than 20 kilos we are talking about 120,000 tonnes of wood per year.

Well, how about the 45,000,000 green tonnes of wood per year that the UK government expects to be burned in biomass power stations by 2020? That would be about 375 times the amount of Christmas trees assumed above and about 4 times the total wood harvest from UK forests for all uses (incl. paper, products & construction). And it doesn't include a further 16,000,000 green tonnes that will be needed for heating.

This is being sold to us a "green energy" but research has shown that burning whole trees in power stations can be even worse for the climate than burning coal.

So where will this amount of trees for wood-burning power stations like Drax come from? Most of it will be imported from overseas. Particularly from North America where some of most bio-diverse forests in the world are now being chopped, chipped and shipped to the European market; particularly the UK.

Witness in the video below (produced by the US Dogwood Alliance) how giant wood pellet manufacturers are cutting down US forests, turning them into pellets, and shipping them over to Europe for companies like Drax to burn for electricity. [Go to weblog to view video.]


So if you don't like the idea that for every Christmas tree 375 other trees are being burned in power stations please write to MPs in the Bristol area and ask them stop a new biomass power station from being built at Avonmouth.


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[Biofuelwatch] Biofuelwatch December Newsletter and Urgent Petition

Biofuelwatch December Newsletter
Biofuelwatch December Newsletter
View this email in your browser
This is the December edition of our monthly Biofuelwatch UK newsletter, with details of recent news from bioenergy campaigns. Please let us know if you would like more information about particular campaign issues/news or if you'd like to find out about getting involved in any relevant campaigns. If you are looking for news about biomass campaigning in the US, then please see
In this newsletter:
  1. Protect Sumatran Rainforests!

  2. No Government Guarantees for deforestation and air pollution: Campaigners demand 'pre-qualified' biomass and incineration projects be rejected from UK Guarantee Scheme

  3. DECC Announces new support for biomass electricity, meaning more forest destruction and land-grabbing

  4. Coal and biomass campaigners hit out at DECC "greenwash" over Drax conversion

  5. Defra rethinking changes to air quality measuring after big public response

  6. Over 100 organisations call for an end to biodiversity offsetting plans

  7. Corporate lobby group Back Biomass publishes misleading claims about impacts of big biomass

Watch Dogwood Alliance's new video about the impacts of the pellet industry in SE USA:

Want to get in touch, or get involved in one of our campaigns? Please email
If you have any problems reading this newsletter or have suggestions for improvement, please let us know. Thanks!
Donate to Biofuelwatch

Protect Sumatran Rainforests!

Please support a petition to protect rainforests and the four million people depending on them in Aceh, Sumatra:

The Leuser ecosystem in Aceh, Sumatra is one of the largest remaining contiguous rainforests in Indonesia. Around 4 million people depend on it for their livelihoods, for agriculture and food production and for clean water.  Those forests also provide one of the last remaining harbitats for Sumatran orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos.  Most of Aceh's remaining forests could soon be destroyed if the Acehnese government approves a proposed Spatial Plan and regulations to permit large-scale logging, mining and land conversion to oil palm plantations.  Large areas have already been destroyed in recent years, primarily for palm oil.

Please sign a petition launched by Friends of the Earth Indonesia and supported by conservation organisation such as the Sumatran Orangutan Society and other NGOs to call for the long-term protection of Aceh's remaining forests:

No Guarantees for deforestation and air pollution: Campaigners demand 'pre-qualified' biomass and incineration projects be rejected from UK Guarantee Scheme
Download the joint letter here
Read the press release here
On Wednesday 18 December we joined forces with Friends of the Earth, UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network) and the Campaign against Climate Change and delivered a joint letter to HM Treasury demanding that biomass to electricity and incineration projects be rejected from the 'pre-qualified' shortlist for loan guarantees under the UK Guarantee Scheme.
We also demanded that the Treasury only support genuinely sustainable and low carbon renewables projects. Many thanks to everyone who has participated in our online alert to the Treasury.
As well as the existing £75 million guarantee already agreed with Drax, the Treasury are considering:
  • The proposed partial or full conversion of Eggborough Power Station to biomass requiring pellets made from up to 15.8 million green tonnes of wood to be burned every year;
  • A 100 MW electricity-only biomass power station in Avonmouth, proposed by Helius Energy. An average dedicated biomass power station of this size requires around 1 million green tonnes of wood a year to be burnt.
  • A 60 MW biomass and waste power station at Tilbury burning up to 300,000 tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste, Commercial & Industrial Waste and Solid Recovered Fuel and up to 350,000 tonnes of virgin and waste wood a year
  • An unspecified number of Municipal and Commercial waste gasification-type incinerators by Chinook Energy

DECC Announces new support for biomass electricity, meaning more forest destruction and land-grabbing
High levels of long-term subsidies have just been guaranteed for the conversion of two more of Drax's six power station units to biomass, enabling Drax to avoid having to shut down. Subsidies have also been guaranteed for the biomass conversion of the currently closed Lynemouth Power station and for a large new biomass plant proposed by MGT Power at Teesside Port. Since our joint Press Release was sent, the proposed conversion of Eggborough Power station (otherwise scheduled for closure) has been dropped from the list of projects to be guaranteed such subsidies, however DECC will reconsider Eggborough next year. Coal to biomass conversion strike price is £105 p MWh. Dedicated biomass will get £125 p MWh guaranteed.
MGT Power's plans have already been implicated in land-grabbing in Brazil for eucalyptus plantations, whilst Drax has been shown to have burnt pellets sourced from the clear-cutting of ancient wetland forests in the southern US. Overall, further support was announced for more than 4GW of biomass capacity, which will see operators burning almost 30 million tonnes of green wood a year and receiving approximately £ 1 billion in subsidies for this annually. Drax has already been guaranteed around £198 million in subsidies for biomass conversion under an existing subsidy scheme. 30 million tonnes of wood is equivalent to three times the UK's total annual wood production.

Coal and biomass campaigners hit out at DECC "greenwash" over Drax conversion
Following outrageous claims by DECC and Drax that the power station is now Europe's largest renewable energy generator and that Drax will in the future burn "truly clean coal" we joined forces with London Mining Network, Friends of the Earth, Colombia Solidarity Campaign and the Coal Action Network to jointly respond, calling on DECC to end subsidies and industry support for Drax Power Station
The impacts of large-scale biomass for electricity are being felt in North and South America where most wood imports to the UK originate. In the southern US for example, ancient wetland forests are being destroyed by Drax pellet supplier Enviva. Similarly, most coal burned in the UK is imported from abroad. In Colombia, the British-owned Cerrejón mine has caused long-lasting conflicts with local communities and resulted in unprecedented environmental destruction.

Defra rethinking changes to air quality measuring after big public response
Defra have now reported on the outcome of the consultation on their proposals to significantly weaken air quality reporting and control in England: .
They acknowledge that there is little support for abolishing the requirement for local authorities to declare Air Quality Management Areas in locations with particularly high pollution levels and they will now reassess their proposal and issue a new consultation in mid-2014. A big thanks to everybody who took part in our email alert in response to this consultation – because of the big response from the public via a number of organisations it looks like Defra's unacceptable proposals are being taken off the table.

Over 100 organisations call for an end to biodiversity offsetting plans
On the first day of the ominously-named World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh last month 140 organisations from all over the world released a statement to say "No to biodiversity offsetting". The Statement was launched in a counter forum on Natural Commons which took place in Edinburgh at the same time. For more information see:

Corporate lobby group Back Biomass publishes misleading claims about impacts of big biomass
Corporate lobby group Back Biomass, backed by large energy companies including Drax, Eggborough, E.On, RWE and large North American exporters of pellets to the UK, published misleading claims in response to new evidence highlighting the global impacts of the UK's biomass for electricity industry, documented in our new report. "Biomass: The Chain of Destruction" provides evidence of the impacts that UK investment in large-scale biomass electricity is having on forests and communities in the southern US, Brazil and elsewhere around the world. It also puts forward evidence to show that there are serious impacts on communities affected by power station emissions, from burning wood in the UK. We responded comprehensively, in particular to debunk misinformation about sustainability standards. We haven't had a response to our response though!
2013 Biofuelwatch,

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