Two Silly Notions: Biofuel Mandates as Carbon Neutral and Rhino Horn Medicine

I don't know why it is so, but it seems as if the folly of others causes so much suffering in Africa, a place which could do without extra disadvantage.  I had a wonderful vacation in South Africa, but while there I learned of the havoc being waged by biofuel companies working to meet the UK's biofuel mandates and the illegal slaughter of the rhinos to meet overseas demand in Asia and the Middle East. Both the mandates and the belief in rhino horn medicine are silly and unscientific.

Biofuels

To meet a questionable danger (global warming) European bureaucrats have set unrealistic standards for biofuels.  Because of  obvious errors on their part,  these projects will in any event increase, not decrease ,carbon emissions. This, in turn, has promoted the destruction and impoverishment of Africans who rely on the land being prepared for biofuel growth to survive.

Jatropha is a plant which produces oil bearing seeds and which is well suited to the growing conditions in much of Africa.  Whether or not you believe in anthropogenic global warming and the ability of the world to do much about it should it actually exist -- I don't, by the way -- the EU demand that there be a substantial increase in the use of biofuels to reduce greenhouse emissions seems to be yet another example of cockeyed planning by people who know nothing of science or math.  

The EU has a target for 10 per cent of total transport fuel to be derived from renewable sources by 2020. Observers estimate the vast majority of these targets will be met by biofuels, mainly sourced from food crops, such as oil seeds, palm oil, sugar cane, beet and wheat. The UK is currently aiming to reach 5 per cent of fuel from renewable sources by 2013 and admits that 90 per cent or more of the increase to 10 per cent by 2020 will be met by crop-based biofuels. The biofuels target was originally designed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but in a letter sent to the transport minister Philip Hammond, and seen by the Ecologist, 19 prominent scientists from across the UK say crop-based biofuels will actually 'substantially increase emissions'. According to the scientists, in a rush to promote biofuels both the UK and EU had failed to take account of two factors - the high-use of nitrogen fertilisers and land-use change brought about by the increasing demand for land to grow biofuel crops instead of food.[snip] Professor Keith Smith, of University of Edinburgh, one of the letter's co-authors, says the release of carbon dioxide would be 'huge' compared to the savings from the crops taking in CO2 from the atmosphere to grow. He says another factor, emissions related to fertiliser-use, was also being ignored. 'There has been a naivety that biofuels are carbon neutral but when we count the fossil fuel energy going into biofuels from fertiliser use and then also the nitrous oxide emissions from using nitrogen fertilisers, the emissions are even higher,' says Professor Smith.

The human toll of these policies is better described in less generalized language.

Africa Geographic reports in its December issue (p. 9)

Tanzania Biofuel Flop

The collapse of the London-based company Sun Biofuels, which grew jatropha in the district of Kasarawe for biodiesel, has left hundreds of villagers landless, jobless and in despair. In Mhaga village alone, a quarter of the land was acquired by the company  in 2008, with a promise of financial compensation, 700 jobs, water wells and improved schools, health clinics and roads. But the villages have not been paid for the land, and their neighbors in Mtamba tell the same story of broken promises and unpaid  compensation. Tabu Koba is one of 9 in this village who received no payment for their land.We are very angry.' He says.'My children have left school and have nowhere to farm.'

'The situation in Kisarawe is heartbreaking, but the real tragedy is that it's not unique, comments Josie Cohen of Action Aid. 'Communities across Africa are losing their land as a result of the massive biofuel targets set by [the UK] government.' Legalbrief Environmental

Action Aid's website has more and concludes:

Poor Tanzanians have been tricked into giving up their land to a biofuels company and are now even worse off than before. This case shows yet again how biofuel crops can ruin poor people's livelihoods in the communities where they are grown as well as driving up food prices. A billion people already don't have enough to eat. Biofuel use could add hundreds of millions more.

Moreover, biofuels don't even provide environmental benefits, as many have higher greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace.

The great biofuels land-grab is only happening because of subsidies from European countries. You can do something about it."

Action Aid, like many if not all of the International NGO's working in Africa, is sold on global warming. If they weren't they'd see how much more tragic than even they imagine, this disaster is.

The Tana Delta in Kenya, an important watershed, also was affected by the pressure to grow jatropha for the European market. The Guardian reports that the situation there is so bad the villagers who see the vanishing of the land's wildlife  and the water they need to survive are talking of arming themselves and going to war:

Gamba Manyatta village is empty now, weeds already roping around the few skeletal hut frames still standing. The people who were evicted took as much of their building materials as they could carry to start again and the land where their homes stood is now ploughed up.[snip]

The eviction of the villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya's Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds.

The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons - to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel.

The delta, one of Kenya's last wildernesses and one of the most important bird habitats in Africa, is the flood plain of the Tana river, which flows 1,014km from Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean.[snip]

The delta's people are trying to fight their own government over the huge blocks of land being turned over to companies including the Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, which was this year granted a licence by the Kenyan environmental regulator for a 10,000-hectare jatropha "pilot" project. A UK-based firm, G4 Industries Ltd, has been awarded a licence for 28,000 hectares.

At the site where the former villagers from Gamba Manyatta were told to relocate, elder Bule Gedi Darso, 57, shows the foul-smelling stream that they have to draw their water from. "This is not a good place. Children have died, we have typhoid and malaria now. We were healthy before and our children went to school. This river is the drainage and pesticides from all the big farms. The proper river has been diverted to irrigate them and now we just get their poison. When we were evicted they showed us the maps, and we saw many more villages who don't yet know they are to be evicted too. Where will they all go?"

It is a question worrying another village. Didewaride was once surrounded by wetland, only accessible by boat. Now it is stranded amid miles of brown earth with occasional pools of water. Omar Bocha Kofonde, an elder, says: "The hippos have gone, the fish, the birds, and the soil is salty. The goats and cattle have no grazing. The rivers used to flush out the sea water, now the sea is coming up on to our land because there is no river. Everything is in danger. People thought they owned the land, we have been here for hundreds of years. Now we will fight; we are ready to die, for what else is there?"[snip]

 Nobody cares because nothing happens immediately, but it is coming. Tana Delta is in chaos. When everyone picks up their share with their bits of paperwork ... it will be war. The day is coming."

The Tanya Delta project now appears to be on hold though it doesn't appear to be a cakewalk to undo the damage and restore the land to the villagers driven off.

The November issue of Africa Geographic (p. 13):

Kenya "Reprieve for Tana Delta

"The National Environmental Management Authority [NEMA] has advised the Kenyan government to halt planting of the biofuel  jatropha in the Tana Delta. In July two NEMW directors were suspended after being accused of granting a license to a Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, to grow jatropha on a 10 thousand-hectare plot site in the delta. The authority has subsequently recommended hat the license be cancelled. Tana Delta provides ecosystem services such as water storage, shoreline protection and a spawning ground for marine life.

Wildlife Extra 

Rhinos

It's not just the West that finds value to be exploited in Africa.  Asian and Middle Eastern buyers are behind the illegal slaughter of rhinos.  In the Middle East, especially Yemen, rich men like to use the horns as traditional dagger handles though it's my understanding that this fashion is dying out.  In Asia , however, the persistent belief in the medicinal efficacy of powdered rhino horn has driven its value up.  At latest report, the horns sell for over 60,000 Euros per kilo, far more than gold or cocaine. In a poor country this valuable  resource has spawned  poachers who kill the animals in ever increasing numbers, which if not halted will wipe them out.

The techniques used vary from place to place. In the  wildlife preserves with significant large, carnivores, the poachers cut fences and drive to their prey. In those with less  dangerous situations, they simply climb over the fence, walk to the animals, stun them with tranquilizers, kill them, remove the horns and depart.  All the preserves I saw have 24 hour anti-poaching squads, but the huge financial pay off at the top makes it very difficult to halt the practice, and the habits of the rhinos make them rather easy to track.  If the poachers -- who are only paid about $10,000 per horn-- are caught with cell phones on them, the authorities track the numbers called in the hope of finding those who engaged them and are marketing the horns. It is increasingly obvious to the authorities that the poachers have now confederates inside the game parks and even among veterinarians as the tranquilizers used are under strict control.  National Geographic's Newswatch: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2010/07/07/rhino_horn_and_traditional_chinese_medicine_facts/ 

The 2009 report African and Asian Rhinoceroses-Status, Conservation and Trade (IUCN/TRAFFIC) revealed that illegal trade in rhino horn, particularly in southern Africa, had become progressively worse since 2006.

"The combined loss of horns from poaching, thefts from natural mortalities, government stocks and other private collections, abuse of legal trophy hunting and illegal private sector sales suggests that a minimum of 1,521 rhino horns were destined for illegal trade in this time period. Compared to the six-year period 2000-2005 when a minimum of 664 horns were acquired for illicit trade purposes, this figure represents a two-fold increase in the annual illegal rhino horn trade in less than four years," the report states.[snip] Rhino horn is a time-honored component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). For thousands of years, TCM has credited rhino horn with the potency to cure an unusually wide array of maladies, from headaches to pus-filled boils-and even devil possession.

Today, decades of conservation efforts are at risk of being undermined by what appears to be a reinvigorated TCM market in China and Vietnam.

In any event the horns are simply keratin, the stuff of which our nails and hair are composed. Scientists already have manufactured artificial keratin and one wonders why, if it is chemically virtually identical, the market isn't flooded with the synthetic keratin. It seems to me, if that were possible,the price for the horn would drop so low it  would become unprofitable to continue the slaughter. Freakanomics.com:

So is there any actual scientific evidence to the medicinal powers of rhino horns? Not really. From a 2008 Nature article:

In 1990, researchers at Chinese University in Hong Kong found that large doses of rhino horn extract could slightly lower fever in rats (as could extracts from Saiga antelope and water buffalo horn), but the concentration of horn given by a traditional Chinese medicine specialist are many many times lower than used in those experiments. In short, says Amin, you'd do just as well chewing on your fingernails.

Don't you dare feel superior to  the Chinese and Vietnamese buyers who regard the horn as a panacea.  I just showed you how Westerners are ravaging African villages and farms and watersheds based on ideas just as unscientific and silly.

I don't know why it is so, but it seems as if the folly of others causes so much suffering in Africa, a place which could do without extra disadvantage.  I had a wonderful vacation in South Africa, but while there I learned of the havoc being waged by biofuel companies working to meet the UK's biofuel mandates and the illegal slaughter of the rhinos to meet overseas demand in Asia and the Middle East. Both the mandates and the belief in rhino horn medicine are silly and unscientific.

Biofuels

To meet a questionable danger (global warming) European bureaucrats have set unrealistic standards for biofuels.  Because of  obvious errors on their part,  these projects will in any event increase, not decrease ,carbon emissions. This, in turn, has promoted the destruction and impoverishment of Africans who rely on the land being prepared for biofuel growth to survive.

Jatropha is a plant which produces oil bearing seeds and which is well suited to the growing conditions in much of Africa.  Whether or not you believe in anthropogenic global warming and the ability of the world to do much about it should it actually exist -- I don't, by the way -- the EU demand that there be a substantial increase in the use of biofuels to reduce greenhouse emissions seems to be yet another example of cockeyed planning by people who know nothing of science or math.  

The EU has a target for 10 per cent of total transport fuel to be derived from renewable sources by 2020. Observers estimate the vast majority of these targets will be met by biofuels, mainly sourced from food crops, such as oil seeds, palm oil, sugar cane, beet and wheat. The UK is currently aiming to reach 5 per cent of fuel from renewable sources by 2013 and admits that 90 per cent or more of the increase to 10 per cent by 2020 will be met by crop-based biofuels. The biofuels target was originally designed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but in a letter sent to the transport minister Philip Hammond, and seen by the Ecologist, 19 prominent scientists from across the UK say crop-based biofuels will actually 'substantially increase emissions'. According to the scientists, in a rush to promote biofuels both the UK and EU had failed to take account of two factors - the high-use of nitrogen fertilisers and land-use change brought about by the increasing demand for land to grow biofuel crops instead of food.[snip] Professor Keith Smith, of University of Edinburgh, one of the letter's co-authors, says the release of carbon dioxide would be 'huge' compared to the savings from the crops taking in CO2 from the atmosphere to grow. He says another factor, emissions related to fertiliser-use, was also being ignored. 'There has been a naivety that biofuels are carbon neutral but when we count the fossil fuel energy going into biofuels from fertiliser use and then also the nitrous oxide emissions from using nitrogen fertilisers, the emissions are even higher,' says Professor Smith.

The human toll of these policies is better described in less generalized language.

Africa Geographic reports in its December issue (p. 9)

Tanzania Biofuel Flop

The collapse of the London-based company Sun Biofuels, which grew jatropha in the district of Kasarawe for biodiesel, has left hundreds of villagers landless, jobless and in despair. In Mhaga village alone, a quarter of the land was acquired by the company  in 2008, with a promise of financial compensation, 700 jobs, water wells and improved schools, health clinics and roads. But the villages have not been paid for the land, and their neighbors in Mtamba tell the same story of broken promises and unpaid  compensation. Tabu Koba is one of 9 in this village who received no payment for their land.We are very angry.' He says.'My children have left school and have nowhere to farm.'

'The situation in Kisarawe is heartbreaking, but the real tragedy is that it's not unique, comments Josie Cohen of Action Aid. 'Communities across Africa are losing their land as a result of the massive biofuel targets set by [the UK] government.' Legalbrief Environmental

Action Aid's website has more and concludes:

Poor Tanzanians have been tricked into giving up their land to a biofuels company and are now even worse off than before. This case shows yet again how biofuel crops can ruin poor people's livelihoods in the communities where they are grown as well as driving up food prices. A billion people already don't have enough to eat. Biofuel use could add hundreds of millions more.

Moreover, biofuels don't even provide environmental benefits, as many have higher greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace.

The great biofuels land-grab is only happening because of subsidies from European countries. You can do something about it."

Action Aid, like many if not all of the International NGO's working in Africa, is sold on global warming. If they weren't they'd see how much more tragic than even they imagine, this disaster is.

The Tana Delta in Kenya, an important watershed, also was affected by the pressure to grow jatropha for the European market. The Guardian reports that the situation there is so bad the villagers who see the vanishing of the land's wildlife  and the water they need to survive are talking of arming themselves and going to war:

Gamba Manyatta village is empty now, weeds already roping around the few skeletal hut frames still standing. The people who were evicted took as much of their building materials as they could carry to start again and the land where their homes stood is now ploughed up.[snip]

The eviction of the villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya's Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds.

The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons - to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel.

The delta, one of Kenya's last wildernesses and one of the most important bird habitats in Africa, is the flood plain of the Tana river, which flows 1,014km from Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean.[snip]

The delta's people are trying to fight their own government over the huge blocks of land being turned over to companies including the Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, which was this year granted a licence by the Kenyan environmental regulator for a 10,000-hectare jatropha "pilot" project. A UK-based firm, G4 Industries Ltd, has been awarded a licence for 28,000 hectares.

At the site where the former villagers from Gamba Manyatta were told to relocate, elder Bule Gedi Darso, 57, shows the foul-smelling stream that they have to draw their water from. "This is not a good place. Children have died, we have typhoid and malaria now. We were healthy before and our children went to school. This river is the drainage and pesticides from all the big farms. The proper river has been diverted to irrigate them and now we just get their poison. When we were evicted they showed us the maps, and we saw many more villages who don't yet know they are to be evicted too. Where will they all go?"

It is a question worrying another village. Didewaride was once surrounded by wetland, only accessible by boat. Now it is stranded amid miles of brown earth with occasional pools of water. Omar Bocha Kofonde, an elder, says: "The hippos have gone, the fish, the birds, and the soil is salty. The goats and cattle have no grazing. The rivers used to flush out the sea water, now the sea is coming up on to our land because there is no river. Everything is in danger. People thought they owned the land, we have been here for hundreds of years. Now we will fight; we are ready to die, for what else is there?"[snip]

 Nobody cares because nothing happens immediately, but it is coming. Tana Delta is in chaos. When everyone picks up their share with their bits of paperwork ... it will be war. The day is coming."

The Tanya Delta project now appears to be on hold though it doesn't appear to be a cakewalk to undo the damage and restore the land to the villagers driven off.

The November issue of Africa Geographic (p. 13):

Kenya "Reprieve for Tana Delta

"The National Environmental Management Authority [NEMA] has advised the Kenyan government to halt planting of the biofuel  jatropha in the Tana Delta. In July two NEMW directors were suspended after being accused of granting a license to a Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, to grow jatropha on a 10 thousand-hectare plot site in the delta. The authority has subsequently recommended hat the license be cancelled. Tana Delta provides ecosystem services such as water storage, shoreline protection and a spawning ground for marine life.

Wildlife Extra 

Rhinos

It's not just the West that finds value to be exploited in Africa.  Asian and Middle Eastern buyers are behind the illegal slaughter of rhinos.  In the Middle East, especially Yemen, rich men like to use the horns as traditional dagger handles though it's my understanding that this fashion is dying out.  In Asia , however, the persistent belief in the medicinal efficacy of powdered rhino horn has driven its value up.  At latest report, the horns sell for over 60,000 Euros per kilo, far more than gold or cocaine. In a poor country this valuable  resource has spawned  poachers who kill the animals in ever increasing numbers, which if not halted will wipe them out.

The techniques used vary from place to place. In the  wildlife preserves with significant large, carnivores, the poachers cut fences and drive to their prey. In those with less  dangerous situations, they simply climb over the fence, walk to the animals, stun them with tranquilizers, kill them, remove the horns and depart.  All the preserves I saw have 24 hour anti-poaching squads, but the huge financial pay off at the top makes it very difficult to halt the practice, and the habits of the rhinos make them rather easy to track.  If the poachers -- who are only paid about $10,000 per horn-- are caught with cell phones on them, the authorities track the numbers called in the hope of finding those who engaged them and are marketing the horns. It is increasingly obvious to the authorities that the poachers have now confederates inside the game parks and even among veterinarians as the tranquilizers used are under strict control.  National Geographic's Newswatch: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2010/07/07/rhino_horn_and_traditional_chinese_medicine_facts/ 

The 2009 report African and Asian Rhinoceroses-Status, Conservation and Trade (IUCN/TRAFFIC) revealed that illegal trade in rhino horn, particularly in southern Africa, had become progressively worse since 2006.

"The combined loss of horns from poaching, thefts from natural mortalities, government stocks and other private collections, abuse of legal trophy hunting and illegal private sector sales suggests that a minimum of 1,521 rhino horns were destined for illegal trade in this time period. Compared to the six-year period 2000-2005 when a minimum of 664 horns were acquired for illicit trade purposes, this figure represents a two-fold increase in the annual illegal rhino horn trade in less than four years," the report states.[snip] Rhino horn is a time-honored component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). For thousands of years, TCM has credited rhino horn with the potency to cure an unusually wide array of maladies, from headaches to pus-filled boils-and even devil possession.

Today, decades of conservation efforts are at risk of being undermined by what appears to be a reinvigorated TCM market in China and Vietnam.

In any event the horns are simply keratin, the stuff of which our nails and hair are composed. Scientists already have manufactured artificial keratin and one wonders why, if it is chemically virtually identical, the market isn't flooded with the synthetic keratin. It seems to me, if that were possible,the price for the horn would drop so low it  would become unprofitable to continue the slaughter. Freakanomics.com:

So is there any actual scientific evidence to the medicinal powers of rhino horns? Not really. From a 2008 Nature article:

In 1990, researchers at Chinese University in Hong Kong found that large doses of rhino horn extract could slightly lower fever in rats (as could extracts from Saiga antelope and water buffalo horn), but the concentration of horn given by a traditional Chinese medicine specialist are many many times lower than used in those experiments. In short, says Amin, you'd do just as well chewing on your fingernails.

Don't you dare feel superior to  the Chinese and Vietnamese buyers who regard the horn as a panacea.  I just showed you how Westerners are ravaging African villages and farms and watersheds based on ideas just as unscientific and silly.