, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 7 – The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) will give its verdict on a controversial bio fuel project in Malindi in two weeks time.
NEMA Director General Dr Muusya Mwinzi told Capital News that the organisation was still studying the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report before it makes its decision known.
“We carried out a public hearing but we have not finalised that process yet. We are waiting for the public hearing report which comes from the District Environment Committee and we are really pushing the DC (District Commissioner) before we can make a decision,” Dr Mwinzi said.
Conservationists have put NEMA on the spot over the proposed project that is expected to cover 50,000 hectares of forest land.
The project, being initiated by the Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited, plans to put up a plantation of jatropha caucas which has been touted as a potential solution to the search for new sources of energy.
The environmentalists from Birdlife International, Nature Kenya and Kenya Forests Working Group have protested that the project was not viable citing an EIA report which they said forbids the project.
“Why would NEMA refuse to reject this project when the EIA report stated clearly that the 50,000 hectares proposal is not possible in Dakatcha Woodland?” Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku posed.
Mr Matiku accused NEMA of failing to execute an order stopping the Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited, the company that has proposed the project from clearing the area.
“We understand that following a letter we wrote to the Environment Minister (John Michuki) in April, action was taken-the Kenyan style (without implementation),” Mr Matiku said.
“NEMA was asked to stop it, the Provincial Director of Environment in Mombasa wrote or was supposed to write a letter, a stop order was given to the Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited but nobody has implemented that stop order,” he said.
According to Mr Matiku, the EIA report on the 50,000 hectares project on Dakatcha Woodland stated that it was not possible to carry out such a project in the area.
However, he said, the Kenya Jatropha Energy company continued to clear the forest land to replace it with the controversial plant.
“We are hoping that NEMA will do what they are supposed to do,” he said.
He said that the EIA report suggested 1,000 hectares be put up for experiment.
“Experiments can be done, we are not opposed to them but they need to be the size of an experiment. 1,000 hectares will be like a fully fledged project,” he said.
The conservationists also said the project was not environmentally, socially and economically practical.
“Understanding that there is not enough data on jatropha in Kenya, and given that there isn’t enough water and it is not clear how the waste (from the plant) can be disposed it is not practical to take this project forward,” Mr Matiku insisted.
He said jatropha irritates the skin for those who would be harvesting it and the residues are poisonous to human, wildlife and livestock.
“There is no reason why the Prime Minister should not be able to bring some sanity in the process of implementing the bio fuel agenda in Kenya to ensure that people in Kenya don’t suffer food losses and we are not left with impacts that we cannot mitigate as has happened in Tanzania,” he said.
The NEMA Director General said that it would be illegal for the company to start the project before they got an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) licence from the environmental body.
“No developer is allowed to initiate a project until we finalise the EIA process. We have already told the District Environment Committee chaired by the District Commissioner to ensure there is no activity taking place on the ground. Of course the enforcement of the law is by the law enforcement agencies so we are relying on them to ensure no illegality is committed there,” Dr Mwinzi said.
Bird Life International Senior Programme Manager Dr Julius Arinaitwe said there was need to first develop appropriate guidelines on sustainable biofuel production before any commercial projects were approved.
“Bio fuels production is certainly not amongst the highest rewarding in terms of carbon sequestration and in some cases has resulted in higher emissions that the fossil fuels that they are supposed to substitute,” Dr Arinaitwe said.
He said that the government should ensure bio fuel development delivered substantial carbon savings, at least 60 percent green house gas savings and also avoid encroachment on natural habitats.
“We are remaining with precious few of these habitats and certainly we should avoid areas of exceptional biodiversity importance,” he said.
He added that Kenyans needed to be adequately informed about the advantages and disadvantages of growing the Jatropha before the process went ahead.
“It is unacceptable and again why is there a rush to plant jatropha when the Kenya government is still developing a policy to guide jatropha growing and biofuel production?” he wondered.