[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 13 November 2008 09:53
Subject: 2: Some issues in background document
This is from Liaqat Hayat, Pakistan. I am a civil engineer by profession and have an interest in bio-engineering solutions to energy and environmental issues. Presently I am working as a freelance consultant with the construction industry.
Let me start by thanking FAO for arranging this conference on this important subject. I have the following initial thoughts on some of the issues raised in the background document.
1) Non-food crops needs with respect to biofuel production: What can be done in desert or semi-desert areas?
2) What are desired targets for energy security?
3) Regarding water scarcity, use of wastewater in agriculture after some very cost-effective treatment is an important means. It is treatment cost only which is in its way and biotechnology is an effective method to achieve this.
We need to discuss some sucessful case studies in this conference to draw our conclusions on realistic lines.
Mr. Liaqat Hayat
3-A, Street 70,
liaqathayat5 (at) gmail.com
[The issue of water scarcity, briefly mentioned in Section 2.6 of the background document was the subject of the last conference of this Forum (entitled "Coping with water scarcity in developing countries: What role for agricultural biotechnologies?", held in March 2007). The background document, all messages posted plus the summary document from the conference are available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/Conf14.htm. One of the topics discussed there was indeed the use of biotechnologies to assist in treating wastewater for re-use in agriculture. The background and summary documents from the conference have been brought together into a publication in the FAO Land and Water Discussion Paper series and this publication should be printed and available for distribution next month...Moderator]
Sent: 13 November 2008 13:34
Subject: 3: Biofuels - wastewater, lack of commitment
This is from Jan Jansa, senior scientist in the group of plant nutrition at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland.
Responding to Liaqat Hayat (message 2):
Efficient biofuel production will need more water than is available in desert/semi-deserts, so water inputs will certainly be mandatory. A water-independent option would be physical light collection using photovoltaics, mirror collectors, or simply water pipes with light-absorbing surfaces (OK, you need a bit of water for the last option).
However, when biofuels are the choice: Wastewater is probably the best nutrient solution available at nearly no costs. This will certainly help plants or microbes to grow, the dirtier the water the better. Attention will need to be exercised with wastewater from industrial facilities, which may carry lots of heavy metals/pollutants. A worry will be a potential biohazard of the wastewater for human/animal health while handling/transporting it, this could certainly be solved. The biofuel production system could and should also work as a biological wastewater treatment facility, winning energy at the same time. Many microbes can degrade even very "difficult" organic pollutants (antibiotics, pesticides, explosives etc.). Such a system will also close part of the nutrient cycles, and contribute to solving widespread lack of nutrient recycling in (agro-)ecosystems. This is because not only petrol, but also resources such as phosphate fertilizers are finite and will be exhausted in the next 1-2 centuries. They are currently being lost from the lands to the seas without any hope for reuse in the next millenia.
The major problem I perceive with biofuels, is the lack of serious interest in biofuels by the society/governments, lack of commitments, and therefore a lack of sustainable funding for R&D from both public and private sources. I cannot believe that research and establishment of sustainable energy future of the mankind is worth less than 1% of the current investment into the collapsing banking system (but the partitioning of finances does reflect this clearly). Who does tell this to the G8 presidents?
This lack of interest and rise of scepticism is certainly also because of the counter-productive and everlasting discussion about competition with food production. At the end of the day, everyone is turning back to the crude oil, undermining our children`s future, running into wars for energy etc. In fact, it makes agronomically really little sense to produce food in some parts of world in a way that is currently done - e.g. maize in equatorial Africa. It is only degrading soils (which is regarded as a resource with zero value anyway), giving only a fraction of the potential yield, and a false hope to the farmers. With current practices, they will anyway end up with bare rock under their feet in 20 years from now.
Would it be economically more sound to produce biofuels in these places using non-food plants (or other technologies), and buy food from more productive areas of the world? At fair conditions and prices... How to establish them in this unfair world? Which currency to use then?
I hope we could talk about these issues openly here. [These kind of issues can be discussed here, but in the context of the theme of this conference i.e. the role that biotechnologies can play for production of bioenergy in developing countries...Moderator].
Dr. Jan Jansa
Institute of Plant Sciences
CH - 8315 Lindau (ZH)
email: jan.jansa (at) ipw.agrl.ethz.ch
Sent: 13 November 2008 15:19
Subject: 4: Biofuel crops in developing countries
I am K.K. Vinod, Senior Scientist (Plant Breeding) with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
At the outset, let me thank FAO for organising this e-mail conference on the role of agricultural biotechnologies for production of bioenergy in developing countries. Going through the background document, I understand that there is a great need to look for alternate form of fuels, and biofuels are one of the best options. There are a few points, I would like the conference to discuss:
a. Energy scarcity is not only a problem with the developing world. Developed countries consume much more of the non-renewable energy sources than developing countries. While developing countries have a more perpetual problem of hunger. Should we look for energy-yielding crops in the developing world over the food crops? We want to make more uncultivable land suitable for food production, and in that process should we accommodate biofuel crops in those reclaimed lands?
b. Biotechnological approaches are costlier, and developing countries may not be able to compromise their research efforts on food biotechnology to fuel biotechnology.
c. What should be the level of adoption of fuel biotechnology over food biotechnology i.e what should be the level of adoption of biotechnologies for food purposes compared to the adoption of biotechnologies for fuel purposes in the developing countries?
d. What would be the role of the developed world in supporting the efforts in developing biofuel crops in developing countries, where land and labour are available?
Dr K.K. Vinod
Senior Scientist (Plant Breeding)
Indian Agricultural Research Institute
Rice Genetics and Breeding Centre
Phone: +91 435 2470308
Fax: +91 435 2471195
Cell: +91 94430 81539
kkvinodh (at) gmail.com
Alternate E-mail: kkvinod (at) hotmail.com
Web Address: http://kkvinod.webs.com
Sent: 13 November 2008 16:06
Subject: 5: Sugar cane vs. oil palm
My name is Hanns-Andre Pitot, and I am working as a technical advisor in the fields of water, sanitation and environmental protection for DED (German Development Service) in Adjumani, Northern Uganda. My work includes recycling of organic waste (including human) into fertilizer products. Hence my interest in energy crops, which could give a boost to the local economy in and around Adjumani, as I am seeing it.
I'd also like to thank the organizers for setting up this conference, which is dealing with such a crucial and forward looking topic.
In the background document, I noted that sugar cane and oil palm are the highest yielding crops for bioethanol and biodiesel respectively, with oil palm presently yielding somewhat more, especially if the energy content of the respective fuels is taken into consideration.
My questions to the author and the participants are as follows:
1. How do the two plants compare in terms of their requirements in terms of soil, climate, fertilizer requirements, etc...
2. Once 2nd generation biofuels are developed, what yields could be expected from the two crops?
Best regards to everybody,
Technical Advisor Water and Sanitation
Adjumani Town Council
E-mail: hapitot (at) yahoo.com
DED - German Development Service
Sent: 13 November 2008 16:27
Subject: 6: Genetic improvement of jatropha
I am Dr. K. Chalapathy Reddy, Senior Scientist working in Mission Biofuels India Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, India. We are into establishing jatropha plantations on contract farming and buy-back agreement for 30 years with farmers. Farmers are cultivating jatropha in marginal and waste lands so that the fuel crop does not replace food crops (food vs. fuel).
We have around 3.5 lakh acres of jatropha plantations spread across 5 states in India, purely on contract farming, wherein we are providing the seedlings at cost to the farmers and services for better management of plantations for higher yield. [1 lakh = 100,000; 1 acre = 0.405 hectare...Moderator]
As developing countries have manpower and land for fuel crops without affecting the food crops; however, going ahead these developing countries require technologies for fuel crops. These technologies would come from developed countries. This way there is less dependance on developed countries for non-renewable energy.
We are working on genetic improvement of jatropha for higher seed yield and oil content through conventional breeding and molecular marker technology. By 2009, we will be evaluating few jatropha hybrids which are having higher yield potential compare to existing planting materials.
I mean biotechnological tools are not so expensive for further improvement of biofuel crops.
Thanks to FAO for coordinating this e-conference and the chance to share my experience and views.
Dr. K. Chalapathy Reddy
Mission Biofuels India Pvt Ltd,
608, Powai Plaza
Hiranandani Buisness Park
Powai, Mumbai 400076.
Email: dr.chalapathy (at) missionnewenergy.com
Sent: 13 November 2008 16:57
Subject: 7: Re Biofuel crops in developing countries
I am PK Gupta, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding at Ch. Charan Singh University (CCS) University, Meerut, India.
I agree fully with the views expressed by KK Vinod (message 4), who echoed the views of many who are concerned with food security versus biofuels. Firstly, the food crops should not be diverted for production of biofuels, and the land where food crops can be grown should not be used even for crops designated as second generation biofuel crops.
In India, there is a major effort for utilizing jatropha for biofuels, and several institutes are using biotechnology to improve jatropha for biofuels. However, one wonders what fraction of fossil fuels can be replaced by these biofuels and at what cost. These aspects are being examined in several parts of the world, but despite the debate several food crops are still being diverted to production of biofuels.
One option is the use of microbes at a large scale for production of biofuel and bioenergy. Major efforts in this direction are being made and the conference should address this issue of increasing use of microbes rather than using food crops for biofuels.
In fact, there is also an urgent need to reduce our requirement for transport fuels, to meet the challenge. The consumption levels of fossil fuels have been increasing at an alarming rate, and more so in developing countries like India. The conference may like to address the issue of whether or not we can reduce consumption rather than using food crops as a replacement of fossil fuels.
I would like to read the views of other participants on the above.
Professor PK Gupta
Hon. Emeritus Professor and INSA Honorary Scientist
pkgupta36 (at) gmail.com
Sent: 13 November 2008 17:33
Subject: 8: Biofuel crops in desert and semi-desert areas
My name is Uwe Bruenjes and I'm a Mexican entrepreneur who is always looking for advanced technologies for commercialization.
Regarding the possibility of raising whatever kind of crop for biofuel in deserts (mentioned by Liaqat Hayat in message 2), I feel like this is the best option. Granted, the production of palm oil per acre or hectare is higher than for example the production of the tallow-like substance produced by the Chinese Tallow Tree, but palms require good arable land, while the Tallow Tree does very well in deserts. So there won't be any competition with food production. And by the way, in the end the Tallow Tree produces more biofuel per surface area than Jatropha. Furthermore, I could imagine that the leaves and flowers could be composted and little by little improve the quality of the soil.
What do the other participants think about limiting fuel crops to deserts and semi-deserts?
Calle Plan de Guadalupe #4025
Col. Los Nogales
Cd. Juarez, Chih. 32350
ubrunjes (at) yahoo.com