Thursday, April 30, 2015

[biofuelwatch] West Papua Oil Palm Atlas

West Papua Oil Palm Atlas
The companies behind the plantation explosion.

-a comprehensive investigation into the oil palm industry in West Papua,
published by awasMIFEE and Pusaka, together with local Papuan
organisations Belantara Papua, Bin Madag Hom, Jasoil, SKP KAME and Jerat
Papua, and Sawit Watch.

Available for download:

Indonesia's oil palm industry is moving east. With large tracts of land
increasingly difficult to find in Sumatra and Borneo, plantation
companies are now focussing their attention on Indonesia's eastern
frontier: the small islands of the Maluku archipelago and especially the
conflict-ridden land of West Papua.

In 2005 there were only five oil palm plantations operating in West
Papua1. By the end of 2014 there were 21 operational plantations. This
rapid expansion is set to continue with another 20 concessions at an
advanced stage of the permit process, and many more companies that have
been issued with an initial location permit. If all these plantations
were developed, more than 2.6 million hectares of land would be used up,
the vast majority of which is currently tropical forest.

Almost without exception, these plantations have caused conflict with
the local indigenous communities who depend on the forest – lowland
Papuans are mostly hunters and gatherers to some degree. The conflicts
have centred around community's refusal to hand over their land, demand
for justice in the cases where they feel the land has been taken from
them by deceit or intimidation, horizontal conflicts between
neighbouring villages or clans, action by indigenous workers who feel
they are exploited, or aggression by police or military working as
security guards for the plantation companies.

The West Papua Oil Palm Atlas, published by awasMIFEE, Pusaka and six
other organisations, is an attempt to provide a picture of this
developing industry. Who are the companies involved? Where are they
operating? Which areas will be the next hotspots? The aim is to be part
of a process to push for more open and accessible information about
resource exploitation industries in West Papua – currently local
administrations and companies are often reluctant to share information
about permits, meaning that communities often know nothing of plantation
plans until a company shows up, trying to acquire their land.

Indonesian law does recognise communal land rights for indigenous
customary communities, but in reality those communities often face
considerable pressure to give up that land, and are rarely given more
than US$30 per hectare in compensation. It is hoped that this
publication can become a tool for indigenous peoples and social
movements who wish to understand the oil palm industry and defend their
forest against these land grabbers, as they themselves should be the
ones to determine what kinds of development will benefit their communities.

For environmentalists and supporters of indigenous struggles around the
world, we hope that this will also be a useful insight into the dynamics
of the plantation industry and the threats it is causing in the third
largest tropical forest in the world. Using the excuse of the conflict
around the independence movement, the Indonesian government makes it
very difficult for international observers to access West Papua, and
this has probably also resulted in a lack of awareness internationally
about the ecological threats. Yesterday (29th April) human rights groups
throughout West Papua, Indonesia and in over 22 cities around the world
held demonstrations for open access to Papua, which has long been a
demand of many Papuan movements. Publishing this Oil Palm Atlas is also
an attempt to break the isolation of Papua, by focussing attention on
the issue of indigenous land rights, in a context where local
communities which choose to oppose plantation companies often feel
intimidated by state security forces which back up the companies.

Direct download link:


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[biofuelwatch] Global vegetation and soil to become net carbon source by 2100

<<One implication of this is that biogenic emissions from burning biofuels and biomass are increasingly less likely to be absorbed by future plant growth. Same goes for fossil fuel emissions>>

1. Commentary on new report in Nature Geoscience:

Nutrient needs


Plants need the right mix of nutrients to grow. Two of the most important nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. But there isn't an endless supply in soils for plants to use, lead author Dr Will Wieder, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, tells Carbon Brief:


"Many ecosystems appear to be co-limited, meaning that both nitrogen and phosphorus are important for plant growth. There are places where one element or the other may be slightly more limiting, but at the end of the day plants need both to build roots, leaves and wood. This is why many fertilizers used in gardens and farms come with both nitrogen and phosphorus."


While nitrogen is abundant in the air we breathe, most plants can only take it up from the soil. Nitrogen gets into the soil by being 'fixed' from the air by microbes and certain plants, such as soy, Wieder says. Phosphorus primarily originates from rocks, and reaches the soil when they are worn down by the weather.


Nutrients can come from a little further afield as well, Weider adds:


"Both nitrogen and phosphorus can be moved around and transported through the atmosphere as dust or air pollution. The subsequent deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus also can contribute new nutrients to an ecosystem."


Limits to growth


Most climate models used for the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report assume that enough additional nitrogen and phosphorus would be available for extra plant growth. But this might not actually be the case, Weider says:


"This 'new' nitrogen and phosphorus would have to come from somewhere, and we found it is unlikely to be supplied from outside the ecosystem, meaning that the increases in plant growth would have to be met through accelerated recycling of nutrients within ecosystems."


When Wieder and his colleagues included realistic amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in their models, they found it limited the boost to plant growth from the extra carbon dioxide.


In the graph below, the black line shows the increase in plant growth the IPCC models project under a high-emissions scenario. Without limiting nitrogen and phosphorus, plant growth increases by 63% by 2100.


When the team included future limits to nitrogen (red line), they found extra plant growth dropped to 29%. With limits to both nutrients (blue line), the boost to growth dropped even further to 20%.


Continues at


2. Abstract of the report in Nature Geoscience


The size of the terrestrial sink remains uncertain. This uncertainty presents a challenge for projecting future climate–carbon cycle feedbacks1, 2, 3, 4. Terrestrial carbon storage is dependent on the availability of nitrogen for plant growth5, 6, 7, 8, and nitrogen limitation is increasingly included in global models9, 10, 11. Widespread phosphorus limitation in terrestrial ecosystems12 may also strongly regulate the global carbon cycle13, 14, 15, but explicit considerations of phosphorus limitation in global models are uncommon16. Here we use global state-of-the-art coupled carbon–climate model projections of terrestrial net primary productivity and carbon storage from 1860–2100; estimates of annual new nutrient inputs from deposition, nitrogen fixation, and weathering; and estimates of carbon allocation and stoichiometry to evaluate how simulated CO2 fertilization effects could be constrained by nutrient availability. We find that the nutrients required for the projected increases in net primary productivity greatly exceed estimated nutrient supply rates, suggesting that projected productivity increases may be unrealistically high. Accounting for nitrogen and nitrogen–phosphorus limitation lowers projected end-of-century estimates of net primary productivity by 19% and 25%, respectively, and turns the land surface into a net source of CO2 by 2100. We conclude that potential effects of nutrient limitation must be considered in estimates of the terrestrial carbon sink strength through the twenty-first century.


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Thursday, April 23, 2015

[biofuelwatch] The World Bank’s long war on peasants

The World Bank's long war on peasants
Published: 17 Apr 2015
Posted in:  World Bank
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Members of the Peasant Unified Movement of Bajo Aguán, Honduras, carry mock coffins bearing pictures of people murdered in land clashes during a demonstration in Tegucigalpa. (Photo: AFP)
TeleSur | 17 April 2015

The World Bank's long war on peasants 

By Tanya Kerssen and Eric Holt-Giménez, Food First

 "The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability." - Arundhati Roy, War Talk     

Founded at the historical seam between World War II and the birth of the Cold War, the World Bank's purpose — then as now — is to spread capitalism across the globe. Correspondingly, it has long promoted capitalist agriculture, alongside other rural extractive industries, at the expense of peasant, indigenous, and community-based food systems. And while the Bank's interest in farming has waxed and waned over its more than six decades, in recent years it has shown a renewed interest in the importance of agriculture. Critics, however, point to the Bank's complicity in a new feverish wave of global land grabs. And peasants around the world refuse to buy the World Bank's notion of their inevitable demise.  

The Green Revolution as Massive Global Land Grab

In its early years (1940s-1960s), while the World Bank financed rural infrastructure like large dams, it mostly ignored agriculture. Not until the 1970s did Bank President Robert McNamara (1968-81) call for investments in agriculture. Following his tenure as Secretary of Defense of the United States, during which Vietnamese peasants routed U.S. forces in Southeast Asia, he became keenly aware of agriculture's geopolitical importance. Under McNamara the World Bank partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to massively expand the Green Revolution, which entailed transferring U.S.-style industrial agriculture to the global South through debt-financed programs and infrastructure.

The Green Revolution spread rapidly throughout Asia and Latin America (it was mostly a failure in Africa), with dramatic increases in agricultural production. From 1970 to 1990, the two decades of major Green Revolution expansion, the total food available per person in the world rose by 11 percent. The benefits of this model, however, were poorly distributed and introduced profound social and environmental problems — arguably leading to more hunger, not less. In South America, for instance, per capita food supplies rose almost 8 percent, but the number of hungry people went up by 19 percent in the same period.

High-yielding crop varieties demanded high levels of chemical inputs and required fertile, irrigable land that could be mechanized. As a result, poor farmers were displaced from the best lands as wealthier farmers took advantage of new credit opportunities and input packages and expanded their landholdings. Millions of rural people migrated to the cities in search of work or sought out precarious farming opportunities on poor soils and fragile hillsides, joining the ranks of the poor and hungry.

The Neoliberal Turn and the Mounting Crisis 

By the late 1980s, funding for agricultural development withered. The World Bank abandoned the state-led, debt-financed Green Revolution model as part of the larger shift to gut public institutions and put "development" in the hands of the private sector. In a reversal of early Green Revolution logic, the Bank enthusiastically supported the idea that poor countries should buy food from transnational corporations on the global market rather than grow it themselves.

It is difficult to overstate the degree to which the International Monetary Fund and World Bank-promoted cocktail of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization contributed to extreme vulnerability for farmers and peasants. First, it turned mostly self-sufficient agricultural economies into import-dependent ones. Second, it removed safety nets small farmers had long relied upon while abruptly forcing them to compete with imports from industrialized countries like the United States. And third, it made it easier for wealthy investors — both foreign and domestic — to access land and resources without adequately protecting human rights and rural livelihoods.  

This tinderbox of vulnerability detonated in 2007 when global food prices spiked and food riots broke out around the world. Between 2007 and 2008, the world's hungry jumped from 850 to 982 million people — mostly peasants and small farmers. World Bank President Robert Zoellick called for a "New Deal for a Global Food Policy" announcing, among other things, new loans for governments to purchase seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation improvements. Two decades of ignoring and defunding agriculture, it seemed, were drawing to a close—a suspicion confirmed when the Bank released its first comprehensive report on agriculture in 25 years: the 2008 World Development Report: Agriculture for Development.

But the Bank's old, stale assumptions lingered; namely, that peasants should either get big (become large-scale commercial farmers) or get out of agriculture altogether. The implied prescription is yet another massive transfer of land and resources away from the world's 2.5 billion peasants to large capitalist firms, while remaining agnostic about the fate of this mass of people — roughly one-third of humanity. 1,000 World Bank projects approved between 2004 and 2013 forced 3.4 million people from their homes, grabbed their land, or damaged their livelihood.

The World Bank in the "New" Land and Resource Grabs 

Looking at the Bank's history and guiding assumptions, it is unsurprising to find it heavily implicated in what some are calling the "new" land and resource grabs. Sparked in part by the 2007-2008 food and financial crisis, a global wave of largely speculative investments and dispossession has affected upwards of 86 million hectares of land worldwide (with some estimates as high as 227 million hectares). The Bank facilitates these land grabs in a number of interrelated ways: low-interest loans to agribusiness and other land-based industries; investment guarantees and insurance; loans to governments for investor-friendly infrastructure like roads and dams; and technical advice on how to reform regulatory regimes to attract foreign investment.    

Beyond agriculture, these activities support a whole slew of industries that restructure the countryside as a site of dirty extraction and capital accumulation instead of community health and wellbeing. These include timber, mining, fisheries, tourism, energy, and plantation agriculture (including agrofuels) — industries that either expel peasants from their territories or contaminate the land and water they depend on. Of course, once rendered poor and landless, former peasants are enlisted as cheap labor for the very industries that uprooted them. This, for the World Bank, is what constitutes "job creation" and "development."

Many cases of land grabbing occur in countries with political instability and weak governance with regard to monitoring and regulating land deals—largely due to over two decades of World Bank-promoted structural adjustments that decimated government capacity. For instance, human rights and environmental activists have heavily criticized the Bank for promoting the expansion of mining in places like Haiti, where it has been assisting the government since 2013 in drafting new mining laws intended to attract foreign investment to a high-risk industry without applying social or environmental standards, transparency, or consultation mechanisms.

Perhaps the most egregious cases of World Bank-facilitated land grabbing have occurred under the auspices of the Bank's private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IFC recently came under fire for a US$30 million loan package to the Dinant Corporation in Honduras, associated with the illegitimate acquisition of peasant lands for palm oil production and the killings of local community members. Half of the loan was disbursed to Dinant only four months after a military coup, supported by the country's landowning and business elite, threw the country into political turmoil, which including heavy repression targeting peasant communities.

Further, a new report by Oxfam details the IFC's increasing use of third parties, such as banks or private equity funds, to channel development money that amounted to US$36 billion between 2009 and 2013, or 62 percent of IFC spending. This allows the IFC to distance itself from development outcomes such as human rights abuses, environmental impacts, and displacement.

Remarkably, the Bank doesn't keep even basic statistics on the number of people displaced by its projects. A review of the Bank's "Involuntary Resettlement" program completed in mid-2014 revealed that the status of displaced people was unknown for 61 percent of sampled Bank-funded projects. Based on this inadequate data, the Bank estimates that half a million people have been displaced due to its 218 active projects — with no clear idea of how many of those received compensation or new land. A separate 11-month investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that 1,000 World Bank projects approved between 2004 and 2013 forced 3.4 million people from their homes, grabbed their land, or damaged their livelihood.

While Bank president Jim Yong Kim stated that "additional efforts must be made to build capacity and safeguards related to land rights," a leaked draft of new World Bank social and environmental safeguards showed just the opposite. Most shockingly, notes a statement endorsed by over 100 human rights organizations and experts, "The draft framework provides an opt-out option for governments who do not wish to provide essential land and natural resource rights protections to Indigenous Peoples within their States. This regressive clause, if adopted, would represent a wink and nod by the World Bank to governments that they should not feel compelled to respect international human rights law, and can violate the fundamental right to land, territories, and resources..."

Peasants vs. The World Bank 

Much has changed since the World Bank was founded in 1944. In spite of rising hunger, wealth inequality, and land concentration, there has been a remarkable growth in peasant mobilizations around the world — perhaps most notably the international peasant confederation La Via Campesina now comprising over 150 member organizations in 70 countries representing some 300 million farmers. Each year on April 17, La Via Campesina recognizes the International Day of Peasant Struggle in recognition of 19 peasant members of Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (MST) who were assassinated by large landowners and military on April 17, 1996. This year, peasants mobilize specifically against transnational companies and free trade agreements, watchwords of the World Bank's longstanding development model and weapons in its ongoing war on peasants. As La Via Campesina celebrates its hard-fought struggle for food sovereignty, agroecology, and the right to land with actions around the world, it reminds us that farmers and peasants refuse to buy the Bank's notion of their inevitable disappearance.

Tanya Kerssen is the research coordinator and Eric Holt-Giménez is the executive director at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy based in Oakland, CA.


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[biofuelwatch] Peasant farmers launch series of occupations on Socfin’s plantations

Peasant farmers launch series of occupations on Socfin's plantations
Published: 22 Apr 2015
Posted in:  Bolloré | Cambodia | Cameroon | Côte d'Ivoire | SOCFIN | Sierra Leone
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ReAct | 22 April 2015 [FR]

Global resistance to land grabs by Bolloré and Socfin

Peasant farmers deprived of their lands launch a series of occupations on Socfin's plantations in Cameroon, Liberia, Cambodia and Côte d'Ivoire from now until the annual shareholder meetings of the Socfin group (27 May) and the Bolloré group (4 June).

"These lands were stolen from us. We come now to take them back and occupy them until an agreement with Bolloré and Socfin is reached." Along with Michel Essonga, 6,000 Cameroonian peasants have had their forests destroyed and seen 40,000 ha of their land appropriated by Socapalm, a plantation controlled by Socfin. Tomorrow, the occupation of the plantation in Dibombarri marks the first in a series of actions that will take place in Cambodia next week, then in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire. Brought together by the NGO ReAct, the peasants affected by the abuse of the same transnational corporation across the world have decided to unite and pressure the company to respect their rights.

The Bolloré group is the biggest shareholder (39%) of Socfin, which has industrial oil palm and rubber plantations in these countries. Since 2008, the expansion of these plantations is ongoing. The area planted by the African subsidiaries of Socfin has gone from 87,303 ha in 2011 to 108,465 ha in 2014. That is a growth of 24% at the expense of local communities, which is adding to the tensions. In an attempt to resolve the conflicts, Bolloré agreed to embark on a negotiation process. The first round of discussions took place in Paris on 24 October 2014 with representatives of communities from these five countries. But Hubert Fabri and Philippe Traux de Wardin, long-time Belgian shareholders of Socfin, rebuffed this move to appease the situation. They only recognise government authorities as interlocutors, and refuse to dialogue with the communities. "They take advantage of the widespread corruption that plagues public institutions in our countries," explains Ange Tchrouin Saré, president of the Union of Cleared Out Villages, victims of the Socfin plantations in Cote d'Ivoire (see letter to Socfin in annex). The Bolloré group finally changed its mind and aligned itself with the hard-line position of the Belgians.

"The non-respect of promises made during the meeting with the Bolloré group in October 2014 has exacerbated the frustrations of local people," Neth Prack in Cambodia added. "But we are determined, and we will organise new actions in all our countries until our rights are recognised."

Media contacts (English/French)
- Eloise Maulet (France): +33638012594,
- Emmanuel Elong (Cameroon): Président de l'Alliance Internationale des riverains des plantations Socfin Bolloré: +237674529387

Press pack (in French): (DOC) (PDF)

Photos : Gatherings in the Socfin plantations in Cameroon, Cambodge and Sierra Leone to denounce th repression against Liberian representatives 15 January 2014


International Alliance of Villages Affected by Socfin Plantations
Contact: Tchrouin Ange Saré
Responsible for communication with the Socfin and Bolloré groups
President of the Union of Cleared Out Villages (Côte d'Ivoire)
+ 225 48 40 04 09

16 March 2015

A M. Hubert Fabri
President of the Socfin Group

Dear Sir,

We, the Alliance of Villages Affected by Socfin-Bolloré Plantations, appeal to you personally with regard to the letter that was sent to you on 10 February 2015 concerning the conflicts between villagers and the plantations that you control.

We would like to understand the reasons for your silence. Do you consider these local conflicts unimportant, to the point that you would deny us a chance to be heard, despite our sincere will to find a solution that is acceptable to both parties? Our organisations represent thousands of people affected by a lack of access to their lands due to the existence of your plantations in five countries. These organisations were born of painstaking work to inventorise the problems affecting each village and to unite local leaders interested in working together to find a definitive solution to this conflict which has been going on for many years in our different countries.

We know that the plantation managers generally prefer to deal with traditional chiefs and locally elected officials. You are aware that many of these people are, unfortunately, victims of the widespread corruption which plagues our public institutions, as documented through many international studies. Not all local leaders are corrupted, of course. Some are members of the organisations that form our Alliance. But this general situation has until now prevented conflict resolution through platforms where dialogue can take place.

To move things forward and to fight the many injustices that local people feel themselves victims of since years, the inhabitants of villages around the plantations have created local and national organisations. As it struck us that our situation was similar to what was happening in Sierra Leone and Cambodia, we created an international alliance in order to speak with one voice to Socfin and the Bolloré group at the highest level.

We feel that negotiation is the only reasonable way forward, and we appeal to you once again to open up this path. The non-respect of promises made during the meeting with the Bolloré Group in October 2014 has exacerbated the frustrations of the local people who we represent and who only aspire to peace and justice. Please know that we are determined to go as far as necessary to have our rights recognised. We will organise new collective actions in all our countries until you demonstrate a will to open up to dialogue and find joint solutions with us. We will act responsibly to avoid violence and things getting out of hand. However, if such events do take place, you will be clearly responsible for it.

We wish to remind you of our first demand expressed last 24 October: the setting up of a tripartite assessment of land conflicts, with the support of an independent expert. Our starting point was that it is important to come to an agreement on what the problems are, in order to find solutions to them. We regret that you don't seem to share this view, which we consider a matter of common sense which both the Bolloré Group and the representatives of the Alliance managed to share. We remain, nonetheless, open to hear your alternative proposals.

In any case, we wish to still leave you time to reflect until the end of this month. Beyond that, we will be forced to launch actions in each of our countries to make this conflict, which we do not know how to resolve together, public. We plan to organise one action in each country each week leading up to your general shareholders meeting as well as that of the Bolloré Group. We will do what is necessary with partner NGOs around the world to give these actions the greatest visibility possible. We therefore ask you to consider this letter as a forewarning.

Do know that we sincerely regret to have reached this point. In order to find sustainable and definitive solutions together, we would be honoured to count on your personal attention to this matter so that we may advance in the road to dialogue. In the hope of hearing from you, please accept our distinguished greetings.

Tchrouin Ange Saré
for the International Alliance of Villagers of the Socfin-Bolloré Plantations

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

[biofuelwatch] The Economist: Investment in biofuels is dwindling and scepticism is growing

126 billion dollars wasted on what was clearly a bad idea from the get-go. 

Investment in biofuels is dwindling and scepticism is grow
The Economist, April 18 2015

Thin harvest
Investment in biofuels is dwindling and scepticism is growing

"Whether such bright ideas can be commercialised at scale is a different question. Some companies, indeed, are starting to give up. Several algae-to-fuel ventures in America are switching to the manufacture of high-value chemicals instead. Sunlight is a great source of energy. Biology may not be the best way of storing it."

MAKING fuel from the solar energy stored in living organisms by photosynthesis is a tempting idea. It sounds inherently green, and so biofuel schemes-ranging from fermenting starch, to recycling cooking oil, to turning algae into jet fuel-have drawn more than $126 billion in investment since 2003, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), a research outfit. The results, though, are like a Venn diagram whose sets barely overlap. Those biofuels that can best compete commercially are not, in fact, green. Those that are green cannot compete commercially
The biggest cause of ungreenness is that biofuels made from food crops-or from plants grown on land that might otherwise produce such crops-hurt food supplies. A committee of the European Parliament agreed this week to cap the use of "first-generation" biofuels of this sort. The current European target is for renewables to make up 10% of the energy used in transport by 2020. The new proposal says only seven-tenths of this can come from first-generation fuels. The difference must be made up by more advanced ones based on waste products and other feedstocks that do not impinge on food production. That could mean European demand for advanced biofuels of 14 billion litres by 2020, reckons Claire Curry of BNEF.

Only two such advanced fuels, she thinks, are capable of large-scale production. One is turning waste cooking oil and other fats into diesel-a process for which Europe already has 2 billion litres of capacity. The other involves making ethanol from cellulose by enzymatic hydrolysis.

Everything else, according to Ms Curry, is at least four years from commercial production. That includes the much-touted idea of renewable jet fuel.

This is promising on a small scale. South African Airways (SAA), in conjunction with Boeing and other partners, is developing fuel based on the seeds of the tobacco plant-once a big crop in the country, but now fallen on hard times. The specially bred strain of tobacco involved is nicotine-free. It is grown by hard-up farmers, who gain two cash crops a year from the tobacco, and then have money for seeds and fertiliser for a third food crop. The seeds' residue becomes animal feed. Ian Cruickshank of SAA says that the cost of the tobacco-based product matches that of jet fuel refined from fossil sources. The airline expects to use 20m litres of it, blended 50-50 with conventional stuff, by the end of 2017, and 500m litres by the end of 2022.

Fans of the jatropha bush see similar opportunities. This toxic, capricious vegetable has disappointed investors. But, grown properly, its beans can provide both animal fodder and an oil which may readily be made into diesel fuel.

Finding more types of biofuel that hit the sweet spot in the Venn diagram may be tricky, though. Campaigners generally find it easier to fulminate against those which damage the environment or food security than to explain exactly how they ought to be grown. Another controversial issue is genetic modification. This could improve yields, increase resistance to insects and permit biofuel crops to be grown on unirrigated, marginal land. But any kind of GM crop is a tough sell to the green-minded.

Science still has plenty to offer, though. For example, researchers at the University of Manchester, the University of Turku, in Finland, and Imperial College, London have adapted an enzyme currently used to produce bio-butanol to make propane-a more useful product.

Whether such bright ideas can be commercialised at scale is a different question. Some companies, indeed, are starting to give up. Several algae-to-fuel ventures in America are switching to the manufacture of high-value chemicals instead. Sunlight is a great source of energy. Biology may not be the best way of storing it.


Rachel Smolker, Ph.D.
Biofuelwatch (codirector)
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker
twitter: @rsmolker

Campaign to Stop GE Trees:
Global Forest Coalition:
Geoengineering Monitor:

"One does not sell the land people walk on."
~ Crazy Horse


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

[biofuelwatch] Oregon Senate OK’s Carbon Neutral Biomass Bill

Oregon Senate OK's Carbon Neutral Biomass Bill

- April 9, 2015, KTVZ

State Sen. Tim Knopp (R- Bend) carried Senate Bill 752 on the Senate floor Monday and the effort to declare biomass "carbon-neutral" sailed through unanimously.

SB 752 declares biomass to be...

READ MORE / COMMENT at The Biomass Monitor
--   Editor, The Biomass Monitor  Editor, Energy Justice Now


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[biofuelwatch] A Thousand Angry Women Say No to Genetically Engineered Trees | Rachel Smolker

A Thousand Angry Women Say No to Genetically Engineered Trees

On March 5th, a thousand angry women descended on a facility in Brazil where the biotechnology company, FuturaGene, was growing genetically engineered eucalyptus trees. Later that day, a meeting of the Brazilian Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) was scheduled to announce their decision about whether or not to allow commercial release of the GE eucalyptus. The women, members of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, or MST, and several other social movements in Brazil were angry. They broke into the facility and ripped up tree seedlings. They made clear their determination to prevent the release of GE eucalyptus because they have direct experience with the harms resulting from existing large plantations of non-GE eucalyptus, and they know that faster-growing engineered trees will have even greater impacts.

Meanwhile, at Brazilian embassies and consulates at various locations around the world, protesters held signs and banners demanding that Brazil reject GE trees -- beginning with a rejection of FuturaGene's franken eucalyptus.


An open letter from Brazilian civil society was delivered, a supporting letter came from international groups. All in all, more than 100,000 protest letters made the resistance and opposition to GE trees loud and clear. But Brazil did not heed. The meeting was postponed by disruption of protests, but rescheduled on April 9th, whereupon CTNBio gave FuturaGene the green light to sell and plant their genetically engineered trees.

This came as no big surprise to Brazil-based Winnie Overbeek, International Coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a group that has long worked to protect forests and reject GE trees. He stated that "Over the years, CTNBio has made many decisions in favor of releasing GMO crops in Brazil, ignoring protests, and disregarding Brazil's constitutional mandate for precaution." In fact, the day before the CTNBio decision, a Brazil public agency denounced CTNBio as routinely breaking national law by violating the Brazilian constitutional mandate for precaution.

Sound familiar?

Here in the USA, our own regulatory agencies have apparently been playing golf with their Brazilian counterparts. In January it was revealed that the USDA had given GE tree company ArborGen the green light to pursue commercialization of their GE loblolly pine simply by refusing to regulate it, which also effectively cuts off any public input into the decision. These two decisions in the US and Brazil represent the first time that commercial release of genetically engineered forest trees was given the okay.*

For Brazil, permitting the release GE eucalyptus is a breach of the 2008 decision made by the Convention on Biological Diversity (which, ironically, is currently led by a Brazilian). That decision requires detailed risk assessment and a precautionary approach to GE trees. Apparently those are mere words on paper? The U.S., no surprise, never bothered to become a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity and is therefore bound only by its' own whimsical sense of ethical standards to comply with what is an otherwise widely accepted (if not well implemented) international agreement.

Genetically engineering trees is risky for a variety of reasons: Cross contamination with wild relatives, unanticipated consequences of gene manipulations that may be expressed later in the tree's lifecycle, or under particular circumstances, impacts on wildlife and unknown and unknowable risks which, as our experiences with GE food crops has demonstrated, can be severe. Some of the risks are inherent to the fact that these GE trees are specifically intended to be grown en masse in tree plantations where the land is first cleared of all other life, the soils and waterways drained and drenched with fertilizers and toxic agrichemicals. The wood produced is destined to be converted into pulp or fuels and chemicals that feed an inherently unsustainable resource-gobbling economy. The health and livelihoods of people and creatures living on the land are meanwhile unceremoniously thrown by the wayside and mowed under by the gears of endless corporate profit-making and the mirage of economic "development."

The MST women captured this when they stated: "This model of agribusiness is the model of death, not of life. We the landless women are here to defend life, defend food sovereignty, and defend agrarian land reform."

This was written jointly with Anne Petermann from the Campaign to Stop GE Trees. For more information see Campaign to Stop GE Trees

* GE black poplars had been commercialized in China in 2001, but no records were kept about the location or size of the release and it is considered an embarrassment to the industry.

Rachel Smolker, Ph.D.
Biofuelwatch (codirector)
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker
twitter: @rsmolker

Campaign to Stop GE Trees:
Global Forest Coalition:
Geoengineering Monitor:

"One does not sell the land people walk on."
~ Crazy Horse


Posted by: Rachel Smolker <>


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