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Kenya Biofuel Plans Threaten Wetland - Eco-Groups

Date: 24-Jun-08
Country: KENYA
Author: Daniel Wallis

More than 80 square miles (207 sq. km) of the Tana River Delta will be planted with sugarcane, threatening 350 species of birds, lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles, Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said.

"This decision is a national disaster and will devastate the Delta," Paul Matiku of Nature Kenya said in the same statement.

"The Tana's ecology will be destroyed yet the economic gains will be pitiful. It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the Delta in jeopardy."

The RSPB said the proposal was approved by the Kenyan government's National Environment Management Authority, which it accused of ignoring an environmental assessment that showed irrigation in the area would cause severe drainage of the Delta.

Matiku said that would also leave hundreds of local farmers with nowhere to take their livestock for dry-season grazing.

Kenyan officials were not immediately available for comment.

The RSPB said a report it commissioned in May with Nature Kenya found that the biofuel plans overestimated profits, ignored water use fees and pollution from the sugarcane plant, and disregarded the loss of income from wildlife tourists.

It said developers estimated income from sugarcane farming at 1.25 million pounds (US$2.5 million) over 20 years, but that their report showed revenues from fishing, farming, tourism and other lost livelihoods would be 30 million pounds over the same period.

"This decision is a very serious blow to Kenyan wildlife and to wildlife worldwide since many migrating species use the Tana Delta in internationally important numbers," said Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB.

The society said targets set by Western governments to increase their biofuel use as part of plans to fight climate change were actually driving the destruction of valuable environments.

European Union leaders have agreed renewable energy sources -- such as ethanol made from grains and sugar crops -- should make up 10 percent of road transport fuels in the bloc by 2020.

But the plan has been attacked by some scientists, politicians and conservationists who say growing biofuel production is curbing food supply at a time of soaring prices.

Critics say fuels derived from crops compete with produce from farmland and helped to push up food prices.
(Editing by Mariam Karouny)
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