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UK firm drops controversial African biofuels plan

Last modified: 21 October 2011

Hippo group in Tana River, Tana Delta

Image: P. Usher

Conservationists have congratulated a UK firm which has become the first to pull out of the race to exploit an African wildlife haven.

European renewable fuel targets mean the Tana River Delta in Kenya – a key site for threatened bird species as well as hippos and rare primates – is being targeted by companies hoping to grow biofuel crops.

The RSPB and others have been fighting the proposals which will destroy one of the most important wetland wildlife sites in Africa. Now G4 Industries Limited, based near Cambridge, have withdrawn their proposal for a 28,000ha  project at Tana, citing growing evidence of environmental issues.

Tim Stowe, RSPB Director of International Operations, said: “We congratulate G4 Industries on their wise decision. They have listened to all the evidence about the impact of plantations in the Delta and have done the right thing. We hope other companies with similar proposals in the area will now start to follow suit and withdraw their plans.

“This is fantastic news for wildlife and people in the Tana River Delta. It is a truly remarkable place and it must be protected from the rush for biofuels which will cause more damage to our planet than the fossil fuels they replace.

“The people of the Tana River Delta are in dire need of schools, homes and jobs. We have a vision to help this oasis develop in harmony with nature. It is right that we look for alternatives to fossil fuels which are contributing to climate change – but an irresponsible rush for biofuels could be devastating for wildlife.”

Mike Pond, Executive Director of G4 Industries, said: “We have become increasingly concerned about the environmental implications of operations in the Tana Delta and we have now decided to withdraw from the region.

“Sustainable farming is key to the world’s development but it is essential that these operations are carried out in harmony with the environment and working hand in hand with local governments and environmental organisations. This means avoiding areas of wildlife habitat and green field sites where a natural balance cannot be maintained.

“It is interesting to note that 90% of African farming operations, particularly subsistence farming, are delivering less than 30% of the yield that could be achieved. Much work is required to address this issue.”

Bedford Biofuels Inc, a Canadian company, recently started work on their 10,000 ha project to grow the biofuel crop jatropha in the Delta.  Although described as a ‘pilot’, the plan is Phase 1 of a project aims ultimately to see jatropha plantations on over 60,000 ha in the Delta and surrounding area.

Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya, said: “We call on Bedford Biofuels to follow the example of G4 and withdraw their project.

“Their assertion that the land in the Delta is currently large and unutilised is simply not true, the land in the Delta is used by pastoralist communities and in the dry season there can be as many as 1.5 million animals in the Delta.  Indeed in times of drought like this year there could be as many as 3 million animals there.

“We hope that Bedford reconsiders its plans for Tana and we will continue to raise the issue with the  Kenyan authorities to ensure their proposals do not harm the area’s precious wildlife.”

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