Big Business Drives SA's Biofuels Programme PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Tuesday, 15 May 2012 08:12

Big Business Drive BiofuelsIn late February 2012 leading figures from the fossil fuel industry met in Pretoria to forge ahead with the government's highly controversial plans for an SA biofuels industry. The catalyst for this meeting was the publication by the government last September of draft regulations for the mandatory blending of biofuels in the nation's fuel supply. This article, which first appeared as an Op-ed in the Cape Times on the 17th of April 2012, seeks to highlight some of the substantial concerns around agro-fuels which were not discussed at the workshop.

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South Africa's Agrofuel's Industry: A non-starter? PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Thursday, 24 March 2011 18:21

This paper provides a brief overview of the biofuels industry in the context of the South African government's 2008 policy. Our key finding is that the large-scale biofuels industry has stagnated almost to the point of non-existence. There is, however, a growing impetus to address the shortcomings in government policy that has held the industry back. We provide an overview of the pilot project at the Cradock Bio-Ethanol Production Facility, which requires further monitoring. We have found that the bio-ethanol industry is waiting on the finalisation of an appropriate incentive scheme, as well as for the Minister of Energy to render it mandatory for fuel companies to purchase bio-ethanol and blend it into the fuel supply.

We also canvass the possible inclusion of maize as feedstock for bio-ethanol production. While taking cognizance of the pressure by the maize industry to include maize, we have concluded that the costs associated with such inclusion, considering food security and the environment are prohibitive.

Despite the important dangers attendant upon the establishment of a biofuels industry in South Africa, authoritative research on the matter is almost non-existent in the public domain. This paper attempts to contribute to closing this knowledge gap, and call for further inter-disciplinary efforts.

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Synthetic Biology in Africa: Recent Developments PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Thursday, 28 October 2010 11:43

By Gareth Jones and Mariam Mayet

The focus of this paper is the emerging field of synthetic biology, in particular its implications for the African continent. Synthetic biology combines a number of scientific disciplines and is generally understood to involve the deliberate design of biological systems, using standardised components that have been created in a laboratory. It has been hailed as the key to a new post-oil global economy of abundance for all. In public, this rhetoric has been backed up by high profile research into the creation of synthetic artemisinin, a vital anti-malarial drug. However, behind the headlines the oil and military defence industries see synthetic biology as the perfect vehicle for the continuation of their power and accumulation under the guise of fighting climate change.

The potential for the technology in the global fight against Malaria is considerable, as are the potential impacts of synthetic artemisinin on the cultivation of Artemisia (the plant that contains the vital natural ingredient) in East Africa, where a fledgling industry supporting thousands of small holder farmers is developing.

South Africa was initially heavily involved in synthetic artemisinin and there are currently plans for the development of a national synthetic biology strategy in the country. This is considered in the context of the country's drive towards a 'green economy', with particular credence given to the disastrous implementation of its national biofuels strategy.

Finally, we turn our attention towards the newly established Stellenbosch Biomass Technology Company, which has teamed up with the Canadian firm Mascoma with a view to producing second generation agro-fuels in South Africa using both techniques of synthetic biology and genetic engineering.

Our conclusion leaves more questions than answers because of the emerging and secretive nature of the field, but highlights the very significant implications of this new technology and the need for a precautionary and vigilant approach towards it.

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The Geopolitics of agrofuels PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Thursday, 28 January 2010 14:34

The current ecological crisis has elicited a number of market based 'solutions' from the corporate - northern axis and their conduits at various international development agencies. The appropriation of vast swathes of land (often labelled 'marginal' by its proponents), especially in the global south, for the production of agro-fuels will undermine food security and aggravate social tensions, further degrade bio-diversity and only entrench the already existing global energy hierarchy that is the root cause of so much political, economic and environmental instability in the world.

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South Africa, Bioethanol and GMOs: A Heady Mixture PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Friday, 06 March 2009 16:27
On the 12th of May 2006 Syngenta South Africa (Pty) Ltd, a subsidiary of Swiss chemical giant Syngenta, notified the public of its intention to seek commodity clearance for its GM maize for the use in the production of ethanol. This is the first GM application for commercial approval in the world for a non-feed, non-food GM crop, using a food crop, has simultaneously also been launched in the US, the EU and China.

This briefing paper offers a summary of our biosafety concerns relating to Syngenta's application. In addition, it also devles beneath the veneer of the agro-fuels boom, particularly in South Africa, and questions the general assumptions offered by the industry that agrofuels will simultanesouly mitigate climate change, and provide mass employment opportunities for the poor and the marginalised.

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