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More Bio-fuel Madness

Tana biofuel plans could break the law

Plans to grow biofuel crops on an idyllic river plain in Kenya underestimate the cost, overestimate the profit and could be illegal if implemented as currently proposed, consultants say in a new report. The project, to turn 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of the mostly pristine Tana River Delta over to sugarcane, ignores fees for water use, compensation for lost livelihoods, chemical pollution and loss of tourism and wildlife.

Consultants, commissioned by Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) and the RSPB (BirdLife in UK), highlight the “irreversible loss of ecosystem services” the scheme will cause, and states that some costs “defy valuation”. They conclude: “In the light of expected negative impacts of the project, it should be suspended. Instead, the ecologically friendly activities such as pastoralism, fishing, small-scale farming, timber harvesting, honey production, medicine and tourism should be encouraged.”“We feared this project would turn much of the Delta into an ecological desert and this report shows its impact on local people, on wildlife and on the Kenyan economy would be quite horrific” said Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya

The scheme was proposed by Mumias Sugar Company in February this year prompting outrage amongst local people, conservationists and farmers. Their opposition has led the government to hold a three-day public hearing, starting tomorrow (May 6).

The company claims the cost of sugarcane plantations, new sugar and ethanol plants on the Delta will be £19 million (US$38 million) bringing in an annual average of £1.25 million (US$2.5 million) over 20 years.

The consultants’ report disputes these figures, calculating a yearly income of less than £400,000 (US$800,000). In contrast, the value of farming, fisheries, tourism and other incomes derived from land and wildlife is already more than £30 million (US$60 million), the consultants say.The Delta, on Kenya’s northern coast, is invaluable to numerous farming and fishing communities because it is less affected by droughts. It draws livestock farmers from as far as Somali and Ethiopian borders where the dry season is harsh.

It is home to lions, hippos and nesting turtles, more than 345 species of bird and the Tana red colobus, one of 25 primates facing extinction worldwide. The area’s thick vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide and its waters teem with fish.

One third of Tana River water would be needed for sugarcane irrigation but feasibility studies, published by Mumias, ignore charges for water extraction levied under Kenyan law and the damage this loss of water would cause.

“Loss of the Tana Delta for another unproven biofuel and to a scheme which could well fail, would be a disaster both to hopes of tackling climate change and for those so dependent on the area for their livelihoods” said Paul Buckley, RSPB Africa specialist

They also overlook the effect of the loss of grazing land and crops. That would squash livestock into a smaller area causing overgrazing and damage to land.Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya, said: “We feared this project would turn much of the Delta into an ecological desert and this report shows its impact on local people, on wildlife and on the Kenyan economy would be quite horrific. The huge disparity between the scheme’s value to Kenya in the future and the worth of what we have now means the government should dismiss these plans immediately.”

Conservationists want the most important parts of the Delta made a national protected area so that future development proposals take account of the value of wildlife. Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, said:

“Africa boasts spectacular and invaluable wildlife assets with unquantified benefits for her peoples. Biofuel developments have already caused the widespread destruction of many unique habitats without necessarily cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Loss of the Tana Delta for another unproven biofuel and to a scheme which could well fail, would be a disaster both to hopes of tackling climate change and for those so dependent on the area for their livelihoods.”

4th July 2014