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Flourishing wetland sacrificed for biofuels

Last modified: 23 June 2008

Northern carmine bee-eater

The Kenyan government has approved a controversial plan to grow biofuel crops on an internationally important coastal wetland.

More than 80 square miles of the Tana River Delta will be destroyed and replaced with sugarcane for biofuel, some of which could be sold in the UK where oil firms are being forced to sell more biofuel.

Conservationists and villagers living in the Delta, which provides refuge for 350 species of bird, lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles including the Tana writhing skink, believe the decision is illegal and are determined to block the development. The groups are considering what action they might take.

A devastating decision

Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya said: 'This decision is a national disaster and will devastate the Delta. The Tana's ecology will be destroyed yet the economic gains will be pitiful. It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the Delta in jeopardy.

'The environmental assessment for the scheme was poor yet the government has defied even those very modest recommendations. We refuse to accept that this decision is final. The development must be stopped at all costs.'

The Tana's ecology will be destroyed yet the economic gains will be pitiful. It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the Delta in jeopardy.

The proposal was approved by the Kenyan government's National Environment Management Authority, which put 14 conditions on the sugarcane plan. The conditions are weak and ignore the environmental assessment, which showed that irrigation of crops would cause severe drainage of the Delta.

The decision also overlooks an ongoing dispute over compensation for farmers and fishermen who would lose their land and fishing rights.

Paul Matiku said: 'This is the only dry-season grazing area for hundreds of miles and its loss will leave many hundreds of farmers with no-where to take their cattle.'

A report commissioned in May by Nature Kenya and the RSPB found that the developer's plans overestimated profits, ignored fees for water use and pollution from the sugarcane plant, and disregarded the loss of income from wildlife tourists.

The study said the Delta's ecological benefits 'defied valuation' and that the proposal would cause the 'irreversible loss of ecosystem services' – benefits such as flood prevention, the storage of greenhouse gases and the provision of medicines and food.

The Mumias Sugar Company says the income from sugarcane cultivation will be £1.25 million over 20 years but the report showed the revenue from fishing, farming, tourism and other lost livelihoods would be £30 million over the same period.

Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, said: 'This decision is a very serious blow to Kenyan wildlife and to wildlife worldwide since many migrating species use the Tana Delta in internationally important numbers. Until now, Kenya's support for global agreements to protect wildlife has been excellent but this development could severely damage Kenya’s reputation for caring for its environment.'

Scrap the target

The news comes just days before the UK government's review of the impacts of increased demand for biofuels. At least 2.5 per cent of petrol and diesel sold in Britain must already be biofuel and the EU wants to push that figure up to 10 per cent across Europe.

We are urging British and European politicians to scrap that target because some biofuels are increasing not cutting greenhouse gas emissions and are driving the destruction of rainforest, savannah and wetlands like the Tana Delta.

Dr Mark Avery, Conservation Director at the RSPB, said: 'The Tana Delta is one of many precious wildlife sites being put at risk by our reckless determination to use fuels that could hasten not combat climate change.

'The UK government has a last chance to persuade Europe to re-think its biofuels' plans. If it does not, wildlife will be lost because of policies that will line the pockets of producers but do nothing to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.'

Back to basics

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