Biogas project ‘could out-produce Koeberg‘
By Guy Rogers Environment & Tourism Editor
THE biogas project being developed in the Eastern Cape, which could put “nine nuclear power stations worth of power” into the hands of traditional farmers, was presented to an interested audience in Morocco last week.
Biogas is being touted by an East London NGO as a possible answer to South Africa‘s fuel needs but, as the organisation argued at the meeting in Rabat, it can also bolster efforts to reduce toxic pesticides.
The Pan-Africa Pesticide Action Network meeting was held to improve the skills and knowledge of NGOs working under the auspices of the African Stockpiles Programme. Funded by the UN and the World Bank, the programme was launched in 2005 to galvanise action in Africa around the Stockholm Convention.
The convention was established in 2001 to tackle the more than 100 000 synthetic chemicals that had been developed and commercialised globally with no thought about their cumulative effect. It received impetus from research which was beginning to produce more and more evidence that low-level persistent toxicity could be as devastating for people, animals and the environment as acute toxicity.
Persistent organic pollutants (Pops) like polychlorinated biphenyl – used as an insulator and coolant in electrical transformers – received special attention.
A list of 12 Pops, including six pesticides, were highlighted as primary targets. The convention‘s stated aim is to eradicate the offenders and institute controls around further use of pesticides.
The government of each signatory to the convention is obliged to spearhead this work, with the prerequisite that consultation should take place with NGOs. While this is working well in countries like Mali, it is not happening here, according to the South African NGO group, co-ordinated by GroundWork, which attended the Rabat conference.
The group contends that the South African agriculture department‘s Massive Food Production pilot programme, under way in Limpopo, is an example of this approach, with no effort having been made to consult NGOs about the amount or kind of pesticides used there.
One of the members of the group in Rabat, Mark Wells, director of Third World Investment (Twig) in East London, presented an address focused on the Eastern Cape government‘s 500 000ha biofuels project as another example of this lack of consultation.
Announced in February at a minerals and energy department conference in East London, the proposal is that the project will centre on the Mzimvubu valley, with the rest of the crops being grown in pockets of tribal land around the Transkei. The aim is that canola and other oil-rich crops will be grown and then processed into biofuel in an East London factory.
Both the Eastern Cape government and the minerals and energy department said public participation would still play a major role in shaping the project and that no decision had been made around pesticide use or whether or not to use genetically modified (GM) seed.
Wells says the department made it clear at the February meeting that GM crops would be used and this in turn is a strong indicator that a pesticide like Roundup – which the World Health Organisation has warned against because of its persistence and threat to human and animal systems – could be used.
He said the perception that planting GM crops meant less money having to be spent on pesticides had been shown to be incorrect. Instead the complete opposite had been shown to be true.
The study Twig bases this assertion on found that in the first eight years of commercial use of GM crops in the US, pesticide use increased by 50 million tons.
Wells said the delegates at the Rabat meeting had not been alerted to this study and had been especially interested in the Eastern Cape biofuels project and the concerns around it.
They were also very interested in the biogas technology which Twig is developing from a model initiated in China, he said.
Biogas is generated by processing livestock manure in a “digester”. Twig contends that “more oil can be produced through this zero-waste approach from 500m² of algae ponds than from 10 000m² of canola”.
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