Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Environmental and Social Benefits to Steer Bioenergy Development in Greater Mekong Subregion



ADB/FAO/IFAD Launch GMS Biofuel Initiative

BANGKOK, THAILAND - Countries in the Greater Mekong subregion have the
potential to become major biofuel producers, but there are important
hurdles that must be crossed to ensure the success of such an
initiative, a workshop on the relationship between bioenergy and poverty
alleviation agreed today.

Key agriculture, environment and energy officials from countries of the
Greater Mekong subregion – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and
Viet Nam – are meeting in Bangkok today and tomorrow to initiate efforts
that could dramatically change the face of the agriculture sector in
those countries in the near future.

Although projections indicate that bioenergy produced from biomass could
meet up to 25 percent of global energy demand by 2050, the develoment
and use of bioenergy has become an important international focus which
generates enormous public interest and debates.

"The worldwide upsurge of interest in biofuels can best be described as
the Gold Rush of the 21st Century," said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO's deputy
regional chief for Asia and the Pacific.

Worldwide, about 14 million hectares – about 1 percent of the world's
currently available arable land – are already used for biofuel
production. This share could rise to 3.5 percent or higher in the near

Such expansion would have serious implications for food production
unless new and more efficient technologies are developed both in biofuel
development and food production, ADB noted.

In this "bioenergy rush" FAO is calling for policies that protect land,
water and forest resources, promote socially acceptable land use, and
guide bioenergy development in a sustainable direction.

"Given the importance of energy in promoting growth and poverty
reduction, regional options need to be explored to enhance access to
energy while ensuring food security," said Urooj Malik, ADB's Director
of the Southeast Asia Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources
Division. "Establishing biofuel industries in the GMS could generate
income and employment and help meet the energy needs of the region",
added Mr Malik.

There is also the risk of biofuels favouring large-scale agribusiness
production and the use of mono-cropping leading to loss of biodiversity,
soil erosion and nutrition leaching, the ADB statement said.

"We should aim at generating a win-win-win situation for biofuel
producers, food buyers and energy users", stressed Thomas Elhaut, IFAD's
director of the Asia and Pacific division.

Biofuels offer potential to support energy security, environmental
sustainability and agricultural poverty reduction, provided the right
research, policy and investment scenarios are in place, the IFAD
statement added.

In April 2007, the Mekong countries endorsed a joint agricultural
support program to address biofuel issues on a subregional basis. The
program calls for concerted and coordinated efforts to speed up the
development of biofuel technologies, drastically reduce the use of
fossil fuels, effectively contribute to climate change mitigation and
adaptation, and help reduce rural poverty.

The two-day Bangkok meeting is supported by the Asian Development Bank
(ADB), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Senior government officials from the Greater Mekong subregion,
supporting donor agencies, and other stakeholders are planning the
integration of biofuels and other types of renewable energy into the
subregion's agriculture and energy sectors in ways that will complement
and accelerate poverty reduction efforts.

Countries are drawing actions on two fronts: devise plans for national
and subregional biofuel assessments, and prepare strategies for
development of bioenergy and its substitutes. Representatives will also
discuss the scope for investment cooperation.

In addition to attendance by GMS countries, officials from India,
Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are also participating in the
workshop as well as representatives from numerous development and donor
organizations such as Internatonal Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid
Tropics (ICRISAT), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT),
Chinese Center for Agricultural Policy (CCAP), Southeast Asia Regional
Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), and
various UN organizations such UNDP, APCAEM, UNEP, UNIDO, and ESCAP.
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/

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