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July 06, 2008

Kenyan environmental authority explains licensing of controversial sugarcane biofuels project

Kenya's The National Environment Management Authority says it followed the law before licensing the proposed Tana Delta Sugar Project.

Nema said that contrary to claims by lobby groups that the project partners, Mumias Sugar Company and Tana & Athi Rivers Development Authority (Tarda) did not follow regulations, the opposite was true.

Company spokesperson Ruth Musembi said that the project, given its immense size, did not require Mumias and Tarda to produce project document describing all aspects before environment impact assessment could be done.

“Small projects are the ones we ask to produce the project document but big projects like this one only need environment impact assessment report which is detailed and published for the public to scrutinise,” Mrs Musembi said. “We have the environment impact assessment on the sugar project which is detailed and available for all to see.”

Lobbyists under the umbrella body, Kenya Wetlands Forum, say that Mumias and Tarda did not provide project documentation for the proposal.

Former diplomat, Mr Hussein Dado, said that the finer details of the project were not clearly outlined to communities around the Tana delta. "To us, this is a phantom project where only word of mouth is used,” Dado said. “We are worried that the absence of the project document and intentional withholding of important information show lack of commitment and dishonesty by Mumias and Tarda.”

Mrs Musembi said that Nema approved the non-controversial phase I of the project totalling about 5,000 hectares out of the 28,500 hectares earmarked for the project last week. Implementation of the second and third phases will depend on the success of Phase one, she said.

“Following three public hearings held at the location of the project, Nema issued a conditional licence,” Mrs Musembi said. “The proponent (Mumias) has confirmed, in writing that it will adhere to the conditions attached to the licence.”

One of them is to implement the project in three phases. Phase one shall comprise the area initially under rice irrigation. Mumias will also maintain a buffer zone between the sugar plantation and water bodies.

The licence for the first phase was informed by the fact that the area is predominantly farmland and because farmers gave the project overwhelming support, said Mrs Musembi.

She said that Phase two and Phase three, which are located in an area neighbouring pastoralists, would be developed later in consultation with the local community, and based on the success of the first phase.

An important fact in the project is that sugarcane at Tana delta matures in nine months, half the time taken by cane to grow in western Kenya.

The Nation

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