Friday, January 29, 2016

[biofuelwatch] analysis reveals global loss of interior forest





Think we all suspected this might be the case:

Between 2000 and 2012, the world lost more forest area than it gained, according to U.S. Forest Service researchers and partners who estimated a global net loss of 1.71 million square kilometers of forest -- an area about two and a half times the size of Texas. Furthermore, when researchers analyzed patterns of remaining forest, they found a global loss of interior forest -- core areas that, when intact, maintain critical habitat and ecological functions.



"In addition to the direct loss of forest, there was a widespread shift of the remaining global forest to a more fragmented condition," explains Kurt Riitters, a research ecologist and team leader with the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center and the lead author of a study describing the phenomenon, published in the January 2016 issue of Landscape Ecology.

Forest area loss alone underestimates ecological risks from forest fragmentation. The spatial pattern of forest is important because the same area of forest can be arranged in different ways on the landscape with important consequences for ecosystem processes. In contrast to core areas of interior forest, non-interior forest edge areas are subject to impacts from invasive species, pollution, and variation in soil moisture, for example.

To understand where interior forest has been lost and therefore where risks from forest fragmentation might be greatest, the researchers used global tree cover data to map the forests of 2000 and 2012 and examined the patterns of change across ecological regions and biomes. Their analysis revealed a net loss of 3.76 million square kilometers of interior forest area, or about ten percent of interior forest -- more than twice the global net loss of forest area. The rate at which interior forest area was lost was more than three times the rate of global forest area loss.

All forest biomes experienced a net loss of interior forest area during the study period. Across the globe, temperate coniferous forests experienced the largest percentage of loss, tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests lost the most area of interior forest, and boreal forests and taiga lost interior forest at the highest rate. Researchers note that the reasons for losses, and therefore the consequences, depend on local circumstances. Human activities and land use changes that result in permanent deforestation have a much greater impact than temporary deforestation from natural disturbances, such as a fire.

Monitoring remains an important tool to provide early warnings of forests at risk of reaching a tipping point, and the results of this study can inform and focus conservation and management decisions in areas of concern. "As forest area is lost and the remainder becomes more fragmented, the remaining forest may no longer function as interior forest," explains Riitters. "Sustaining forest interior is arguably as important as sustaining forest itself."

Access the full text of the article at http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/49729.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by USDA Forest Service ? Southern Research Station




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[biofuelwatch] Call for the Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Fellowship Programme 2016 [1 Attachment]






Dear All,

It is our pleasure to share with you the 'Call for Proposals for the Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Fellowship Programme 2016'. The fellowship programme, administered by Foundation for Ecological Security(FES), supports initiatives that  contribute to conserving and enhancing India's Ecological Security, particularly its basic life support systems, through protecting, restoring and enhancing the country's natural ecosystems, especially fragile ecosystems,  conservation of endemic and  endangered plant and animal species and their habitats.
 

The fellowships are open to Indian citizens, below 30 years of age, who demonstrate interest in the objective of the call. 

All applications should be sent to matthaifellowships@fes.org.in. The application should include: 

  • A proposal (within 2000 words) that clearly articulates the problem, analysis and proposed course of action, a tentative time-frame, a tentative budget and a section on links/references, if any. Importantly, the applicants should not only explain how they would spend the two years, but also what they hope to achieve through the fellowship.
  • Curriculum vitae of the applicant. 
  • Recommendation letter from three referees (other than relatives), along with their complete mailing address, phone number, email and Skype address (if available). 

A note on the call for fellowships is attached for your reference. Applications for the same are open until 10th February 2016. 

We request you to share the announcement with your colleagues and other networks who might find it interesting. 

Best regards, 

The Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Trust





--
Subrata Singh
Foundation for Ecological Security
PO Box-29, Anand-388001, Gujarat, India
Ph: 02692-261239, Fax-02692-262087
(M) +919879545013


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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

[biofuelwatch] Good blog article about biogas from maize in the UK





https://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/far-from-being-a-climate-change-panacea-producing-biogas-helps-intensify-its-consequences/


More Maize Madness: Far from being a climate change panacea, producing Biogas helps intensify its consequences


Tackling climate change is one of the most pressing and urgent things facing humanity, alongside (and related to) the 6th Global Extinction crisis. Some suggest that tackling Climate Change trumps all other considerations.

One of the biggest consequences of climate change facing the UK is severe flooding due to increasingly intense rainfall.

But flooding is exacerbated by unsustainable types of land-use. Maize is one of the most unsustainable and environmentally damaging crops it is possible to grow in the UK.

maize field flooded

Somerset Levels Maize field, flooded.

One of the reasons for this is that Maize is harvested so late in the season that the ground is too wet to do anything with, after the harvest. So fields are left either with stubble over winter, or rough-ploughed. This field is in the Somerset Levels, the scene of intense flooding two years ago.

Maize harvesting involves a forage harvester driving up and down over the field and tractors and trailers driving alongside collecting the maize harvest. So all the traffic across the field compacts the soil which leads to water running straight off the compacted surface – akin to a tarmac-ed car park.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the NFU are pushing for much more Maize to be grown – to supposedly help alleviate climate change. Maize for biogas, they say, will help mitigate climate change by replacing fossil-fuel derived natural gas with biogas, produced by fermenting maize. the NFU would like to see well over 200,000ha of land converted to grow biogas Maize. I've previously criticized the maths underpinning the idea that growing biogas Maize actually saves any carbon at all; and the ridiculous double subsidies that support its production. What I hadn't appreciated then was how much maize is needed to fuel these Anaerobic Digester (AD) plants.

We have an AD plant on the outskirts of Dorchester at Rainbarrow Farm, next to Prince Charles' model village of Poundbury. In fact the plant is partly owned by Prince Charles via his Duchy of Cornwall. I imagine Duchy farms in the area (for there are many) also grow the maize to fuel the plant. I was a bit surprised, last Autumn, to see tractor with trailers full of Maize trundling through the streets of Dorchester on their way to the digester.

Anaerobic Digestion can in theory turn all sorts of green waste into environmentally friendly biogas. But in the case of Rainbarrow Farm, two thirds of the plant's feedstock is maize – that's 26000 tonnes of maize. If that sounds a lot, that's because it is a lot. Maize is highly intensive crop, producing around 50 tonnes per hectare of farmland. That means over 500ha (1200 acres) of farmland is needed, just to supply one small AD plant. Still, you might think that's worth all the environmental damage, increasing the risk of flooding, destroying the wildlife (and fishing) quality of rivers by filling them with polluted sediment. After all, what's more important than tackling climate change?

The only problem is this: apart from the fact that growing maize to produce biogas has a much bigger carbon footprint than anyone in the industry likes to admit, this AD plant creates enough gas for around 2000 houses per year. With 200,000 households in Dorset, we would need to be growing 500,000ha of maize to supply them with gas.

That's twice the area of Dorset.

Meanwhile the NFU continues to push for landowners to be paid for the loss of crops when floodwater is stored on farmland, following the successful case last week. This would presumably include loss of Maize crops grown for biogas, on land that had formerly been permanent pasture. Pasture which, until it had been converted into Maize, had been very good at holding and storing flood water, without any damage to the grass crop. As Private Eye would say, Trebles all round.

 




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Thursday, January 21, 2016

[biofuelwatch] Study: Thinning Forests for Bioenergy Can Worsen Climate





Study: Thinning Forests for Bioenergy Can Worsen Climate
– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
A new study out of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon concludes that selectively logging or "thinning" forests for bioenergy can increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.
The study, "Thinning Combined With Biomass Energy Production May Increase, Rather Than Reduce, Greenhouse Gas Emissions," by D.A. DellaSala and M. Koopman, challenges bioenergy and timber industry assertions that logging forests will aid in the fight against climate change. 




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Monday, January 18, 2016

[biofuelwatch] 300,000 Gallons of Ethanol Spill in Mississippi River





300,000 Gallons of Ethanol Spill in Mississippi River

– January 15, 2016, WMC Action 5 News

"Nearly 300 thousand gallons of denatured ethanol flowed into the Mississippi River near Helena-West Helena, Arkansas."
   
READ MORE


--
For daily news updates on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels, follow The Biomass Monitor on Twitter


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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

[biofuelwatch] Philippines islanders unite to resist 'land grab' palm oil companies





http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2986785/philippines_islanders_unite_to_resist_land_grab_palm_oil_companies.html

  Philippines islanders unite to resist 'land grab' palm oil companies

Rod Harbinson

7th January 2016

Farmers on Palawan are being tricked into giving land away to palm oil companies with local government support, writes Rod Harbinson. Under the palm oil company 'leases' the farmers lose all rights to their land, never receive any money, and are saddled with 25 years of debt. Those who resist the land grabs are now in fear for their lives following the murder of a prominent campaigner.

Once all costs are deducted from income accrued from the harvest, the farmers are unlikely to receive anything over the 25-year period, even if the company intended to make payments, which it shows no sign of doing.

Residents of Palawan Island in the Philippines have united to take on the companies that they say have grabbed their land.

Palawan is a large island-province of the Philippines that lies midway between the rest of the archipelago and Borneo.

The great beauty and biological value of the island was validated in 1990 when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conferred the status of 'Man and Biosphere Reserve' on this tropical paradise.

Palawan's pristine coastline gives way to coconut palms and then lush, rolling, forested hills, speckled with tribal houses. The municipality of Quezon in central Palawan is the domain of the Indigenous Tagbanua people.

In recent years, however, there has been an onslaught from mining and agribusiness keen to exploit its natural resources.

Particularly pernicious is that in 2002 the Philippine government decided to expand palm oil cultivation in the archipelago to reduce imports and to fulfil the country's rapidly growing domestic consumption.

Attracted by promises of increased incomes, many residents acceded and signed over a proportion of their private farmland for palm oil cultivation. But the farmers say they've yet to receive any payment, and are even being held responsible for the plantations' set-up and loan costs.

As a consequence, residents of Palawan Island in the Philippines have united to take on the companies that they say have grabbed their land. Seventeen indigenous communities on this island province are campaigning for justice from the companies that have grown palm oil on their farms.

Government backs two major companies in mass expansion of palm oil

In 2002 the Philippine government decided to expand palm oil cultivation in the archipelago to reduce imports and to fulfill the country's rapidly growing domestic consumption.

That same year, the Department of Agriculture calculated that annual palm-oil production was at 54,333 metric tons, with consumption running at 94,400 metric tons a year. In addition, growing demand was expected to have reached 171,700 tons by 2015.

The Philippine Palm Oil Development Council Inc. (PPDCI) published an ambitious roadmap for expansion in the Sunstar newspaper in the Philippines on 27th August 2015. It reported that the PPDCI "is eyeing another 300,000 hectares to expand oil palm plantation in a bid to make the country self-sufficient in palm oil products. The council hopes to achieve its expansion target, under its palm oil industry roadmap, within the eight years from 2015 to 2023."

Two major palm oil companies operate in Palawan: Palawan Palm & Vegetable Oil Mills, Incorporated (PPVOMI) and Agumil Philippines, Incorporated (AGPI). PPVOMI is 60% Singapore-owned and 40% Filipino, whereas AGPI is 75% Filipino-owned and 25% Malaysian.

The parent company of AGPI is Malaysian-registered Agusan Plantations Incorporated. Other smaller companies are also joining in the 'golden oil' rush. AGPI has established a palm-oil mill in the Municipality of Brooke's Point in South East Palawan for the processing of plantation harvests. As such, it buys 100% of the PPVOMI production.

With 70% of processed oil due to be exported to Singapore, China and Malaysia, the original rationale to supply domestic production appears to have been contradicted.

Tricked into handing over land for palm plantations

In deals struck with palm-oil companies, different communities in central and southern Palawan agreed to lease areas of their farm and forest land in return for a share of the income from the palm oil profits.

In other cases, local people leased parcels of land under their customary native titles to palm oil companies at low rents.

"We wanted to plant palm oil because the conditions were good - the conditions offered by the companies. But up until now, it has been six years and we have not received any benefits", said Graciano Muniz, tribal farmer from Aramaywan community [Baringay], in the municipality of Quezon in central Palawan.

In the seven years since the first leases began, none of the participating cooperatives have reportedly received a single payment, despite four years of harvest since the plants reached production maturity at around three years.

"The landowners were fooled by this company. To the extent that prior to that they had lands to till, they had lands to plant the crops for their living", said Rodiar Carlio, a member of the Coalition against Land Grabbing (CALG), an NGO galvanizing resistance to the palm oil companies in Aramaywan and neighboring communities. He is negotiating with AGPI for a solution to the dispute.

Everyone is involved

Palm oil has increasingly entered the world's food supply chain in the past 20 years and is now found in a multitude of consumer items from biscuits to shampoo. Viewed by food companies as a wonder crop, the prolific harvests of palm fruit are rich in saturated oil.

However, palm crops have courted controversy wherever they have been grown. Huge swathes of the great tropical forests on the island of Borneo were felled to make space for oil palm plantations. Since then, cultivation has continued to spread throughout Southeast Asia - and even into Africa (where the wild oil palm originates) and South America - to feed an insatiable demand for the golden oil.

When sales teams from AGPI originally came knocking seven years ago, some tribal and farm communities were attracted to the high incomes the company promised relative to what they received for their dominant cash crop of coconut palm, which is still widely cultivated. So many signed over a proportion of their private farmland for palm oil cultivation.

Roberto Bardolassa is one of these farmers. He moved to Palawan in 2007 from Rizal Island to cultivate his wife's land. "At that time the company was organizing and looking for landowners to cooperate with their company ... so we decided to be their partner", Bardolassa said.

Lies lead to land grabbing

Bardolassa and his wife leased three hectares to AGPI, but have since regretted it. "I think that what has happened here is indirectly land-grabbing", he said. "If not why can't we till our own land? The rights of the poor people here - especially the farmers in Palawan, are being exploited by that crocodile Agumil."

Some elderly farmers told Mongabay that they found the scheme especially attractive because the company promised to arrange the plantation maintenance labor and provide a steady income that would ensure pensions.

"The original agreement - based on the conditions of the landowners and the co-op officials-meant there was a good possibility that we could improve our standard of living", said farmer Graciano Muniz. "However, we have not received those benefits."

Pasteur Motalib Kemil, tribal leader of the Tagbanua tribe in the municipality of Quezon, is Chairman of CALG. He told Mongabay that the 25-year contract was written in English, which the vast majority of farmers did not understand. He explained that officials from the tribal cooperatives often signed up on behalf of participating farmers and the title deeds for the land were handed over to the company for safekeeping.

Kemil says he is not alone in suspecting that the company has passed the farmers' land title deeds to the Land Bank of the Philippines (a government lender) as collateral to secure the loans used to set up the plantations.

Boy Soda, elected representative of the Palawan Tribe from Baringay Salogunin in Brooks Point told Mongabay: "We haven't received a single payment for rental of our farmland - it has all gone to the Land Bank that provided the loan. These farmers provided their land titles as collateral to the Land Bank and it takes 25 years to pay before they receive their share of the profits from the harvest."

Arcane contracts charge all costs to landowners - plus 14% interest

Land clearance and planting of the young palm-oil saplings was then billed to the farmers as a loan incurring 14 percent interest annually. Farmers complain that many of the contractual details were kept hidden from them.

Rodiar Carlio explained: "To our surprise even the officers of the cooperative had entered into a contract, they called it PTME, the Production Technical Marketing Agreement, and they initiated the management services agreement. But the signing of PTME was concealed before the general assembly. Even the officers who signed that contract had no total knowledge of what they were signing."

The farmers had expected that their income would begin once the palm oil trees had matured to harvest stage, around three years. They had not expected to have to pay the set-up costs and the onerous rates of interest from the Land Bank, and they claim they were deceived throughout the contractual negotiations.

"We are paying the company for the equity, for the services that they are giving the cooperative", Carlio said. "In our cooperative alone we owe the Landbank about 11 million pesos (US$237,000). Right now the interest is almost as much as the principal loan - another 11 million. With that 11 million plus another 11 million that is 22 million and then that is compounded annually at 14%.

"Under the contract the cooperative is required to pay all the debts for six years from the start of the harvest. But the cooperative, as we analyze, under the management of the company cannot pay its debts to the Landbank."

Motalib Kemil shares Carlio's opinion that once all costs are deducted from income accrued from the harvest, the farmers are unlikely to receive anything over the 25-year period, even if the company intended to make payments, which it shows no sign of doing.

Permanent loss of land feared as 'debt mountain' builds

Many of the farmers fear that the debt mountain they have been duped into accumulating will mean that they will never see their land again. Part of the problem, according to Motalib, is that loan payments are insufficient because the size of the harvest has fallen short of that promised by the company.

In addition, Motalib explained that because it has a monopoly on processing, the company sets the price per kilogram it will pay for the palm oil fruit, which he complains is lower than the global commodity price.

Since AGPI began operations, it has made deals with six municipalities in central and southern Palawan (the target area for oil palm development spans the municipalities of Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Sofronio Española, Brooke's Point, Rizal and Bataraza) for rent or purchase of around 6,000 hectares.

However, its sales teams are still active on the island trying to meet their 20,000-hectare target. As word spreads about payment failures, fewer tribal people and farmers are inclined to sign leases, according to Motalib: "I think it will be very hard to meet this target because now farmers do not want to sell because they have heard about the bad experiences of other farmers."

Harvested palm oil fruit is taken to the AGPI processing plant at Brookes Point in central Palawan and from there it is shipped to other islands such as Cebu, and also abroad to China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Tribal farmers  ignored by government institutions

Tribal representatives are disappointed with the lack of support they have received from state institutions for their plight. None seem prepared to help them.

"It would appear that Agumil and other oil palm enterprises have bypassed, with impunity, the Strategic Environment Plan (SEP), the very law which should ensure sustainable development and environmental protection in Palawan", said Marivic B. Bero, CALG Secretary General.

She explained that state institutions including the Palawan Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Committee for Sustainable Development (CSD) are both responsible for failing to properly enforce SEP regulations restricting land clearance.

Mongabay approached Agumil, Land Bank, the governor's office, DENR and the CSD for their reactions to the criticisms of the cooperatives. No responses were forthcoming.

In 2004, the provincial board of the governor's office passed Provincial Ordinance No. 739-04 promoting development of the palm oil industry and it is understood by tribal leaders that this remains its position.

The Provincial Ordinance was the culmination of a period of palm-oil promotion by then-Governor Joel Reyes who successfully invited palm oil companies to Palawan. This in turn led to the creation of the Palawan Palm Oil Industry Development Council (PPOIDC), a multi-agency body tasked with promoting the palm-oil sector in Palawan and ensuring that developments such as construction of a refinery took place.

Palm oil thirsty for water and its pests running riot

Since these oil-palm plantations have rolled out across the landscape, farmers claim that previously unknown agronomic problems have surfaced. For instance, the palm trees require high water usage, which often comes at the expense of neighboring crops.

"Our discovery, is that palm oil [trees] absorb a bunch of water compared to other trees, so if your land is planted by palm oil forget it. Only because of the palm oil, you can't plant any other crops", Carlio said. In addition, the oil palms possess very thick and deep root formations that are difficult to remove.

According to Carlio, the plantations use high levels of external inputs like pesticides and herbicides and these, too, are having knock-on environmental effectson the envrionment and other crops.

"Some studies show that the insects that destroy the coconuts in the province emanate from the palm trees. But the company denied that. So we are using pesticides, especially the people who are engaged in coconut planting. So their coconuts are dying because [of] that insect that is destroying the coconut. Prior to the existence of palm oil in the province there was no such thing as that insect that destroys the coconut", Carlio said.

A 2013 report by ALDAW supports Carlio's suspicions. "New pests are spreading from neighbouring oil palm plantations to indigenous cultivated fields and coconuts groves", the report states.

"Such pests include the Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) and Brontispa longissima. The latter, according to local informants, was not present in the area before the establishment of oil palm plantations."

Graciano Muniz has made a pragmatic work transition to cultivating seaweed for the Chinese pharmaceutical market. "These days I don't join in farming palm oil. We earn our living from the sea. Farming in the sea", he said.

Protesters killed - Governor wanted

Tribal representatives are well aware of the risks they face when speaking out about their predicament. Local radio journalist and environmental campaigner Gerry Ortega, was gunned down in January 2011 in the Palawan capital Puerto Princesa, reportedly for his staunch anti-mining campaigning.

Agence France Presse reported in March 2011 that Ortega was the latest in a line of at least four campaigners who have lost their lives for speaking out against resource exploitation in Palawan.

According to a report by ALDAW, the key architect of the Palawan palm oil industry and former Governor, Joel Reyes, is currently a "fugitive abroad and wanted by ICPO (the International Criminal Police Organization) - INTERPOL. Joel Reyes, in fact, has been identified as the mandate and organizer of the killing of Gerry Ortega."

Bardolassa is adamant that he will continue his fight for justice, despite what happens. "I am willing to die even - yes - I am not afraid", Bardolassa said. "What is the meaning of my life if I do not let the world know what I know? The reality of what is happening to our farms."

In late September, CALG submitted a petition signed by 4,200 farmers and indigenous residents to Palawan Vice-Governor Dennis Socrates, calling for a moratorium of palm-oil expansion on the island.

Bishop Pedro Arrigo personally endorsed the petition, saying it "comes directly from the very people who have suffered the environmental and social consequences of oil palm development in our province over the past seven years.

"It is about time that their grievances will be heard by the Provincial Government and acted upon."

 


 

Rod Harbinson is a journalist, filmmaker and photographer who has reported on some of the biggest environmental issues confronting the developing world for over 20 years. He has particular experience of the Southeast Asian region where he has documented and supported the struggles of indigenous and local people to protect their lands in the face of development.

Watch Rod's film 'Defenders of the Spirit Forest', a 25 minute documentary on Cambodia's Cardamom Mountain forests at: www.spiritforest.org

 

This article was first published on the Mongabay Reporting Network and is republished here with their kind permission of the author. Read the original article here.




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Friday, January 8, 2016

[biofuelwatch] Guatemala: Appeal court rules against ‘ecocide’ palm oil plantation





http://latincorrespondent.com/2016/01/guatemala-appeal-court-rules-against-ecocide-palm-oil-plantation

 

Guatemala: Appeal court rules against 'ecocide' palm oil plantation

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A worker hoists an oil palm fruit to the top of a trailer truck at a plantation in Guatemala. Photo: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

A worker hoists an oil palm fruit to the top of a trailer truck at a plantation in Guatemala. Photo: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

Accused of 'ecocide' by local communities and environmentalists, Empresa Reforestada de Palma de Petén (REPSA), a Spanish-owned African palm oil company with extensive plantations in the Petén region of Guatemala, has failed to overturn a court-ordered suspension of works.

In September 2015, Judge Karla Hernández of the Petén Environmental Crimes Court demanded the company to cease operations pending an investigation into alleged criminal negligence that has resulted in catastrophic fish die-off in the La Pasión River.

Last week, a small group of residents sympathetic to REPSA appealed the decision and lost, marking an important victory for local campaigners and international organizations seeking wider recognition of 'ecocide' as an international crime against peace. According to a proposed amendment to the Rome Statute:

"Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished."

The world was first alerted to the ecocide in the La Pasíon after thousands of dead fish began washing up on the riverbanks near the Mexican border.

According to Guatemala's National Council for Protected Areas, some 23 fish species have been impacted along with 21 species of birds, reptiles, mammals. The exact number of dead animals is not known, but may number millions.

According to Rosalito Barrios of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala, the die-off was likely caused by a 70 centimetre thick layer of chemical run-off washed into the river after heavy rains. The run-off is believed to have consisted mainly of the pesticide Malathion.

"We can call the case a crime against humanity, because not only were various species of the river dying, but the river is also part of our historical culture, or our territory," said Saul Paau, a Maya Q'eqchi leader speaking to the Guatemala Indymedia Center. "We get our food from it, and the contamination and the fish deaths today have violated the food security of all of us."

The river, which runs through western Petén and once served as a vital trade corridor for the ancient Mayas, is currently used for fishing, bathing, agriculture, and drinking water by at least 12,000 people from 17 communities. Some inhabitants have reported symptoms of poisoning such as skin welts, fever, headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.

Historically, the dispute between REPSA and local communities has been both volatile and ugly. A lawsuit against the company was first filed on June 11, 2015 by a collective of local groups and cooperatives known as the Commission for the Defence of life and Nature. On September 18, 2015, one of its leaders, Rigoberto Lima Choc, 28, was murdered outside a courthouse in the town of Sayaxché – one day after REPSA was ordered to cease operations.

On the same day, three human rights defenders were kidnapped on the Cobán-Sayxché highway and threatened with being burned alive. They were subsequently released amid speculation that a company official from REPSA had coordinated the crime.

According to the Guatemalan newspaper La Hora, REPSA was able to restart its operations last November pending the ruling in the appellate court. Whether or not the new ruling will now be sufficient to rein in the company remains to be seen. Guatemala is one of the world's top ten producers of palm oil and a litany of human rights and environmental abuses are associated with the industry.



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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

[biofuelwatch] Colombia’s palm oil boom blighted by bloody past and violent present





http://news.mongabay.com/2016/01/colombias-palm-oil-boom-blighted-by-bloody-past-and-violent-present/

Colombia's palm oil boom blighted by bloody past and violent present

5th January 2016 / Greg Norman, Mongabay Contributor

Colombia's palm oil expansion appears increasingly to be exacerbating a social cost, with critics saying much of the development has taken place on lands originally seized during the country's long armed conflict.

Colombia’s palm oil boom blighted by bloody past and violent present
  • In the last month alone three local activists have reported death threats and harassment by suspected paramilitaries in the area near the city of Mapiripán in the Meta region, including two members of the indigenous Sikuani tribe, for their opposition to plans to expand the large palm oil plantation operated by the Italian and Spanish-owned company Poligrow.
  • Poligrow denies any link with armed groups and refutes its critics. Representatives say that because the company has invested the better part of $45 million in the project, it is bringing much-needed jobs and development to the Meta region.
  • The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry watchdog, decided in October to formally investigate Poligrow's operations following a complaint from EIA and the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz. It is the first time the body has upheld a complaint regarding a member's operations in Colombia. The company has been a member of the body since 2009 but its palm oil is yet to be certified.

With Indonesia and Malaysia providing around 85 percent of the global palm oil supply, it can be easy to forget who the next major players are. But Colombia, backed by intensive plantation development, is now the world's fourth largest producer.

Proponents of the country's palm oil boom boast it has thus far avoided the forest destruction and environmental damage synonymous with operations elsewhere, particularly in South East Asia.

However, the expansion in production appears increasingly to be exacerbating a social cost. Critics say much of the development has taken place on lands originally seized during the country's long armed conflict and that it is inextricably linked with Colombia's violent and bloody recent past.

In the last month alone three local activists have reported death threats and harassment by suspected paramilitaries in the area near the city of Mapiripán in the Meta region, including two members of the indigenous Sikuani tribe, for their opposition to plans to expand the large palm oil plantation operated by the Italian and Spanish-owned company Poligrow.

Meta Province lies in the middle of Colombia. While most of the region's palm oil activity has been focussed in its north (orange circles indicate areas with the most plantations), Poligrow's accumulations of land near Mapiripán has critics concerned that the southern part of the province is becoming host to an increasing number of oil palm plantations. Meta Province lies in the middle of Colombia. While most of the region's palm oil activity has been focussed in its north (orange circles indicate areas with the most plantations), Poligrow's accumulations of land near Mapiripán has critics concerned that the southern part of the province is becoming host to an increasing palm oil activity.

One Sikuani leader says his grandparents had lived in the area "since the beginning of the world." But the region is now the center of a land struggle.

"We're going to kill Gloria and collect her children in a bag," armed men reportedly said while looking for Sikuani community member Gloria Rodriguez on December 1. On November 28, members of a suspected paramilitary group harassed Reinaldo Reinas, according to information published by local NGO Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz.

They say they are guilty of no more than defending their rights to their land and environment. Poligrow currently has 17,000 hectares of oil palms planted in the area in Colombia's central plains known as the Altillanura. It has been a key player in driving production in the country and wants to double the size of its plantation and build a new large processing plant.

However these expansion plans have been mired in controversy as those opposed to the company's operations say it is developing land from which people were forcibly displaced and is using paramilitaries to threaten anyone speaking out.

Las Toninas, an oxbow lake near Mapiripán formed from the Guaviare River, is considered sacred by local people and is home to pink Amazon river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis). Conservationists are worried about a proposed palm oil extraction facility that is to be built near the lake. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. Las Toninas, an oxbow lake near Mapiripán formed from the Guaviare River, is considered sacred by local people and is home to pink Amazon river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis). Conservationists are worried about a proposed palm oil extraction facility that is to be built near the lake. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Recently, Colombia's government and FARC rebels took another step towards ending the country's decades-long civil conflict by reaching an agreement on reparations and justice for victims.

However with more than 220,000 people killed and a further six million displaced since 1964, the violence has left a far more deep-seated effect and enduring legacy on land issues in the country.

A report released at the beginning of November by the Dutch NGO Somo, co-authored with Colombian group Indepaz, estimates that more than eight million hectares of land have been abandoned or removed from small-scale farmers or from afro-descendant and indigenous communities, such as the Sikuani in Meta.

"Large-scale economic projects such as the production of palm oil, that legalise forced displacement and have consolidated an unequal, discriminatory, exclusive and undemocratic rural economic model contribute to the fragility," the report states.

Both Altillanura and Mapiripán have been high conflict-level areas. Altillanura is particularly sensitive due to its long history of FARC presence, and associations with drug trafficking, paramilitaries and criminal gang activity. Type Mapiripan into a search engine and the first auto-prompt that appears is usually "massacre," referring to the killing of an estimated 30 civilians in July 1997 by the outlawed right-wing paramilitary group United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUD).

For those who are speaking out, the risks are more than clear. United Nations figures published last month show 729 human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia since 1994 – an average of 33 a year. Data for the first part of 2015 shows murder rates well above that average, with a 105 percent increase over the same period in 2014. The vast majority of crimes go unprosecuted.

William Aljure very much fears becoming another statistic on that list, but continues to speak about the treatment of him and other community members at the hands of forces he says are controlled by Poligrow.

A farmer and environmental land activist, he says he has been consistently threatened, most recently in November this year. He was forcibly removed from his land, an area that is known as Finca Santa Ana, but has refused to remain silent spreading the messages of Poligrow's injustices to the U.S. and beyond.

In August 2015, a paramilitary leader from the group Bloque Meta, Edgar Pérez, better known as "Tomate," stated it would be necessary to kill Aljure because he was "tarnishing the image of the palm oil business," as quoted in an Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report.

Since the 2003 paramilitary demobilization in Colombia, groups are referred to by a number of different names – but the methods remain the same.

"Poligrow is in possession of 70,000 hectares on Santa Ana. The succession of lands to the Aljures has not been completed," Aljure told Mongabay. "I want them to turn over to us what the judge ruled was ours in the 1990s.

"My question is: Why is the company not legally pursuing a case against me and instead sending paramilitaries? Poligrow has not been conciliatory, not at any point. Publicly the business has said it has nothing to do with Santa Ana and there are no legal problems, but on Santa Ana we see Poligrow administrators … and I have seen paramilitaries [in the area]."

One of Poligrow's established Madondo plantations near Mapiripán. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. One of Poligrow's established Madondo plantations near Mapiripán. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Poligrow denies any link with armed groups and refutes its critics. Representatives say that because the company has invested the better part of $45 million in the project, it is bringing much-needed jobs and development to the Meta region.

The company did not respond to Mongabay queries, but in an interview with the Washington Post in 2014 the director, Carlos Vigna said he had purposefully tried to select a site without too questionable a past when the project was established in 2008.

He acknowledged the Meta region posed risks but described it as a chance to break from the past and declared Mapiripan "the new agricultural frontier of Colombia."

Poligrow says it has instituted numerous initiatives associated with their operations including hiring and training local workers, providing childcare and helping to restore native forests.

Vigna has also pointed out that no Colombian companies were prepared to take a chance on investing in the area when his company did so in 2009, and that land values and jobs in Mapiripán have skyrocketed since then.

In recent months the company has embarked on a public relations offensive under the slogan "Yo soy Poligrow" ("I am Poligrow") where it released videos and collected signatures from residents saying they did not want the company to leave – it has even dubbed the town Mapiripaz ("paz" is Spanish for "peace").

Poligrow's main office in Mapiripán. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. Poligrow's main office in Mapiripán. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

But observers say that right now it is impossible to gauge whether such public sentiments of support are genuine.

"It's very difficult for us to monitor what's really happening in Mapiripán, because at the moment it's too dangerous to go there," Karilijn Kuipers, a co-author of the Somo and Indepaz report told Mongabay. "But what we hear is that many local people and leaders have become afraid to speak out against Poligrow, also the people who expressed their concerns about the company before."

She says however there are signs the pressure is increasing on the company.

"We have received two letters from lawyers of the Italian investor Tito Tettamanti and his company Sterling Strategic Value Limited, saying that Tettamanti and Sterling are no longer related to Poligrow and therefore asking us to take his name out of our report."

William Aljure says: "We know there is paramilitary activity in Mapiripán. We all know who they are, the police know. When the paramilitaries' cars enter Mapiripán the police and military do not check those cars."

A report published by the state comptroller in 2014 cited "irregularities" in Poligrow's land acquisition and in the past officials have said that it is too dangerous to go into rural areas near the site.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry watchdog, also decided in October to formally investigate Poligrow's operations following a complaint from EIA and the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz. It is the first time the body has upheld a complaint regarding a member's operations in Colombia. The company has been a member of the body since 2009 but its palm oil is yet to be certified.

In deciding to investigate allegations made in a video released by the two groups in August, the authority said that several of its criteria appeared to have been breached including proving that the land was uncontested by local groups claiming customary territorial rights, that rare or endangered species present have been identified and that the operations do not affect the availability of surface and ground water.

In the latter regard, the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, which works closely with the indigenous Sikuani community, has claimed the Poligrow project damages moriche tree groves (known locally as morichales) that conserve and distribute water in the area. They say replacing moriche groves with oil palm monocultures will exacerbate this problem.

Morichal trees are native around Mapiripán and play an important role in conserving and distributing water in the area. Critics of palm oil expansion in the region say that plantation development will displace these trees, threatening water reserves. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. Morichal trees are native around Mapiripán and play an important role in conserving and distributing water. Critics of palm oil expansion in the region say that plantation development will displace these trees, threatening water reserves. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

But whether all the evidence and criticism will sway Poligrow is unclear.

For William Aljure, the primary concern at the moment is his own safety. He and his family are in a state of permanent displacement, given it is too dangerous for them to return to their home. He currently has a level of protection provided by the Colombian government that earlier this year he requested be elevated following threats made against his person.

The committee responsible for security, the National Protection Unit, determined his case was "extraordinary" but did not agree to elevate his security. NGOs say this leaves him vulnerable to assassination.

"Indigenous communities in Meta have long claimed their territory," Aljure says. "In response they have been threatened. Currently, paramilitaries are threatening them because they are claiming land and within that land are plots that Poligrow is operating on.

"My situation is typical. Violence in Colombia has always been about land. The government does not kick us off the land, instead they send famous multinational companies."

Those driving Colombia's palm oil boom, including the national growers association, Fedepalma, claim there is more than enough suitable land in the Altillanura and the country as a whole to expand sustainable production and bring economic growth and jobs in its wake.

But the example of Poligrow in Mapiripán shows that Colombia's violent and complicated past may not be so easy to leave behind.

Disclaimer: The author worked briefly as a public relations contractor for Greenpeace while writing this story. However, Greenpeace had no function in its development.

Article published by Morgan Erickson-Davis on January 5, 2016.

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Posted by: almuth@ernsting.wanadoo.co.uk



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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

[biofuelwatch] All Nippon Airways - biofuel demonstration plant





All Nippon Airways' biofuel supplier, The Euglena Corporation announces 'large demonstration plant', aims to produce 125,000 litres of biofuel per year.


(not enough to fill up a Boeing747)


All Nippon Airways announces big biofuel drive for passenger jets




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Posted by: rosebridger@gmail.com



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