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Sugar Cane Plants – Good for Bio Ethanol?

by : Anna Sternfeldt, Sweden

Sugar cane plants are at the top as biofuel stocks, but how good are they? Here you'll learn about the criticism on growing sugar cane for alternative fuel

San Mariano Biofuel Project Should be Rejected as CDM Project

by : Feny Cosico, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), the Philippines

The joint Phiilipino-Japanese corporate consortium Green Future Innovations Incorporated (GFII), is opening up a large-scale bioethanol and co-generation plant in the northern municipality of San Mariano, Isabela, in the Philippines. Once operational, it will be the biggest agrofuel producer in the country. By partnering with the Filipino-based ECOFUEL Land Development, Inc., Japanese company ITOCHU Inc. is already beginning to transform vast tracks of land into sugarcane plantations. They are aiming to take over 11,000 hectares in an area where there is only approximately 29,000 hectares of agricultural land available, as recorded in official government statistics. This project is aiming to attain a production of 125,000 liters of ethanol per day or 54 million liters per year.

The project is being promoted through an “environmentally sustainable” corporate portfolio, with the operational area being labelled an “Ecofuel Agro-Industrial Ecozone”, and the project’s stated purpose being to help attain the requirements of the national biofuel program. The “Philippine Energy Renewable Program”’s biofuel production objectives are supposedly meant to break the country's dependence on imported fossil-based fuels with a view to improving energy security. In reality, however, they undermine any agenda for food security, land reform and genuinely rights-based and ecologically sound development.

One of the ITOCHU Corporation’s most deceptive acts has been its attempt, in April 2011, to register the San Mariano biofuel project as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the Kyoto Protocol of the UNFCCC, by claiming it will provide net carbon credits. However, despite its projected image as a so-called green and sustainable development, this project is seen very differently by the affected communities of peasants and Indigenous Peoples surrounding it. Even before its target date for full operation (scheduled for the first quarter of 2012), GFII is bent on amassing land resources and is targeting areas currently covered by land reform policies, and Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral domains. Moreover, the declared "idle and marginal lands" also sought for monoculture sugarcane plantations have been actively utilized for subsistence farming for decades, and are not “idle” at all. Farmers and Indigenous Peoples who have established themselves in the area have painstakingly increased the productivity of the land so that high-value crops such as vegetables, bananas, pineapples and food crops such as rice and corn can be grown.

Over the past few years, local organizations of peasants, Indigenous Peoples and human rights advocates have been organizing to try to draw attention to numerous concerns in relation to the project. However, local and national politicians have refused to heed their demands to halt the project. As a result those concerned called for an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) to be launched. This was convened from 30 May to 3 June 2011, to investigate the ways the company is engaging in land grabbing to obtain the needed fields for sugar cane plantation expansion. Evidence was also gathered regarding the environmental devastation inherent in the development, demonstrating concretely why the application to proceed as a CDM project should be rejected by the governments of the Philippines and Japan as well as the CDM Executive Committee.

Public consultation for affected communities and Free, Prior and Informed Consent for communities of Indigenous Peoples is a legal obligation and social accountability requisite that must be taken seriously by project proponents. However no steps towards genuine community consultation or obtaining non-coercive forms of agreement from the affected communities have been taken. Instead, subsistence farming families have been pressured to accept onerous deals. Farmers are losing their rights to till the land upon which their livelihoods depend through schemes that are tantamount to land grabbing, and made possible through the connivance of corrupt government officials and agencies. Dispossessed of their land, entire families end up as sugar cane laborers working on the lands they once considered their own to till, under conditions that blatantly violate labor laws pertaining to minimum wage standards, and health and safety standards.

Green Future Innovation’s claim of complying with the obligatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements is also contentious because there was only a simple EIA conducted for the planned ethanol processing facility, rather than an overall EIA covering the intended 11,000 hectare project. Plantations have already encroached on productive farm areas, and forest lands that are under protection as restoration areas under Socialized Industrial Forestry Management Agreements. Furthermore, the project seriously threatens environmentally critical areas in the vicinity such as the interconnected watershed river systems of the Northern Sierra Madre Protected National Park. Landslides and erosion caused by seasonal typhoons are prevalent in many areas of San Mariano, and vast monocrop plantations of sugar cane will serve to exacerbate these conditions.

Hence, there is an urgent need to listen to the voices of the affected communities of peasants and Indigenous Peoples calling for the project to be withdrawn, ultimately respecting their welfare as well as the gains of the greater majority of stakeholders, rather than advancing the profits and interests of foreign corporations along with a few national accomplices.

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