Tag Archives: Biofuels

Dakatcha Woodlands finally safe from Jatropha biofuel threat

It has been a long haul to try and stop the Jatropha biofuel threat of at first 50,000ha of land being cleared for plantations, then 10,000ha and now finally NEMA have officially stopped the project from going ahead and the Clarke’s Weavers and Sokoke Scops Owls and other endangered wildlife as well as the community members who would have had their lifestyles and societies dramatically changed and poverty increased can breathe a sigh of relief. NatureKenya led the fray and often were very much in the hot seat with threats and even attacks being made on them (and A Rocha Kenya was included in some of these too) by the supporters of the project. NatureKenya deserve a lot of thanks for their effort and there is an excellent write-up by Birdlife about this with further details.

In response to this we are keen to get some further work happening with the Dakatcha communities to help them improve their own incomes and ways of living in that special environment without impacting it too negatively. We are looking at building on the initial efforts we’ve had of introducing “Farming God’s Way” or “Conservation Agriculture” to some of the communities which, for those who have taken the training on board and followed it, has made a huge difference in the outputs from their farms. Below is a shot of Elizabeth in her shamba (farm) who’s husband Katana works for us in Dakatcha and who has really got excited about Farming God’s Way. They have carefully followed the simple method of a) no ploughing, b) use plenty of mulch and c) rotate your crops and as a result their maize (corn) in the last short rains was huge and dense as you can see in the photos.


Elizabeth in her shamba showing how high and dense the maize has got – and beans adjacent to the maize.

Their neighbour’s crop which was planted in the traditional way was a very different picture…:

…there is therefore a lot of hope if we can persuade people to take it up. Unfortunately we’ve heard rumours of a response from community members to assistance the Red Cross is offering people in the form of ‘food for work’ – which is a great programme to have and certainly helps those who are really destitute, but what they have not counted on is that people are apparently purposely not planting maize well so that it fails and so that when the Red Cross team pass by that place they see only poor crops and therefore offer bags of maizemeal in return for digging 2’x2’x2′ holes in which to plant 9 seeds… this method may work in kitchen gardens, but it certainly hasn’t worked in Dakatcha. So whilst the Red Cross programme is designed to help people, in the long run it actually hampers growth and keeps people in a state of poverty. this has meant that very few farmers have kept coming to our training sessions and fewer still are actually implementing it. However we are convinced it is the Way to go and will pursue raising funds to support the project in Dakatcha – donations greatly received. A single 2-day training workshop for 20 farmers costs only $12 per person so do join us in this effort to assist the farmers and communities in Dakatcha.

KTN broadcast on Tana River Delta

Following the high-level inter-ministerial government and partners team visit to the delta last month, KTN made a short documentary which nicely outlines some of the key issues that the delta is facing. View it here.

THe interviews of the local community members are all in Kiswahili but you can tell a lot from the body language as to what the sentiments are and what is said is picked up on accurately in the ensuing commentary.

There are also some excellent blog posts about the Tana River Delta issue from the RSPB and BirdLife International which are worth reading:

Saving Special Places

Planning process for delta underway

and the RSPB page on the Tana Delta is also very worthwhile reading.

Colin Jackson

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National Env Management Authority director suspended over Dakatcha biofuel issue

I have been sent this link to a newspaper report on the suspension of a NEMA Director for having given clearance for the Dakatcha jatropha biofuel project when the NEMA Board had not cleared it. There was clearly some dodgy stuff going on (exchange of $$??) that led to this.

This really is an answer to prayer – that the jatropha project in Dakatcha is becoming less and less likely to happen. Katana, our A Rocha Kenya staff member who is from and lives in Dakatcha where he is working on our Farming God’s Way programme and doing bird surveys and helping NatureKenya in their conservation work there, came last week and reported that the vibe on the ground is that the project won’t go ahead. If you pray… please keep praying for a complete stop to this madness and instead for opening doors for us and NatureKenya to implement some really sustainable and good programmes to help the community raise their standard of living whilst reducing their impact on the forest and habitat.

More from Katana later… he’s got some awesome stories.


Jatropha shown to fail to deliver almost everywhere worldwide

We have been plugging away for a couple of years now saying how planting huge (in fact any) areas of Jatropha curcas as a biofuel crop is a seriously bad idea for both the environment and the local communities and also the country’s economy. This is particularly in the light of proposed jatropha plantations in Dakatcha (by an Italian company) and Tana River Delta (a Canadian company) which will definitely fail to produce what they claim it will and instead increase poverty levels and environmental degradation.

I have just been sent the following from the Institute of Green Economy (IGREC) which confirms what we have been saying all along:

An article titled “The Extraordinary Collapse of Jatropha as a Global Biofuel” by Dr Promode Kant, Director, Institute of Green Economy, New Delhi and Dr Wu Shuirong, Associate Professor, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing, has just been web-published in the ACS Journal of Environmental Science & Technology.
An ambitious Indian biofuel program initiated in 2003 by the Planning Commission of India, envisaging 30% mandatory blending of diesel by 2020, involved raising Jatropha curcus on wastelands across India. In mobilizing millions of lowest income farmers and landless poor with the promise of high returns the powerful Commission may have relied too heavily on the opinion of one of its top functionary who expected an internal rate of return ranging from 19 to 28% even though past experiences firmly indicated otherwise. National planners’ enthusiasm for the species rubbed off easily on Indian research organizations and Universities that depend upon the Planning Commission for funding and many of these institutions themselves became partners in raising and promoting Jatropha plantations. The extreme high profile of the program attracted worldwide attention and it was quickly adopted by China and a large number of Asian and African countries and, by 2008, it had already been planted over 900000 hectares globally and is expected to be planted over 12.8 million ha by 2015.
But it has failed to deliver almost everywhere causing distress to millions of small farmers worldwide. It appears to be an extreme case of a well intentioned top down climate mitigation approach undertaken without adequate research, and adopted in good faith by other countries, gone completely awry. As climate mitigation and adaptation activities intensify attracting large investments there is danger of such lapses becoming more frequent unless “due diligence” is institutionalized and appropriate protocols developed to avoid conflict of interest of research organizations. As an immediate step an international body like the FAO may have to intervene to stop further extension of Jatropha in new areas without adequate research inputs.

The article can be accessed from the journal website http://pubs.acs.org/journal/esthag

Our prayer is that the Kenyan government (and indeed governments around the world) will see the truth of what has been a huge error in pushing this crop as a biofuel and put a stop to any further jatropha developments…

British farming industry, G4 Industries, pulls out of the Tana River Delta

Yes, it’s true. Hard to believe in many ways given the feeling of hitting your head against a brick wall when trying to motivate Government to see the long term madness of clear-felling or draining natural wildlife-rich woodland and wetlands to plant 1000s of hectares of crops either for biofuel or for selling to industry in an area where the climate, soils and overall prospect are extremely marginal anyway. Yet it has happened. G4 Industries have pulled out of their plans to put in 28,000ha of oil seed such as castor and sunflower in the southern section of the delta stating reasons as ‘technical reasons with regard to soil types and chemical compounds’ as well as issues with mismanagement of delta resources by local authorities.They also state that calculations of the long-term effect of climate change on the climate of area has led to the risks being too high for sensible investment.

It is very interesting that they state very clearly that poor soil quality and an uncertain climate as some of the main reasons for pulling out. Reading their Environmental Impact Assessment, they state one of the reasons for going ahead with the project is:

“..to gain the benefits of extremely fertile soil areas and a year round growing climate”. (p.5, Annexe A – project feasibility).

Poor soils and a drying climate have been some of the foremost reasons we have been quoting all along as being why none of these large-scale developments in the Tana River Delta (or Dakatcha for that matter) should be allowed to go ahead. It is pretty much 99% certain that they will not succeed and we are thanking God that G4 Industries have ‘seen the light’ and realised the truth of the low quality of farming land and its significance for large scale agriculture.

aeiral view of heart of TRD Aerial view of the heart of the delta – when flooded like this, it is intensely alive with birdlife and fish and other wildlife…

Points go to our partners NatureKenya and RSPB for their lobbying and on-the-ground effort to show where these ideas of large-scale farming are going wrong. Also to the local community members who have stood and shouted that it is wrong what is going on – together with other partners like Tana Dunes Camp who work closely with the community – and in fact have the community where they are based as partners in the company and therefore benefiting directly from every guest that stays at the lodge.

However we can’t rest on our laurels – there are bigger and more serious threats to the delta in the form of Bedford Biofuels still planning to put in 64,000ha of jatropha biofuel and Mumias and Mat International wanting to put in tens of thousands of hectares of sugarcane. But it is encouraging to know that at least a small part of the delta is, for now, safe from immediate destruction. It would be awesome to get in there and do some thorough wildlife studies to see what birds, insects, reptiles, mammals etc really are there – and to put together a plan for turning it into a wilderness zone for tourism – to both provide a sustainable income for the communities that will continue into many years to come whilst at the same time protecting some of Kenya’s last remaining wilderness areas with amazing wildlife.

Tana Red Colobus by Olivier Hamerlynk

The newly discovered population of rare and endangered Red Colobus – in a small forest patch in the heart of the delta which would be threatened by the sugarcane plantations – image taken in 2010 by Olivier Hamerlynk.


Biofuels rightly stirring up a storm in European press

The problem we’re facing with biofuels here in Africa is that it is pretty much 100% driven from Europe and cynics say that it is Westerners trying to relieve a guilty conscience for the carbon emissions they are spewing out by the ton from the huge ecological footprint lifestyle most are living. In other words, people’s lifestyles are highly extravagant in terms of carbon emissions in the West and in order to maintain that lifestyle and feel good about it, they want to use biofuels in the name of reducing the emissions.

However in so doing, since a vast percentage of biofuels are looking like they’ll be produced in the developing world, it is conveniently ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to the West, and therefore a ‘clean’ fuel.

The facts are it is FAR from the case with studies showing that the production of such biofuels are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than they would save from being used instead of fuel efficient use of fossil fuels…

At least there is some noise in the Western press about this now and we are praying hard that pressure can be brought on the Western governments to stop this immoral pushing of biofuel production in Africa and other Third World (or Two-thirds World as it is often referred to) countries.


EU energy policy could push world’s poor ‘further into poverty’

Controversial fuel crops linked to rising food prices and hunger

Biofuel project stalls as foreign investors go into bankruptcy

Unproven biofuel projects given clearance in unique wetlands and forest areas

News has just come through that the Provincial Commissioner for Coast has apparently ordered that the jatropha plantation project for the Dakatcha Woodlands that has been fought for over two years (see other blogs on this) should “start on Monday” – since “the MP and the local people want it”…

In fact there is a significant proportion of the local population who do not want the project and there is plenty of evidence that the crop will fail to produce an economic output that will improve the livelihoods of the people and not damage the environment.

All this comes in the light of the Minister of the Environment, Michuki, who helicoptered into the site last year September for a public meeting and said that “before he would give any go ahead, if Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd want to implement their project, they must furnish his office with scientific evidence that Jatropha is commercially viable in Dakatcha and that it is not harmful to people and the environment.”

He gave an example of a failed “development project” that took place in Tanzania where the proponent clear felled an indigenous forest to cultivate groundnuts. The project failed because by clearing all trees the proponent eliminated all pollinators.

As it is, the Italian company who is behind this project have yet to even address or speak out in support of the economical viability of the crop even when challenged on it. There has been no scientific / solid evidence given publicly about the actual potential of the crop and all the reports we hear are that it doesn’t work here. I have just spoken a few minutes ago with a farmer from Mpeketoni near Lamu who tells me that jatropha has been tried around his area… and totally failed.

He further asked the County Council of Malindi to develop a multiple land use plan and zone all forested areas for conservation. This was agreed that it should be a collaborative effort including the main stakeholders such as NatureKenya and local community.

As it happened, the zonation map has been produced without any input other than from the County Council and done basically behind closed doors and presenting effectively a fait accompli which only those supporting the jatropha project had any input to. The map was produced in a very ‘jua kali‘ (Swahili for rough and ready, unprofessional) way and pretty much sketched by hand – as you can see from an image of it below:

The larger cross-hatch patterned area is the original area that they wanted to put under jatropha but which thankfully has been turned down – at least for now. I’m sure they’ll push for it in due course. The area they are apparently being ‘given’ to do the project is the smaller bold bordered area. Unlike what the project proponents have been saying, the area takes in a significant portion of the Brachystegia woodland habitat – the habitat that the endemic Clarke’s Weaver, found worldwide only in Dakatcha and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest 20kms to the south.

So it is that we are still fighting local government who are insisting in the light of evidence against the cause that it should in fact go ahead. There has been no word to my knowledge from the Minister of Environment’s office that it should go ahead and it would therefore appear that local government officers are being compromised in order for the project to happen.
WHEN will we have anything happening here by government which really benefits the local people and environment?? Those who read this and who pray – please pray that we can stop this project completely and instead bring alternatives for the people which will make a real difference to them and in doing so protect this amazingly precious part of God’s creation.

Jatropha threating unique Dakatcha woodlands continues

The battle to save the unique Dakatcha Woodlands has been going on for a couple of years almost now. We thought for a while that it had maybe dissipated and gone away, but far from it. Whilst we are rejoicing that we have managed to stop 50,000ha (500 sq kms) of woodland being turned into a plantation of non-productive, desertifying crop, there is still the threat of 5,000ha of prime natural forest, woodland and coastal bush going under the same bleak crop of jatropha.

I have just heard from conservation colleagues with their ear more close to the ground the following:

“I have reliably learnt that the County council of Malindi has submitted a land use plan for Dakatcha which include a 5000ha land for jatropha pilot. This plan was supposed to have been developed in a participatory manner after an adhoc planning team was constituted in the meeting called by Green Africa Foundation in Malindi in Oct 2010. If I can remember well, the planning team constitute of the following

  1. District physical planner Mr Riungu
  2. KFS Zonal manager Mr Orinda
  3. Nature Kenya Site Officer for Dakatcha Mr Dominic Mumbu
  4. A representative of County Council of Malindi (CCM)
  5. A Community member.
Whatever the plan this team was to develop was to be tabled in a stakeholders forum for ownership and final editing. CCM was to facilitate the process as part of the requirement set by Mr Michuki (Minister of the Environment) when he visited Dakatcha in September 2010. This was to be accompanied by a technical report on viability of jatropha.

The district physical planner has been avoiding everyone and did a plan alone with the CCM which before tabling to stakeholders has been forwarded to NEMA for approval of the jatropha pilot. This is dishonesty and conmanship of the highest order by the planner and CCM and everyone must rise and reject this devious scheme in the strongest terms under the sun. NEMA is also reluctant to share the plan with anyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves for another round of battle for Dakatcha.

Below is a quotation from an email

‘However I do have some further feedback.  I was attending the Ministry Of Environment Multi-sector Forum meeting end of last week, with the PS in the chair.  The Dakatcha/Jatropha issue was raised.  The current Acting DG, NEMA (Geoffrey??, Macharia is on 2 months leave) reported that NEMA had received a land use plan from the County Council and it was indicating a location of 5,000ha for the project.  I requested that NEMA be transparent and share the land use plan with us, as I suspected it was a desk exercise, and would be seriously ‘wanting’.  The issue of local community poverty came up.  I responded that it was very unclear who were the local community in terms of who was speaking on whose behalf.  But I also emphasized that trying to improve local livelihoods was supported by everyone, but we remained totally unconvinced that Jatropha would achieve such improvement. 
My suspicion arising from NEMA’s brief is that this fight is far from over.  I think we need to now ask our European partners to investigate the Italian company and lobby within the EU to name and shame this company.
I also think that if NEMA grants a licence, this may end up needing legal redress as a breach of the new constitution, etc.
And so it continues… We urgently need to do what we can to put pressure on the Italian company in Europe to stop this madness. There really is NO evidence that Jatropha will grow economically here in East Africa and plenty to show that it really does badly. Even 100ha of prime natural habitat going under a crop that will simply allow the soil to dry up and erode whilst eradicating forever habitats holding unique and even endemic species… should not be allowed.

We have been doing surveys in the Dakatcha area over the past year and found a good population of the Endangered Sokoke Scops Owl up there – otherwise thought to be restricted to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya. This is really going to be a continued battle, but one which is worth every step of the way to fight.

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Tana River Delta threats continue

The Tana River Delta is still under significant threat of major destruction by investors and individuals who seem bent on their own short-term interests and not the long-term survival of the delta and its sustainable use. The threat of the 65,000ha jatropha plantations is still very much there though thankfully NEMA have decided to look more seriously into the actual effectiveness of jatropha as an economic plantation crop. This is good because all evidence from East Africa and further afield points very strongly at it being a total disaster for a viable biofuel crop.

Fishermen on the Tana River Delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

There are other threats, however to the Delta including insidious charcoal burning which is creeping into every corner of habitat that has any sort of biodiversity value and degrading sometimes entirely. There are also a number of squatters moving into the southern end of the delta coming from further south where they hear stories of land being offered for dirt cheap, will pay someone – the ‘owner’ – for the land and move on and clear the forest and bush while all the time the ‘owner’ was just someone pretending to be owner making money from people who don’t know better. Meanwhile they then go ahead and slash, burn and destroy precious habitat and kill wildlife.

Probably the largest threat now to the delta as well is that of plans by the government to build another huge dam on the Tana River upstream – the High Falls Dam – which apparently has been given the go ahead even though to my knowledge noone has seen an EIA for it, nor has there been any stakeholder involvement or consideration of its impact on the delta and its inhabitants, both human and wildlife. Dams seem to be one of the other major curses on our planet, in fact – there’s another I just heard about that the government has also given the go ahead for in prime indigenous forest in western Kenya – Nandi South – where over 1,500ha of pure forest will be flooded in the name of irrigation of land. This, in the light of grand government statements about protecting forest and making every effort to stem the destruction of forest and instead plant trees and increase forest cover!!

A homestead with cattle in the Tana River Delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

NatureKenya continues to do an excellent job in the Tana River Delta and are looking to procure funding to extend further the livelihood improvement projects that they have already started and increase capacity building for communities living in the delta. The Delta Dunes Camp are also doing what they can to support the community and help them to make decisions that will protect and sustain the wilderness of the delta that will attract tourists who can bring income to the communities. One of the local community groups is in fact one of the partners in the Delta Dunes Camp and therefore benefits directly every time a guest visits.

Tourists on a boat trip through the delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

All of these initiatives are only good for the delta and it is our prayer that somehow we can stop the outright destruction of habitat, water courses and livelihoods by the projects like the sugar cane and jatropha, and instead have conservancies set up that are professionally and efficiently operated that can really bring good benefits to the people.

Riverside village, Tana River Delta – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

Baby crocodile amongst mangrove breather roots, TRD – by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

There is a case in court that the communities have taken action on to try and stop the large destructive projects. As all of these things it is a long slow process and we’re just praying that it will succeed and the delta will be protected.

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“Green” Africa Foundation meeting on Dakatcha jatropha promotes plantations despite evidence against

Yesterday in Malindi there was a relatively small meeting held (with only invited people, I understand) that was convened by the Green Africa Foundation (GAF) with the purpose of apparently “to bring together various interest groups who have been in a tug of war over the proposed setting aside 50,000 ha of land for jatropha cultivation in Dakatcha woodland” according to a report of the meeting from NatureKenya. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there as I’m away from Watamu currently, but the report on the meeting that we have received clearly seems to suggest that the Green Africa Foundation, represented by its Director, Dr John Kalua who claimed to have the blessing of the President among other authorities, is fully behind promoting jatropha in plantations and that the proposed project by Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd is a good one and should go ahead. He did say that 10,000 ha was too much and the outcome of the meeting was to suggest that a ‘pilot project’ of 5,000 ha should be started – but after various further investigations / info had been provided.

It is the blatant promotion of a crop which has been shown to be extremely bad news for communities, food production and biodiversity which astounds me. Having read the report commissioned by the German Aid organisation GTZ on jatropha farming in Kenya where it states in no uncertain fashion in the summary:

“Therefore, we recommend that the government – through the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, KEFRI and others – reevaluate its current biofuel policy promoting Jatropha. We also urge all public and private sector actors to cease promoting the crop among smallholder farmers for any plantation other than as a fence. We believe doing otherwise would be extremely irresponsible and could exacerbate existing food security throughout the country.

…I can only start to think that either the unbiased fact-finding report by GTZ together with other reports on examples in East AFrica where jatropha has been shown to fail in plantations – even trials on the Kenyan coast in Kilifi just down the road from Malindi / Dakatcha (but in fact more moist than Dakatcha) where jatropha plants just didn’t grow – that either these are totally wrong and are trying to cheat communities and the country of something good, OR that an NGO which is able to get funds from biofuel investors to grow and promote jatropha – is looking to get something out of this project.

It is interesting to note that GAF have not been involved in this discussion about the project at all up till now – and only recently have come on the scene… in the company of Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd and amazingly supporting the project. It raises a lot of questions about how come they’ve appeared right now and who brought them on board?

No idea.. but certainly makes one wonder.

The fact remains that there is a heck of a lot of evidence showing that jatropha is NOT the magic green fuel of Africa, that it will lead to increased overall poverty in local communities, that it will lead to further attrition and degradation of natural habitats even if it doesn’t clear them completely – by attracting more people to the plantations and factories, it leads to greater human population densities all of whom need fuel wood and like to eat (bush)meat…

Given the report by Peter Usher that I posted a couple of days ago re the corruption levels in our justice system, it presents a tall order and huge challenge for us to keep fighting to protect the Dakatcha Woodlands. 5,000 ha is a massive area – though it is just 10% of the original 50,000ha they were trying to get to start with. This will be 5,000 ha of denuded habitat – an area larger than the size of Nairobi National Park.

There is further evidence that IKEA Italy has been the final destination for the biofuel produced by Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd, though they apparently claim that they don’t have any plans for this. If any readers know anyone in IKEA or want to write to them to get clarification of this and a promise that they really won’t buy the biofuel from Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd / Dakatcha – please do.

Overall, however, we, as A Rocha Kenya, believe that there is Hope. The Dakatcha Woodlands really matter to the amazing God who created them – and he is a God who really cares for the world he made and that he also hurts hugely when he sees it being destroyed for human greed. We are hoping and planning to start working with churches in the Dakatcha area to teach people about the importance of caring for God’s creation – not because it will benefit them / us primarily, but because it belongs to Him and He has given it to us to use but to use wisely. We want to help people get a balanced worldview on the value of the environment around them and then to bring on top of that practical ways of surviving and in fact thriving from the natural world in a sustainable way. In this way there really is hope – and knowing that we can trust in a living God who has all things ultimately in his hands.

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