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July 02, 2008

Kenyan environmentalists oppose wetlands biofuels project

Kenyan environmentalists have called for the government to revoke a decision to allow a controversial biofuels project to go ahead. The project involves growing sugarcane for biofuels in coastal wetlands.

The project's backers argue the development in the Tana River Delta will produce ethanol and generate power, providing thousands of jobs. But Nature Kenya says the project threatens the habitat of hundreds of species in the 20,000-hectare site.

"Clearly these species are going to be really negatively impacted," said Sarah Munguti, the organisation's spokeswoman.

The area, more than 100km north of the port city of Mombasa, has 350 species of birds as well as lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles including the Tana writhing skink, according to the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The Tana Integrated Sugar Project aims to produce 23 million litres of ethanol a year.

The $369m plant will mill 8,000 tonnes of sugar cane daily and generate 34 megawatts of electricity, as well as creating thousands of jobs, the project's developers say. It was approved last week.

But the environmental impact report on the project was flawed and did not incorporate concerns raised by environmentalists, Ms Munguti said. She added that the project was not economically viable because its income had been overestimated by three times, and it would not improve the lives of local residents. "They don't take into account the lost livelihood due to the project because local people will be displaced," she said.

The production of biofuel has been blamed for rising food prices and shortages by diverting resources from the cultivation of food crops.

UK aid agency Oxfam says the push for biofuels has dragged more than 30m people worldwide into poverty.


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