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Tana biofuel could be illegal

afrol News, 5 May - Implementation of plans to grow biofuel crops on an idyllic river plain in Kenya could be illegal if implemented in its current form, arguing that its cost has been underestimated while profit overestimated.

The 50,000 acres [80 square miles] Tana River Delta sugarcane plantation project's fees ignore water use, compensation for lost livelihoods, chemical pollution and loss of tourism and wildlife, consultants commissioned by national and international conservation organizations, including Nature Kenya, BirdLife Kenya and BirdLife UK, said in a new report.

The report raised concern about the "irreversible loss of ecosystem services" the scheme will cause and some costs "defy valuation."

"In the light of expected negative impacts of the project, it should be suspended,' consultants recommended, adding that "instead, the ecologically friendly activities such as pastoralism, fishing, small-scale farming, timber harvesting, honey production, medicine and tourism should be encouraged."

The scheme, proposed by Mumias Sugar Company in February 2008, has prompted outrage among local people, conservationists and farmers. It is against this background that the Kenyan government will convene a three-day public hearings, beginning on Tuesday 6th May.

Mumias Sugar Company has estimated the cost of the project's new sugar and ethanol Delta plants to be £19 million. It brings the annual average cost at £1.25 million over 20 years.

But these figures have been disputed by the consultants' report, which put the yearly income at below £400,000. Already, the argue, the value of farming, fisheries, tourism and other incomes derived from land and wildlife is more than £30 million.

Lying on Kenya's north coast, the Delta is less affected by droughts, which is why the area has been a bee-hive of farming and fishing activities, drawing livestock farmers from Somali and Ethiopian borders during harsh dry season.

Nature Kenya described the Delta as 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. Its thick vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide and its waters teem with fish.

Conservationists wonder why feasibility studies published by Mumias ignore charges for water extraction levied under Kenyan law and the damage cause of loss of water because one third of Tana River water would be needed for sugarcane irrigation.

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.

"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," Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya was quoted as saying.

“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 said, advising the government to declare the most important parts of the Delta as a national protected. By this, future development proposals will take account of the value of wildlife.

“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," Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, told Nature Kenya.

“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.”

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