Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 26 May 2016 04:18:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 The Waves of the Pacific Are on Chile’s Energy Horizonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 16:21:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud and Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144960 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/feed/ 1 Maquilas Help Drive Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 01:59:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144645 Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ASUNCION, Apr 16 2016 (IPS)

“There were cases of people who stopped coming to work after receiving their first wages and then came back a few days later to ask if there was more work,” because they were used to casual work in the informal economy, said Ivonne Ginard.

Ginard, a human resources manager in the textile firm Texcin, was in charge of hiring the plant’s 353 employees and helping them make the transition from informal labour to working in a factory with set schedules, uniforms, safety measures and medical certificates to justify absences.

Texcin, a garment factory near the Asunción airport, is emblematic of the incipient industrialisation process in Paraguay, which is still an agriculture-based economy, where soy and beef are the main exports and informal employment is predominant in the cities.

The plant is a joint venture between members of the Paraguayan business community and Riachuelo, one of the biggest clothing brands in Brazil, where it has 285 stores and two industrial plants. Riachuelo decided to take advantage of the incentives provided by the law on maquila export plants, in effect in Paraguay since 2000, to produce clothing in this neighbouring South American country instead of importing from Asia.

The aim is to increase the number of workers twofold by the end of 2016 and to continue to expand, since the company has the space to build a new plant.

“Paraguay offers abundant, young, easily trained workers, cheap energy, and tax incentives for maquilas and duty-free zones, which make it possible to import raw materials tariff-free,” said Andrés Guynn, one of the Paraguayan partners, who heads Texcin.

“Our production is competitive with costs similar to those of Asia, with a big advantage in terms of time: it takes 90 days for products to be shipped from China to Brazil, while ours get to (the Brazilian city of) São Paulo in 72 hours, by truck,” he said.

“Under the maquila regime, 108 companies set up shop in Paraguay, 62 of them in the last two years, and 80 percent of them come from Brazil,” the director of the maquila sector in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Ernesto Paredes, told IPS.

Maquila or maquiladora plants are built by foreign corporations, generally in free trade zones. They import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export, and enjoy other tax breaks and incentives, as well as more flexible labour conditions.

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The maquiladora industry is dynamic, but it does not accept trade union freedom, it does not allow unions to be organised in its factories, which violates constitutional rights,” the president of the Confederation of the Working Class (CCT) labour federation, Julio López, told IPS.

Auto parts factories are predominant in the industry, in terms of both revenue and jobs generated by maquiladoras in Paraguay, Paredes said. He said the sector uses the “just-in-time” delivery system developed by Japan’s auto industry, which is an inventory strategy employed to boost efficiency and reduce waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, which cuts inventory costs.

The Japanese company Yasaki and Germany’s Leoni have recently set up plants in Paraguay, employing thousands of people, nearly all of them women, in the production of electrical car cables.

And Paraguay now has its first car assembly plant. A national company, Reimplex, began to assemble J2 cars for Chinese auto maker JAC Motors on the outskirts of Asunción on Mar. 28.

Clothing factories also employ large numbers of women.

In addition, the plastics industry is expanding fast in the eastern department of Alto Paraná, on the border with Brazil, Paredes said.

Cheap local labour, which he said is “low-cost not so much because of the wages paid, but due to the low social charges” and low taxes, are especially attractive for Brazilian companies. To that is added the cost of electricity, which is 63 percent cheaper than in Brazil, according to the head of the maquila sector.

One limitation is transport and energy infrastructure. “Roads, ports, highways, real estate – all of this is lacking, although Paraguay has been investing heavily in airports, hotels, and office buildings,” he said.

One solution would be to widen the two-lane highway between Asunción and Ciudad del Este, the country’s two main economic hubs. However, the plan is not to expand the existing road, but “to build a second highway exclusively for trucks and trade,” as well as a second bridge to Brazil, said Paredes.

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Investment is also needed in another route for the transportation of heavy loads, the Paraguay-Paraná waterway, used to export soy.

“Better signalisation would double its capacity and speed up river traffic,” Gustavo Rojas, a researcher at the Center for Economic Analysis and Dissemination in Paraguay (CADEP), told IPS.

This land-locked country of 6.8 million people has the world’s third-largest river barge fleet, as well as shipyards that build them, which favours an increase in river traffic, Paredes said.

Electricity is, potentially, Paraguay’s biggest comparative advantage, since the country owns half of the energy from two huge hydropower dams: Itaipú, shared with Brazil, and Yacyretá, on the border with Argentina, with the capacity to produce 14,000 and 3,200 MW, respectively.

But it only began to use part of that energy when a power line from Itaipú to Villa Hayes, near Asunción, was completed in October 2013. The power line was financed by a Brazilian fund aimed at narrowing the development gap between countries in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Without an adequate distribution network, however, the new energy supply did not eliminate problems like the February blackout that left 300,000 homes without power in Greater Asunción.

Achieving a more secure energy supply “is a question of time,” said Guynn, who tried to place his company near the new power line.

The problem is that the national power utility, ANDE, does not have investment capacity, and “distribution is not secure and steady,” said Fernando Masi, founding director of CADEP, which carries out research on public policies and provides graduate studies in economy.

But the broad availability of energy is a new element drawing industries to Paraguay, since the other advantages, such as low labour costs and tax incentives, already existed before.

Cheap energy also tempted the British-Australian multinational metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto, which studied the possibility of producing aluminum in Paraguay, even if it had to ship in the raw material, bauxite, from far away, because electric power is the main cost of the aluminum industry.

But a major public campaign, which collected more than 100,000 signatures, managed to block the project, “which would consume more energy than all of the national industries combined,” while requiring subsidies and employing a relatively small number of people, Mercedes Canese, an engineer who was deputy minister of industry during the government of Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), told IPS.

However, another engineer, Francisco Scorza, who studied the case, said the Rio Tinto project became unviable because “China began to produce very cheap aluminum, at 1,200 dollars a ton, 40 percent less expensive than here, and Paraguay can’t afford to subsidise energy.”

CADEP’s Masi said attracting small and medium-sized industries is better for development and employment, but the maquila sector has limits. The auto parts industry, for example, is limited to producing wiring, “because there is no bilateral agreement with Brazil on the car industry,” he said.

Brazil demands that Paraguay stop imports of used automobiles, “a very high cost for Paraguay to pay,” as it has a large fleet of used Japanese vehicles known as the “Vía Chile” cars because they come into Paraguay through that neighbouring country.

The maquila industry only exported 284 million dollars worth of goods in 2015 – very little in comparison to Paraguay’s overall industrial exports of 3.0 to 3.5 billion dollars, said Masi.

Industrialisation in Paraguay “has taken off, but not at the fast pace that was expected,” he said, adding that improving energy and logistics infrastructure could help.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Interoceanic Canal Bogged Down in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 23:58:54 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144534 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/feed/ 1 Agroindustry Provides Jobs, Better Living Standards in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/agroindustry-provides-jobs-better-living-standards-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroindustry-provides-jobs-better-living-standards-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/agroindustry-provides-jobs-better-living-standards-in-paraguay/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 01:51:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144364 Chemical engineer Negumi Kosaka has been training for over a year, learning to manage each stage of the production of soybean oil and soymeal in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) in the industrial park in Villeta, Paraguay. Her parents, Japanese immigrants, grow soybeans in another region in this country, which is taking steps towards industrialisation with projects like this one. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Chemical engineer Negumi Kosaka has been training for over a year, learning to manage each stage of the production of soybean oil and soymeal in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) in the industrial park in Villeta, Paraguay. Her parents, Japanese immigrants, grow soybeans in another region in this country, which is taking steps towards industrialisation with projects like this one. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VILLETA, Paraguay , Mar 26 2016 (IPS)

“I worked in many companies, in construction, fertilisers, chemicals, but none of them were as good as this one,” said Dario Cardozo, who works in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) grain reception facility.

The way he is treated by the owners and managers – “very educated people” – the better wages and the good working environment are the advantages stressed by the 32-year-old father of two – a veteran among the young people who work with him receiving and monitoring the trucks that come from the Paraguayan countryside laden with soybeans to be turned into oil and soymeal.

“We’re the face of CAIASA,” he told IPS, describing his job at the entrance to the complex, the biggest soybean crushing plant in Paraguay. Keeping things moving quickly as 500 trucks – the average traffic during harvest season – a day come in to unload their cargo is an important task, he said, because “for truckers, time is gold.”

Hired by the company after the plant began to operate in 2013 in Angostura, he has been able to build a house in a new neighbourhood of Villeta, where the plant is located in the industrial park on the banks of the Paraguay river. The home is modest, and unfinished: it still needs plaster and paint.

“We used to live with my father-in-law, but he died,” said Cardozo’s wife Lourdes Ramírez, who is happy about the health insurance and other benefits offered by CAIASA. “The bus brings my husband to the two-lane avenue” a few hundreds of metres away, “but when it rains they drive him all the way home,” she said, standing in front of her house.

Local shopkeeper Marina Cáceres, the owner of the La Carapegueña 2 Supermarket, told IPS that “My sales have gone up, there’s more money in the city in the past couple of years; in this block alone there are three CAIASA employees.” The La Carapegueña 1 Supermarket, “which belongs to my father-in-law”, is at the entrance to the city, she said.

Villeta, 45 km from Asunción, is still mainly a rural municipality. Half of its estimated 40,000 inhabitants still live in the countryside, Mayor Teodosio Gómez told IPS.

But the arrival of dozens of industrial companies, which have invested a combined total of 800 million dollars here in the last five years, is changing the landscape and living standards in this municipality in Paraguay’s Central department.

Two truck drivers rest while waiting to unload their cargo in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) soy crushing plant in Paraguay. Some 2,000 trucks haul soybeans to the plant, which receives an average of 500 trucks a day during the peak harvest season, and where it takes less than a day to unload even during the busiest periods. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two truck drivers rest while waiting to unload their cargo in the Angostura Agroindustrial Complex (CAIASA) soy crushing plant in Paraguay. Some 2,000 trucks haul soybeans to the plant, which receives an average of 500 trucks a day during the peak harvest season, and where it takes less than a day to unload even during the busiest periods. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Besides CAIASA, which is a joint venture between two global agribusiness giants, the U.S. Bunge and France’s Louis Dreyfus, another U.S.-based food corporation, ADM, has also set up an agroindustrial plant in the municipality, which is attractive because of its location where the Paraguay river narrows and deepens enough to handle large barges with a cargo capacity of over 2,000 tons.

The result is “low unemployment and violent crime levels,” said the mayor. Besides creating direct jobs, the industries have generated a market for different services and locally produced foods.

The town, founded in 1714 around a river port, where mainly oranges were shipped out, is now at the centre of a diversified economy which includes stockbreeders and small farmers, and is becoming “the industrial capital of Paraguay,” said Gómez.

A skilled local workforce is taking shape through training, of workers, technicians and managers, to prepare them to work in the new industrial plants.

Megumi Kosaka, a 28-year-old chemical engineer, has been in training for the past 15 months, learning to manage any sector of CAIASA, from the reception of soybeans, quality control, the furnace and water treatment to the production of soymeal, oil, and soybean husk pellets.

She is learning all of this “in theory and in practice,” sometimes filling in for the manager of a section for several days or weeks. “For me it’s great – I see all of the operations, I learn everything, I have the chance to work with a wide range of professionals,” she told IPS.

Her favourite area, however, is production. “The machines are like living things, which with small differences in what we do produce something different, in terms of the quality of the sub-product,” Kosaka said.

“If we dry them too much, the soybeans crack, they don’t produce as much oil as possible; you have to know the exact level of moisture…it’s interesting to see the changes, what works best,” she said.

Villeta Mayor Teodosio Gómez, seen here in his office, says his municipality will be the industrial capital of Paraguay, thanks to its location on the Paraguay river and its flourishing industrial park, just 45 km from Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Villeta Mayor Teodosio Gómez, seen here in his office, says his municipality will be the industrial capital of Paraguay, thanks to its location on the Paraguay river and its flourishing industrial park, just 45 km from Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Kosaka already worked in a small soy crushing plant. “In a big one like CAIASA they pay me a better salary to learn more; later I’ll pay them back for what I learned, with my work.”

Her long-term dream is to open a factory in Colonia Iguazú, where her parents and 200 other Japanese families live, in southeast Paraguay, near the border with Brazil. Like 90 percent of the country’s soy producers, farmers there grow soy but do not process it.

A crushing plant would generate skilled jobs and would make it possible for young people who study to stay in the area. Today, with no chance of finding a decent job, “they leave,” Kosaka said.

“The question of human resources is extremely important in Paraguay, and CAIASA made an intelligent decision to train local people, which is a slow process,” said Julio Fleck, head of production in CAIASA, who was in charge of selecting workers and technicians for training, to form a payroll of 200 people.

Workers from other fields, people from the world of business and trade, and some local mechanics and electricians were selected. “We sent them to Argentina for training,” said Fleck, who was involved in the construction of the complex since 2012.

“I come from a different school,” he told IPS, referring to his previous job in the Colonias Unidas Cooperative in southern Paraguay, which is dedicated to diversified agriculture and has a small factory that produces cooking oil from different raw materials.

In CAIASA, he said, he found the “focus” he was seeking, “the big industry where I can learn more in-depth know-how,” to reach maximum productivity. “The good thing in CAIASA is that it offers an opportunity for improvement in a modern, new industry with a high level of mechanisation. But it requires the setting of priorities among the many fronts that must be attended.”

A barge makes its way down the Paraguay river, one of South America’s most important rivers, past the town of Villeta, which has several public and private ports and an industrial park that has become the hub of agroindustry in Paraguay, focused on processing soy, of which this small country is one of the world’s leading exporters. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A barge makes its way down the Paraguay river, one of South America’s most important rivers, past the town of Villeta, which has several public and private ports and an industrial park that has become the hub of agroindustry in Paraguay, focused on processing soy, of which this small country is one of the world’s leading exporters. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One priority was the fuel to fire the furnace. The fact that there is little demand in Paraguay for soybean husk pellets, a sub-product of soy, and that they are not export quality, helped lead to their choice as a fuel, since the idea was to avoid the use of fossil fuels.

But the excess ashes generated by the burning of the pellets hurt the productivity of the furnace, driving up maintenance costs. For this reason, wood chips continued to be used as well, a sustainable option, since the companies that provide them are certified as deforestation-free.

The challenge is how to boost the productivity of the furnace with these two raw materials, said Fleck, a 44-year-old chemical engineer who described himself as obsessed with competitiveness. Logistics, for example, affects Paraguayan soy and its by-products in terms of competition with neighbouring Argentina, which is closer to the markets abroad.

As Paraguay is surrounded by two giant soybean producers, Argentina and Brazil, the expansion of CAIASA depends on what those competitors do, he said.

The truckers, who make up the biggest group of workers among those linked to CAIASA, say the company brought them better pay in the past, but that this has changed since global soy prices plunged.

“I used to earn between eight and nine million guaranis (between 1,400 and 1600 dollars) a month; now I’m earning just 3,500 (615 dollars),” complained Mario Ortellano in the CAIASA parking lot, while waiting to unload the soybeans in his truck.

But the alternative for this 41-year-old who has driven a truck for 13 years is to return to his hometown of Villa Rica, 160 km from Asunción, and to a job as a machine and forklift operator, earning just the minimum wage, 315 dollars a month.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Soy Fuels Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 21:45:30 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144324 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/feed/ 1 Argentina’s ‘Shale Capital’ Suffers from Slowdownhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/argentinas-shale-capital-suffers-from-slowdown/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-shale-capital-suffers-from-slowdown http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/argentinas-shale-capital-suffers-from-slowdown/#comments Sat, 19 Mar 2016 05:34:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144242 Añelo, a Patagonian town in southwest Argentina that experienced explosive growth because it is next to the country’s biggest shale oil and gas field, is now starting to feel the impact on the development of these resources due to the plunge in international oil prices. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Añelo, a Patagonian town in southwest Argentina that experienced explosive growth because it is next to the country’s biggest shale oil and gas field, is now starting to feel the impact on the development of these resources due to the plunge in international oil prices. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Mar 19 2016 (IPS)

The dizzying growth of Añelo, a town in southwest Argentina, driven by the production of shale oil and gas in the Vaca Muerta geological reserve, has slowed down due to the plunge in global oil prices, which has put a curb on local development and is threatening investment and employment.

Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq-km geological reserve rich in unconventional fossil fuels in the province of Neuquén, began to be exploited in mid-2013 by the state-run oil company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF) in a joint venture with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“We had an interesting growth boom thanks to the strategic development plan that we were promoting, to get all of the oil services companies to set up shop in Añelo. That really boosted our growth, and helped our town to develop,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS.

The population of this town located 100 km from the provincial capital, Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonian region, rose twofold from 3,000 to 6,000.

And that is not counting the large number of machinists, technicians, engineers and executives of the oil companies who rotate in and out of the area, along with the truckers who haul supplies to the Loma Campana oilfield eight km from Añelo.

“There were around 10 services companies operating in Añelo; now we have about 50, and some 160 agreements signed for other companies to come here,” the mayor said.

The shale gas and oil in Vaca Muerta has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

Loma Campana, where there are 300 active wells producing unconventional gas and oil after a total investment of three billion dollars, currently produces 50 billion barrels per day of oil, according to YPF figures.

The shale oil and gas industry has fuelled heavy public investment in Añelo and nearby towns. The population of this town is expected to reach 25,000 in the next 15 years.

“We’re building two schools and a hospital,” Díaz told IPS. “The primary and secondary schools have been expanded. We are making town squares and a new energy substation. We built a water treatment plant and have improved the sewage service. In terms of public works we have really done a great deal, keeping our eyes on our goal: growth.”

But the expansion of the town has also brought problems.

The mayor pointed out, for example, that rent for a two-bedroom housing unit has climbed from 33 dollars to 100 dollars a month, and that a plot of land that previously was worth 1,700 dollars cannot be purchased now for less than 130,000 dollars.

“Those are abrupt changes brought by the oil industry,” Díaz said. “What us old-time residents of Añelo have suffered the most is the social impact of all of this movement, of so much vehicle traffic, so many people, which brings insecurity and other things that are typical of development in general.”

New complications

People in Añelo are now worried that despite the costs they are paying for the development boom, the promised progress will not arrive.

On Mar. 4, the outgoing president of YPF, Miguel Galuccio, announced in a conference with international investors that the cutbacks in the industry in 2016 would be reflected in slower progress in Vaca Muerta.

Workers in Loma Campana, a field with 300 shale oil wells in Vaca Muerta. The decision to slow down the development of unconventional fossil fuels in Argentina has led to lay-offs in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Workers in Loma Campana, a field with 300 shale oil wells in Vaca Muerta. The decision to slow down the development of unconventional fossil fuels in Argentina has led to lay-offs in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

In 2015, the company’s revenues shrank 49 percent, while investment grew less than four percent, below previous levels.

The costs of producing shale gas and oil, which requires an expensive technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, are not competitive in a context where international oil prices are hovering between 30 and 40 dollars a barrel.

In Argentina, the cost of extraction in conventional wells stands at 25 to 30 dollars a barrel, and in unconventional wells at around 70 dollars a barrel, oil industry experts report.

But the internal price of a barrel in Vaca Muerta is regulated at 67.5 dollars and in the rest of the country’s oilfields at 54.9 percent – an artificial price established to shore up the oil industry’s expansion plans, especially in this part of the country, although at a slower pace now.

YPF announced that in Vaca Muerta, it would cut oil production costs by 15 percent, which has led to lay-offs.

“The situation is very complicated,” said Díaz, who estimated that there will be 1,000 more unemployed people in the province, added to those who have already lost their jobs. “A reduction in activity,” has already been seen, he said, and “people are working fewer hours” and wages have fallen, which has a social impact, he added.

Oil worker unions in Vaca Muerta say 1,000 people have been laid off so far in the industry, as well as 1,000 in other areas.

Eduardo Toledo, an agricultural technician who decided to move from Buenos Aires to Añelo and invest his savings in a restaurant, is worried about the slowdown in oil industry activity in Vaca Muerta.

“When we started, we had just one stove with three burners and an oven,” said Toledo, whose customers are truck drivers, factory workers and other oil industry employees who have been drawn to this area by the relatively high wages paid by the industry.

Like Toledo, many people invested in hotels, rental housing, shops and small-scale service businesses. “Everyone wanted to come to what was going to be the shale gas and oil capital,” he said.

But now his restaurant is working at a “mid to low level of activity.”

“If people know they’re going to lose their jobs, they don’t want to spend money,” he said.

Toledo is still confident that interest in shale gas and oil will keep things moving, despite the plummeting prices.

In Vaca Muerta, 77 percent of the proven shale reserves are gas.

Besides, “there are major gas resources that have not yet become reserves,” Ignacio Sabbatella, who holds a PhD in social sciences from the University of Buenos Aires and is the co-author of the book “History of a privatization; How and why the YPF was lost”, told IPS. (YPF was renationalised in 2012.)

But experts and local residents are taking a long-term view.

Sabbatella stressed that it is important to keep in mind that beyond the current international oil price swings, the investments in Vaca Muerta “will yield fruit in the long term” – in five to 10 years.

He pointed out that shale oil and gas production only got underway in the area in 2011, “and especially after the recovery of state control of YPF, in a joint venture with transnational corporations like Chevron.”

YPF, Argentina’s biggest company, was in private hands from 1992 to 2012, when the government of Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) decided to renationalise it.

Sabbatella said the announced cutbacks in YPF have coincided with an overall “shift in policy” since the arrival to the presidency on Dec. 10 of the centre-right Mauricio Macri, who ended a period of centre-left governments under Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and later his wife and successor, Fernández.

“The previous government did everything possible to sustain the levels of investment, exploration and production, even in an unfavourable international context, and what we are seeing is that this government is only halfway maintaining that policy and is even pushing YPF to cut its investments,” said Sabbatella.

“The current administration believes that the best thing is to adjust domestic oil industry policy to external conditions. In a context of low prices, they believe the best idea is to not sustain domestic investment, and they have even shown some illustrations of this, by importing cheaper crude and fuel from abroad, for example,” he said.

But Toledo prefers to be optimistic, because otherwise, he said, “I have to close my restaurant.”

“I can’t afford to go somewhere else and I’m not interested anyway because it’s hard to set down roots again in a place like this.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Rural Community Fights a Second Dam and a New Expropriation of Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land/#comments Tue, 08 Mar 2016 18:01:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144124 Part of the rural municipality of Chicoasén to be flooded by the second dam built in that area, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A large part of the local peasant farmers are fighting the new hydropower plant, pointing to the damages they say were caused by the Chicoasén 1 dam, built 40 years ago. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Part of the rural municipality of Chicoasén to be flooded by the second dam built in that area, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A large part of the local peasant farmers are fighting the new hydropower plant, pointing to the damages they say were caused by the Chicoasén 1 dam, built 40 years ago. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CHICOASÉN, Mexico , Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

In 1976, the construction of a hydroelectric dam destroyed farmland in the rural municipality of Chicoasén in southern Mexico. Forty years later, part of the local population is fighting a second dam, which would deprive them of more land.

“They destroyed everything,” Antonio Herrera, one local resident of this municipality in the state of Chiapas, told IPS. “The land is useless now, it’s impossible to farm it. The dam has affected our lives a great deal.”

Herrera complained that local peasant farmers have been unable to reach their land since Mexico’s state-owned power utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) granted a contract in January 2015 for the construction of the Chicoasén 2 dam on the Grijalva River. The project includes a plan to expropriate part of the ejido – formerly public land held in common by the inhabitants of a village and farmed cooperatively or individually.“We don’t have any information about the hydropower dam. We don’t know what will happen to the people who live along the riverbanks. The CFE says it has permission from the ejidatarios, but we haven’t given them permission. They are basing their arguments on a false (community) assembly, which has signatures from owners who are already dead.” -- Claudia Solís

A huge mechanical shovel digs up sand and gravel while Herrera, a member of the Chicoasén ejido committee, points to the work site in the distance, where the formerly green land is coated by brown.

The 240-MW dam, to be built at a cost of 300 million dollars, is scheduled to come onstream in July 2018.

IPS saw the environmental impact study that the CFE presented to the environment ministry. It states that the total surface area amounts to 234 hectares, 188 of which will be covered by the reservoir, located some 850 km south of Mexico City in this municipality of 5,159 people, the traditional territory of the Nahoa and Zoque indigenous peoples.

The CFE awarded the contract for the construction of the dam to a consortium of three Mexican companies and the Costa Rica-based subsidiary of the Chinese firm Sinohydro. The utility has already expropriated 69 hectares of land for the new dam. The owners of the land were paid 2,300 dollars per hectare.

In 1951, the government granted the local residents 3,400 hectares to create the ejido, which doubled in size in 1986 when they were given another 3,461 hectares. The land is owned by 460 ‘ejidatarios’ or members of the ejido, around 50 of whom have since died and passed on their land to their wives or children.

The first Chicoasén dam, 100 km from the second, expropriated land from the original ejido grant, and the second will take part of the land awarded in 1986.

When the CFE built the 2,400-MW Manuel Moreno Torres dam, better known as Chicoasén 1, in 1976, the company promised to pay for the land and provide piped water, a school and a health clinic.

But these promises were not fulfilled, the ejidatarios complain.

And now they are afraid history will repeat itself.

“We don’t have information about the hydropower dam,” Claudia Solís, the daughter of one of the ejidatarios, told IPS. “We don’t know what will happen to the people who live along the riverbanks. The CFE says it has permission from the ejidatarios, but we haven’t given them permission. They are basing their arguments on a false (community) assembly, which has signatures from owners who are already dead.”

Mainly elderly peasant farmers in Chicoasén, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who have land in an “ejido” – formerly public land that was granted to communities to farm individually or cooperatively – take part in a protest against the installation of a second hydroelectric dam in the area, which will affect their farms and their way of life. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mainly elderly peasant farmers in Chicoasén, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who have land in an “ejido” – formerly public land that was granted to communities to farm individually or cooperatively – take part in a protest against the installation of a second hydroelectric dam in the area, which will affect their farms and their way of life. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

To block construction of the new dam, local residents have held demonstrations, community elders have gone on hunger strike, and legal action has been taken.

But the ejidatarios are divided, because one group supports the new dam.

The opponents are a majority in the community and are led by a group of elders who are dedicating their last remaining energy to defending their land and their way of life, taking to the streets with their canes, their straw ‘sombreros’ and their families.

In December 2014, 62 ejidatarios brought individual lawsuits, which were admitted by a federal judge in October 2015. And in March 2015 they filed a collective lawsuit, which was accepted by another federal judge in May 2015.

But work on the dam has not been brought to a halt.

The local population grows crops like maize, pumpkin, beans, watermelon and melon, fishes in the water of the reservoir and caters to tourists who visit the area.

Chiapas, a supplier of energy

Several large-scale energy projects have been built or are planned by the government or companies in the impoverished state of Chiapas.

Four dams already operating in the state represent 45 percent of the country’s hydroelectricity. Three others also produce energy in what is Mexico’s main river basin.

Construction of the dams has left its mark on local communities and has modified the natural water regimes, led to the loss of vegetation, displaced wildlife and destroyed their habitats, environmentalists and ejidatarios told IPS during the last protest held against the dam and a visit to the affected area.

In Mexico, 13 large hydroelectric dams generate more than 10,000 MW a year, of the total 65,000 MW produced in the country. There is only one new hydropower project in the 2015-2029 National Electric System Development Programme (PRODESEN), launched in July 2015: Chicoasén 2.

The Chicoasén 2 environmental impact study says the dam will directly affect five communities in the municipality and will indirectly affect another 10. It also acknowledges that the dam, the reservoir and the hypdropower plant will hurt the landscape, wildlife and surface drainage.

“We don’t want the dam,” said Herrera, whose family includes four other ejidatarios. “The CFE doesn’t listen to us, it doesn’t take us into account.”

In 2013, the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change rejected the inclusion of Chicoasén 2 as a carbon offsetting project, under the argument that there was no clear demonstration of the emissions reduction, which the government estimated at 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Besides the key role it plays in the generation of hydropower, since the 1970s Chiapas has become increasingly important in terms of oil production, and both the state-owned oil giant Pemex and the energy ministry included new fields in the state to be explored or put to tender, in their plans in 2015.

Twenty oilfields are operating in Chiapas, with a total of 278 million barrels of oil in reserves, and an impact on 38 Zoque communities in six municipalities.

And the 2015-2019 Five-Year Plan for the Expansion of the System for the Transportation and Storage of Natural Gas includes the projected 440-km Salina Cruz-Tapachula gas pipeline between the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, to be completed in 2018, but not yet put out to tender.

A survey carried out in the state by the energy ministry on the impact of oil industry operations on other economic activities found that it hurt agriculture, tourism and archaeological sites, as well as nine large environmental areas.

“Exploration for oil has an impact on forests, water resources, and indigenous communities,” Fabio Barbosa, a professor in the economy department of the Autonomous National University of Mexico, told IPS. “The conflicts that already exist will be aggravated, but oil companies aren’t stopped by social conflicts.”

Barbosa said oil industry plans are unsustainable. “If an important well is developed, environmental disasters created in other states can be repeated,” he warned.

Mexico’s law on fossil fuels, in effect since August 2014 as part of the reform that opened up the oil and power industries to private capital, stipulates that the energy ministry must hold non-coercive negotiations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities when energy projects are to be carried out in their territories.

In addition, companies must present a social impact assessment in order to obtain a permit for their projects.

But these requisites have not been enforced in Chiapas, according to local residents and social and environmental activists.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Panama’s Expanded Canal Faces a Challenging Scenariohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/panamas-expanded-canal-faces-a-challenging-scenario/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-expanded-canal-faces-a-challenging-scenario http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/panamas-expanded-canal-faces-a-challenging-scenario/#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2016 16:44:21 +0000 Iralis Fragiel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144076 Two ships go through the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, which raise or lower vessels 16.5 metres and take 40 minutes to pass through. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

Two ships go through the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, which raise or lower vessels 16.5 metres and take 40 minutes to pass through. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

By Iralís Fragiel
PANAMA CITY, Mar 4 2016 (IPS)

When the new locks of the expanded Panama Canal begin operations, they will do so amidst numerous challenges, because of the storm clouds hanging over the global economy, especially China. But local authorities and experts are not worried about the possible impact on the expanded canal.

The slowdown in the Chinese economy, the second largest client of the Panama Canal, transporting 48.42 million tons in 2015, is one of the factors causing concern regarding this motor of the Panamanian economy, which last grew six percent, the highest rate in Latin America.

But the start of operations of the expanded canal, due in May or June, does not worry Luis Ferreira, spokesman for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), an autonomous government agency.“When there were economic problems in the past, we would lose basically two to three percent of the cargo; the same thing might happen this time, but we don’t expect a substantial decrease, unless there is an all-out recession in China.” – Luis Ferreira

“When there were economic problems in the past, we would lose basically two to three percent of the cargo; the same thing might happen this time, but we don’t expect a substantial decrease, unless there is an all-out recession in China,” he said in an interview with IPS.

In 2015, China’s GDP grew 6.9 percent, compared to 7.3 percent in 2014, confirming the slowdown after years of double-digit growth.

The expansion of the 80-km canal, which turned 100 years old in 2014 and which handles approximately five percent of global trade, involved an investment of 5.25 billion dollars. Work began on Sep. 3, 2007.

With this megaproject, carried out by Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the consortium led by Spanish construction firm Sacyr, Panama hopes to increase daily ship traffic from 35- 40 to 48-51.

The canal will also be able to accommodate larger vessels. Currently, it can only handle ships with a cargo capacity of up to 5,000 tons, but once the expansion is complete New Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 13,000 tons will be able to go through the canal.

For Panama’s productive sectors, the expansion of the canal holds out the promise of economic growth.

The ACP’s team of experts in foreign trade told IPS that the weakening of the global economy in 2015 did not affect the canal, and that no impact is expected this year either.

“The volumes of raw materials heading for China for industrial use, such as coal and iron ore, are not significant (for the canal), since there are closer sources in Australia and Brazil, which do not use the waterway,” the ACP experts stated in their collective response to IPS.

Meanwhile, the volumes of grains, especially soy, grew at a strong pace in the last few years, due to the rising demand for food in China.

The experts also said the expansion “will open up new opportunities for trade flows of non-traditional products, such as liquefied natural gas, and will offer economies of scale that will make the Panama Canal route more attractive for segments such as container vessels and dry bulk cargo ships.”

The new locks in Cocolí, on the Pacific Ocean, have 16 rolling gates. Each chamber is 427 metres long by 55 metres wide and 18.3 metres deep. The expanded Panama Canal will be able to handle New Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 13,000 tons, up from the current 5,000 ton limit. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

The new locks in Cocolí, on the Pacific Ocean, have 16 rolling gates. Each chamber is 427 metres long by 55 metres wide and 18.3 metres deep. The expanded Panama Canal will be able to handle New Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 13,000 tons, up from the current 5,000 ton limit. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

Cargo tonnage by origin and destination has remained steady over the last three years, according to the ACP. The United States remains the largest client of the canal, with a total cargo of 160.78 million tons in 2015.

The cargo traded between the two leading clients reflects this stability. From China to the United States, 10.37 million tons were shipped through the canal in 2013, 10.96 million in 2014 and 10.91 million in 2015. And from the United States to China, 24.95 million tons were shipped in 2013, 30.77 million in 2014 and 30.20 million in 2015.

Given the economic outlook in China and changes in the energy sources used, the ACP is also getting ready for traffic of liquefied natural gas carriers.

“An incursion into new areas of business that reinforce the transportation and logistics industries is being evaluated, such as the case of the Corozal port and the creation of a logistics park that would complement the operations of the expanded canal,” the ACP experts said.

Canal revenue totaled 2.6 billion dollars in 2015, up from 2.5 billion in 2014, and equivalent to 5.61 percent of the country’s GDP.

Jordi Prat at the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) told IPS that Panama has “a positive economic outlook but not without risks.” And in the case of the canal, the United States, which it depends on most, “is growing at a relatively strong pace,” although the vulnerability could increase if the situation in China continues to go downhill.

Prat, the IDB’s principal regional economist for Central America, said the challenge faced by this country is keeping the growth rate between six and eight percent a year, and preventing a decline in maritime trade flows, fuelled by other sources of growth.

Prat pointed out that between 2000 and 2014, the sectors that grew the most in Panama were construction (37 percent), transportation and logistics (22 percent), finance (15 percent) and public services (12 percent).

Besides the economic variables, inclusion is key to development in this Central American nation of four million people, he said.

Panama managed to reduce the poverty level from 38.3 to 25.8 percent, between 2006 and 2014, said Prat. However, inequality is reflected by the fact that 86.9 percent of the population in autonomously governed indigenous “comarcas” or counties is poor.

The IDB economist said Panama should move towards “inclusive growth, by fomenting human capital, education, and access to health and basic services, in order to boost productivity, which has not increased significantly in recent times.”

Analyst Rodrigo Noriega concurs with Prat that Panama has to seriously focus on education, training and scientific research, to bolster development.

“That is where we are limping, in education, and in corruption – these are issues that in the long term definitely hurt the Panamanian economy,” said Noriega.

He said the economy may see growth slow down in 2016 and 2017, due to external factors and the impact of the drought caused by the El El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.

“These external factors could be reducing Panama’s GDP by 2.0 to 2.5 percent a year. What I’m saying is GDP could be growing between 7.5 and 8.0 percent, instead of the current 5.0 to 5.5 percent,” he said.

But he stressed that a project such as the expansion of the canal is not something that is undertaken with a short-term view, but to address the needs of the country over the next 30 to 50 years.

“There will be two slow years, but that is actually a good thing for us because right now we have a water shortage problem. It’s best if the ship traffic isn’t so heavy, because we need to recover in terms of water supply and take baby steps to learn to handle the larger vessels,” said Noriega.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Central America Makes Uneven Progress in Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/central-america-makes-uneven-progress-in-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-makes-uneven-progress-in-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/central-america-makes-uneven-progress-in-clean-energy/#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2016 20:54:51 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144050 The Reventazón Hydroelectric Project, Costa Rica’s fifth hydropower dam, will begin to operate in the first half of this year. Credit: Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad

The Reventazón Hydroelectric Project, Costa Rica’s fifth hydropower dam, will begin to operate in the first half of this year. Credit: Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Mar 1 2016 (IPS)

Over the last decade, Central America has managed to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels for the production of electric power, while expanding coverage. But the progress made by each country varies widely.

“The question is not whether or not demand is met, but which sources we are using to generate electricity,” Diego Fernández, one of the researchers with the State of the Region Programme (PER) of the Consejo Nacional de Rectores (CONARE), which groups Costa Rica’s four public universities, told IPS.

Fernández pointed out that more and more Central Americans are connected to their national power grids. The electrification rate climbed from an average of 69 percent in 2000 to 90 percent in 2013, according to a joint study by PER and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

“The biggest advances in the region (in terms of energy) have been seen in the electricity sector,” says the October 2015 report.

However, the growth has not been uniform. In electrification, Nicaragua has only 75 percent coverage, much lower than the regional average, while coverage in Costa Rica has reached 99 percent.

The sources chosen to generate electricity are the clearest demonstration of the priorities in each country’s energy strategy.

Costa Rica is the leader in clean energy sources, which now account for 95 percent of the country’s electricity.

Meanwhile, Honduras and Nicaragua have the dirtiest power grids, with nearly half of their electricity coming from plants that run mainly on low-cost bunker fuel, which is the heavy, residual oil that is left over after gasoline, diesel and other light hydrocarbons are extracted from crude oil during the refining process. This low-quality fossil fuel has an impact on the health of local inhabitants.

The clearest evidence that decisions about electric power have a direct impact on local economies is what countries spend on oil – nations that use fossil fuels to generate electricity spend twice as much as those that rely more heavily on renewable sources.

“In countries that produce more electric power from renewable sources, like Costa Rica, the oil bill is less than five percent of GDP; in Honduras and Nicaragua, the oil bill is 12 percent,” the researcher said.

Central America, with a total population of 48 million, is a net importer of fossil fuels, which are used mainly for transportation, and to a lesser extent in power generation.

As a result, Central America’s oil bill climbed from 3.5 percent of GDP in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2014, according to statistics provided by PER and ECLAC.

But overall, expansion in electricity generation in the region between 2003 and 2014 largely involved renewables.

There are major disparities in Central America, where Costa Rica’s electricity, for example, comes almost entirely from renewable sources, while half of Nicaragua’s power comes from fossil fuels. And coal has been making a comeback. Credit: State of the Region

There are major disparities in Central America, where Costa Rica’s electricity, for example, comes almost entirely from renewable sources, while half of Nicaragua’s power comes from fossil fuels. And coal has been making a comeback. Credit: State of the Region

“Thanks to regional accords and national policies, the share of renewable energies increased….from 57 to 64 percent,” Víctor Hugo Ventura, the head of ECLAC’s Energy and Natural Resources Unit, told IPS.

The Guatemalan expert said the region still puts a priority on hydroelectricity, but medium and large-scale projects are blocked and delayed by opposition from social and environmental activists.

However, it is difficult to generalise about the region in terms of electricity production, because of the differences between the countries.

Guatemala, for example, increased the share of renewable energy from 50.7 to 56.1 percent of its energy mix between 2009 and 2014, according to ECLAC, but it continues to invest in coal-fired power stations, the most highly polluting form of energy.

A coal plant belonging to Jaguar Energy Guatemala, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Ashmore Energy International, began to operate in Guatemala in 2014. Built at an estimated cost of 750 million dollars, it has an installed capacity of 300 MW, and is now the country’s biggest power plant.

However, Ventura said the plant does not necessarily mean the country intends to increase its dependence on coal. He argued that it was the result of a misguided decision taken when the price of oil skyrocketed in 2007. “Problems with the generators forced it to stop operating, and it is currently not producing electricity. Sometimes what’s cheap turns out to be expensive,” he said.

The ECLAC expert predicted a rise in consumption of natural gas, another fossil fuel, over the next decade in Central America.

But for years, this region, made up of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, has been urged to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Overall, the region has responded, although it has not stopped installing power stations that run on coal and bunker fuel, drawing criticism in reports by international bodies.

“The outlook has been very positive for wind power, whose capacity has grown by a factor of nearly 10 so far this millennium,” states the joint PER/ECLAC report.

Three countries have large wind power farms: Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua, wind energy represented 14.8 percent of the country’s energy production in 2013.

These unconventional sources also make it possible to bring electricity to isolated rural areas, where community organisation plays a major role.

“We can mention several cases of solar panel projects, where the installation and maintenance has been put in the hands of local women sent for training to India,” said Ventura from the subregional ECLAC office in Mexico.

He said the countries of Central America must take climate change and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions into account in their long-term plans.

“Climate change represents major challenges for the region, where the effects and impacts of this phenomenon also have to be taken into consideration in terms of renewable resources and capacity to generate less polluting forms of energy,” Alejandra Sobenes, a lawyer who is an expert on sustainability, told IPS.

Sobenes, a former Guatemalan deputy minister of natural resources, said her country has recognised the need to take measures to prevent electricity shortages after 2026.

“But the commitment to reduce our emissions by at least 11.2 percent, or 22.6 percent in a more ambitious scenario, must be kept in mind, and the use of coal should be reconsidered,” she said from the Guatemalan capital.

Another problem is the variability of the most accessible clean energy sources: wind and the sun.

“In the case of solar and wind energy, the insertion of renewable sources in the region’s energy mix has been facilitated a great deal, but with one problem: these sources are variable,” Javier Orozco, director of electrical planning in the Costa Rican power utility, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, told IPS.

Each country gets around this variability as best it can. One strategy is to turn to geothermal energy, which is abundant and relatively untapped in the region. Another alternative is to build enormous reservoirs to release water when sun or wind are in short supply. And then there is the option of burning fossil fuels.

“In Costa Rica we use the most adequate technological solution: hydropower dams. We store up energy, or water, and release it as needed,” said Orozco.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Argentina’s Ties with China: Pragmatism over Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentinas-ties-with-china-pragmatism-over-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-ties-with-china-pragmatism-over-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentinas-ties-with-china-pragmatism-over-politics/#comments Mon, 22 Feb 2016 21:53:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143951 An inter-urban railway car in Buenos Aires on a line that connects the Retiro neighbourhood with Tigre, in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. These Chinese-made cars are part of trade and investment accords reached by the two countries in the railway industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Model of one of the two dams under construction to harness the Santa Cruz river in the southern Argentine province of that name. The project is to cost five billion dollars, and 85 percent will be financed by China. It was granted to a consortium of Argentine and Chinese companies. Credit: Represas Patagonia

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 22 2016 (IPS)

Argentina’s new government is reviewing several major projects to be carried out jointly with China. But aside from a few changes in priorities, the administration is not expected to put the brakes on an alliance that Beijing classifies as strategic.

One of the campaign pledges of the conservative Mauricio Macri, who was sworn in as president on Dec. 10, was to revise or cancel agreements with China that he considered “lacking in transparency” or “secret”.

His centre-left predecessor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), signed a set of laws in March 2015 that gave rise to a framework agreement with China on economic cooperation and investment, strengthening relations between the two countries.

In his campaign, Macri and his associates lashed out harshly at the agreements with China. But after the excitement of the elections was over, the new government changed its tune.

“We can’t deny China’s weight in the world. It is not in Argentina’s interest to break with China,” said the new foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, describing their ties as part of “a balanced relationship with the world.”

In December, in fact, Macri used a currency swap deal (the exchange of principal and interest in one currency for the same in another) in effect with China since 2014, in the first measure he took to shore up Argentina’s foreign reserves.

And as his ambassador to Beijing he chose Diego Guelar, a diplomat who is considered one of the promoters of the alliance between China and Argentina.

“International pacts must be respected…Some believe that if we fail to honour our agreements with China, it will be well looked upon, quote unquote, by the United States and Europe,” Guelar said in an interview with the newspaper Perfil.

“But it’s quite the opposite: he who fails to honour some, does the same with others; that is, a reliable Argentina, which lives up to its international commitments and is loyal to its foreign partners, is a key factor in the credibility that we have to develop to the utmost,” he stressed.

China’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, Yang Wanming, pointed out that his country is the third-largest investor in Argentina, and that in the last five years, investments and merger and acquisition operations in Argentina have totaled 8.3 billion dollars.

Allowing these projects to go ahead “will set a good example for substantial China-Argentina cooperation in the future,” he said.

Apparently, pragmatism appears to have once more taken precedence over political rhetoric.

An inter-urban railway car in Buenos Aires on a line that connects the Retiro neighbourhood with Tigre, in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. These Chinese-made cars are part of trade and investment accords reached by the two countries in the railway industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

An inter-urban railway car in Buenos Aires on a line that connects the Retiro neighbourhood with Tigre, in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. These Chinese-made cars are part of trade and investment accords reached by the two countries in the railway industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Relations with China largely explain the years of economic growth after the 2001 crisis. Chinese investment in Latin America has grown significantly since around 2009,” Argentine academic Gonzalo Paz told IPS.

“The announcement that the accords would be reviewed was both a consequence of the election campaign and of the need for a thorough study of all of the issues in the relationship, and in particular of the megaprojects that were agreed in the final stage of the previous government,” he said.

Paz, an expert in relations between East Asia and Latin America at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., believes Macri will try to expand ties with long-time partners like Italy and France, and get relations with the United States back on track.

“But a top global power like China must continue to be a key partner of Argentina,” he added.

In an interview with the Argentine-Chinese cultural magazine Dang Dai, Guelar announced that, in any case, he would review things that “were done badly or carelessly.”

“I believe the criticism of those projects will lead to changes, but not to a break in relations with China,” the director of Dang Dai, Néstor Restivo, co-author of the book “Everything you need to know about China” published by the Paidós publishing house, told IPS.

“In the future it will be essential to see what new areas of cooperation open up or what projects are developed. In other words it would be a serious mistake to only focus on the management of the projects that emerged in the previous stage, and to not have a proactive policy,” said Paz.

One of the most emblematic projects to be reviewed is the construction of the Néstor Kirchner-Jorge Cepernic Hydroelectric Complex in the province of Santa Cruz in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, for a total investment of five billion dollars, 85 percent of which is to be financed by China.

In 2013, the contract for the project was granted to the Patagonia Dams consortium headed by the Argentine companies Hidrocuyo and Electroingeniería and the Chinese firm Gezhboua Group.

The complex, which includes the construction of two dams on the Santa Cruz river, will generate 1,740 MW of electricity, which is to cover eight percent of demand in this energy-strapped country once it has been completed in 2020.

Another megaproject, agreed in November, involves the construction of two nuclear plants – the fourth and fifth in the country – with a total investment of some 15 billion dollars. More than half of the parts in the plants are to be produced domestically, and 85 percent of the financing will come from China.

The agreement includes technology transfer from China and the joint exploration of third country markets.

“I don’t think there will be any backtracking in relations with China,” and the same is true with the hydropower plant, which has already begun to be built and whose contract was assigned in an international tender, Restivo said.

“It’s the biggest construction project that China is currently involved in outside of China…if the new government believes some irregularity was committed, it will continue forward on another track, but it is virtually impossible to think of stopping the project,” he said.

With respect to the nuclear plants, Restivo thinks there may be changes, based on the new government’s strategic energy plan.

“But letters of intent have been signed, and it wouldn’t look good to backpedal in relations with China, although everything is negotiable,” said the economist.

“The Chinese would protest if they were left out of what has already been signed, but they are flexible or pragmatic enough to see how to eventually compensate for a lost business deal,” he said.

The project whose future Restivo has the greatest doubts about is the one signed in August 2015 by the two governments for the upgrade of the freight rail network that links 17 of Argentina’s 23 provinces and belongs to the public railroad company Belgrano Cargas y Logística.

The agreement involves a first tranche of financing from China of 2.4 billion dollars, and a second of 2.47 billion, and foresees the transport of Argentine and Brazil agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

One of the casualties of the new government’s wave of dismissals of public employees was the payroll of the company Fabricaciones Militares, which had been commissioned to build some 1,000 rail cars, with more than 80 percent nationally-made parts – a key component in the reconstruction of the local railway industry.

“It’s quite possible that now we won’t be able to count any more on the part that interests me the most – for agreements with China to industrialise Argentina and not only serve Chinese interests,” Restivo said.

Above and beyond these uncertainties, ambassador Yang Wanming hopes for more: “To promote a higher level in the strategic integral alliance” between Beijing and Buenos Aires.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Energy from All Sources, a Game of Chance in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 00:33:40 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143718 An industrial sugar and ethanol plant in Sertãozinho, in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo. The sugar cane industry in Brazil has shrunk under the government of Dilma Rousseff, due to the gasoline subsidy, which dealt a blow to its competitor, ethanol. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An industrial sugar and ethanol plant in Sertãozinho, in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo. The sugar cane industry in Brazil has shrunk under the government of Dilma Rousseff, due to the gasoline subsidy, which dealt a blow to its competitor, ethanol. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 28 2016 (IPS)

Brazil, which boasts that it has one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, is now plagued by corruption, poor market conditions, and bad decisions – a near fatal combination.

Brazil’s energy mix is made up of 42 percent renewable sources, three times the global average.

But the country also hopes to become a major oil exporter, thanks to the 2006 discovery of the “pre-salt” wells – huge reserves of crude under a thick layer of salt far below the surface, 300 km from the coast.

Megaprojects involving the construction of refineries and petrochemical plants, dozens of shipyards that mushroomed up and down the coast, and the dream of turning the new oil wealth into a better future lost their charm in the face of the corruption scandal that broke out in 2014, revealing the embezzlement of billions of dollars from the state oil giant Petrobras.

Nearly 200 people are facing charges in the scandal for paying or receiving kickbacks for inflated contracts. Around 50 of them are politicians, most of them still active members of Congress.

The heads of the country’s biggest construction companies were arrested, which dealt a blow to the real estate market and major infrastructure works nationwide.

The investigations took on momentum when over 30 of those facing prosecution struck plea bargain deals, agreeing to cooperate in exchange for shorter sentences.

The scandal is one of the main elements in the economic and political crisis shaking the country, which saw an estimated drop in GDP of more than three percent in 2015, rising inflation, a dangerously high fiscal deficit, a threat of impeachment hanging over President Dilma Rousseff and chaos in parliament.

Besides the corruption scandal, Petrobras has been hit hard by the collapse of oil prices, which has threatened its investment in the pre-salt reserves, and by the losses it accumulated during years of government fuel-price controls.

The government took advantage of Petrobras’ monopoly on refining to curb inflation by means of price controls, mainly for gasoline.

But the oil company scandal, which broke out after the October 2014 elections in which Rousseff was reelected, fuelled the growth of inflation, to over 10 percent today.

With Petrobras in financial crisis and selling off assets to pay down its debt, none of the four planned refineries has been completed according to plan. The only one that was finished is operating at only half of the planned capacity.

Most of the shipyards, which were to supply the oil drilling rigs, offshore platforms and tankers involved in the production of pre-salt oil, have gone under, and the government’s plans to build a strong naval industry have floundered.

The priority put on oil production, to the detriment of the fight against climate change, along with subsidised gasoline prices dealt a major blow to ethanol, which was enjoying a new boom since the emergence in 2003 of the flexible fuel vehicle, specially designed to run on gasoline or ethanol or a blend of the two.

The innovative new technology revived consumer confidence in ethanol, which had been undermined in the previous decade due to supply shortages. With the flex-fuel cars, consumers no longer had to depend on one kind of fuel and could choose whichever was cheaper at any given time.

The use of ethanol, which is consumed in nearly the same quantities as gasoline in Brazil, broke the monopoly of fossil fuels, making a decisive contribution to the rise in the use of renewable energies.

But gasoline price subsidies drove many ethanol plants into bankruptcy and led to the sale of one-third of the sugarcane industry to foreign investors. Many local companies, facing financial disaster, sold their sugar mills and distilleries to transnational corporations like Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus and Tereos.

Brazil has practically given up on the idea of creating an international market for ethanol, after initially encouraging consumption and production of the biofuel made from sugarcane. Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was very active in this campaign, unlike his successor Rousseff.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and is set to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and is set to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Hydroelectricity

Another decisive factor in achieving a more renewables-heavy energy mix is the predominance of hydroelectricity in the generation of electric power. In recent years, wind power has grown fast, and the use of biomass from sugarcane bagasse has also expanded, although to a lesser extent.

But the construction of giant hydropower dams in the Amazon jungle, such as Belo Monte on the Xingú River, has drawn strong opposition from indigenous communities and environmentalists, which, along with legal action by the public prosecutor’s office, has brought work on Belo Monte to a halt dozens of times.

As a result, work on the dam has been delayed by over a year. One of the latest legal rulings suspended the plant’s operating permit, and could block the filling of the reservoirs, which was to start in March this year.

When the plant comes fully onstream in 2019, Belo Monte will have an installed capacity of 11,233 MW. But during the dry season, when water levels in the river are low, it will generate almost no electric power. The flow of water in the Xingú River varies drastically, and the reservoir will not store up enough water to fuel the turbines during the dry months.

The dam has come under harsh criticism, even from advocates of hydropower, such as physicist José Goldemberg, a world-renowned expert on energy.

The controversy surrounding Belo Monte threatens the government’s plans for the Tapajós River, to the west of the Xingú River – the new hydroelectric frontier in the Amazon. For the last two years, the Rousseff administration has been trying to find investors to build and operate the São Luiz del Tapajós dam, which would generate 8,040 MW of electricity.

The presence of the Munduruku indigenous community along that stretch of the river and in the area of the São Luiz dam has stood in the way of the environmental licensing process.

The diversity of sources in Brazil’s energy mix, lessons learned from earlier negative experiences, and the complexity of the integrated national grid make decisions on energy almost a game of chance in this country.

Hydroelectric dams built in the Amazon rainforest in the 1980s, like Tucuruí and Balbina, caused environmental and social disasters that tarnished the reputation of hydropower. Belo Monte later threw up new hurdles to the development of this source of energy.

Another alternative source, nuclear energy, also brought negative experiences. Completion of the country’s second nuclear plant, still under construction in Angra dos Reis, 170 km from Rio de Janeiro, has long been delayed.

It formed part of a series of eight nuclear power plants that the military decided to build, during the 1964-1985 dictatorship, signing an agreement in 1975 with Germany, which was to provide technology and equipment.

Economic crisis brought the programme to a halt in the 1980s. One of the plants was completed in 2000 and the other is still being built, because the equipment had already been imported over 30 years ago. The final cost overruns will be enormous.

For the government and the different sectors involved in policy-making in the energy industry, giving up hydropower is unthinkable.

But the advances made in wind power, new energy storage technologies, and especially the reduction of costs in the production of solar power increase the risk of making large hydropower dams, which are built to operate for over a hundred years, obsolete.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Hydropower at Front and Centre of Energy Debate in Chile, Once Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:09:26 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143702 General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2016 (IPS)

The Chilean government’s approval of a hydroelectric dam in the Patagonia wilderness has rekindled the debate on the sustainability and efficiency of large-scale hydropower plants and whether they contribute to building a cleaner energy mix.

“Hydroelectricity can be clean and viable, but we believe every kind of energy should be developed on a human scale, and must be in accordance with the size and potential of local communities,” Claudia Torres, spokeswoman for the Patagonia Without Dams movement, told IPS.

She added that “there are different reasons that socioenvironmental movements like ours are opposed to mega-dams: because of the mega-impacts, and because of the way this energy is used – to meet the needs of the big mining corporations that are causing an environmental catastrophe in the north of the country.”

The movements fighting the construction of large dams in the southern Patagonian region of Aysén suffered a major defeat on Jan. 18, when the plan for the 640 MW Cuervo dam was approved.

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of the country’s electric power, respectively.

Of Chile’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas. The country is seeking to drastically reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, to cut costs and to meet its climate change commitments.

Large-scale hydropower provides 20 percent of the country’s electricity, while 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind and solar power, mini-dams and biomass.

Chile has enormous potential in unconventional renewable sources. In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewables by 2050.

In terms of water resources, Chile has 6,500 km of coastline, 11,452 square km of lakes, and innumerable rivers.

Aysén, in the extreme south of the country, has abundant water resources – fast-flowing rivers, numerous lakes, and distinctive lagoons. General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America after Bolivia’s Titicaca, is found in that region.

To generate hydroelectricity, the authorities and investors have their eyes on the wild rivers of Patagonia, a remote, untamed, unspoiled and sparsely populated wilderness area at the far southern tip of Chile.

But vast segments of civil society reject large hydropower dams, which they consider obsolete and a threat to the environment and to local communities.

However, Professor Matías Peredo, an expert on hydropower at the University of Santiago de Chile, says that thanks to the country’s abundant water resources, hydroelectricity is “one of the energy sources with the greatest potential for development.”

“It’s always good to diversify the energy mix, and well-managed hydroelectricity is quite sustainable,” he told IPS.

The expert argued that a properly managed hydropower dam “is better from an environmental and social point of view than a string of small dams that together provide the same number of MW of electric power.”

Ensuring that a hydroelectricity plant is well-managed means avoiding major fluctuations, Peredo said.

“Hydropower generation in Chile depends on demand and the plant’s load capacity….In other words, the plant can only operate with prior authorisation from the Superintendencia de Electricidad y Combustibles (the country’s power regulator), and depending on the availability of water,” he said.

“This combination means the hydroelectric plant operates on and off, thus generating large fluctuations in flow, which is a major stress for the ecosystem,” he said.

The law to reform the energy industry and foment unconventional renewable sources includes in this category hydropower dams of up to 20 MW – in other words, mini-dams.

Environmental organisations like Ecosistemas maintain that large hydroelectric dams have extremely negative social and environmental impacts.

These include the flooding of large areas of land, which destroys flora and fauna, and the modification of rivers, which causes bioecological damage.

And the negative social impacts of large dams are proportional to the multiple environmental impacts, displacing millions of people: between 40 and 80 million people were forcibly evicted for the construction of large dams worldwide between 1945 and 2000, according to the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

“It is important to diversify the energy mix, for local use, with good support, clean energy sources, and considerably fewer impacts, while strengthening consumption and development in the territories,” said Torres, the Patagonia Without Dams activist, from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region.

“Decentralised power generation is key” to moving forward in terms of clean, sustainable energy, she said, adding that the people of Aysén are seeking to expand the use if wind, solar and tidal power in the region.

Peredo agreed that the decentralisation of power generation is of strategic importance.

“Distributed generation (power generation at the point of consumption) must without a doubt be discussed in this country. It makes a lot of sense for electricity to be produced locally,” he said.

In 2014 the Patagonia Without Dams movement won a major victory when the government cancelled the HidroAysén project, which would have built five large hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Aysén to generate a combined total of 2,700 MW of energy.

But now the movement was dealt a blow, with the approval by a special Committee of Ministers of the construction of the Cuervo dam – a decision that can only be blocked by a court decision.

The project, developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture between the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy, would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, for a total investment of 733 million dollars.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable and an aerial submarine power line, to connect to the central grids.

The controversy over the plant has heated up because it would be built in the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

“It poses an imminent risk to the local population,” Torres warned.

Peredo said “the project was poorly designed from the start, and will not be managed well.”

“They failed to take into consideration important aspects, such as the connection of the Yulton and Meullín rivers at some point, which could have disastrous consequences for the ecosystem,” he said.

Opponents of the dam say they will go to the courts and apply social and political pressure, in a year of municipal elections.

“We have one single aim: to keep any dams from being built in Patagonia, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Torres said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Innovative Project to Provide Renewable Energy 24/7 to Chilean Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2016 16:52:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143604 The fishing village of Caleta San Marcos in northern Chile, 100 km from Iquique and 1,800 km north of Santiago, will be the site of an innovative project, Espejo de Tarapacá, that will combine renewable sources to provide the local residents with a steady 24/7 energy supply. Courtesy Valhalla Energía

The fishing village of Caleta San Marcos in northern Chile, 100 km from Iquique and 1,800 km north of Santiago, will be the site of an innovative project, Espejo de Tarapacá, that will combine renewable sources to provide the local residents with a steady 24/7 energy supply. Courtesy Valhalla Energía

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 15 2016 (IPS)

A novel energy project in Chile will combine a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant operating on seawater and a solar plant, to provide a steady supply of clean energy to a fishing village in the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest.

The idea may seem unlikely, given the extreme aridity and lack of water in northern Chile, where copper, gold and silver mining corporations use most of the water and energy consumed.

But the initiative has drawn the interest of local and foreign investors. And in 2015 it won the Avonni National Innovation Award granted by the Chilean Innovation Forum, the National TV Station TVN, El Mercurio – the country’s largest newspaper – and the Economy Ministry.

“Nowhere in the world have they managed to offer clean energy 24/7 at competitive prices, without subsidies,” said Juan Andrés Camus, general manager and one of the two founders of Valhalla Energía, the local company that is carrying out the project.

“The convergence of these three elements is unique, and it’s not a stroke of genius on our part but a wonderful gift of nature,” he told IPS.

The company was founded on the premise that Chile is a country that is poor in the “energies of the past, but infinitely rich in energies of the future.”

With an investment of 400 million dollars, the Espejo (Mirror) de Tarapacá will essentially operate as a big battery that will store up energy. Construction is to begin in late 2016 and it is set to come onstream in 2020.

The project includes the installation of a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant, which will pump seawater up a cliff on the coast using solar energy, to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres.

In the night-time, when no solar energy is available, the plant will generate electricity by releasing the stored water, which will rush down through the same tunnels. This will provide a steady round-the-clock supply of energy – 24 hours a day/seven days a week – overcoming the problem of intermittency of renewable energy sources.

Scale model of Espejo de Tarapacá, a renewable energy project that will take advantage of Chile’s coastal geography, with a cliff where seawater will be pumped up to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres, in the extreme north of the country. Credit: Courtesy Valhalla Energía

Scale model of Espejo de Tarapacá, a renewable energy project that will take advantage of Chile’s coastal geography, with a cliff where seawater will be pumped up to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres, in the extreme north of the country. Credit: Courtesy Valhalla Energía

El Espejo will generate 300 MW of electricity in Caleta San Marcos, in the extreme northern region of Tarapacá, 100 km south of the city of Iquique.

At the same time, the company will build Cielos de Tarapacá, a 1,650-hectare solar park in nearby Pintados that will produce 600 MW of energy, with a projected investment of nearly one billion dollars.

The solar project, which is waiting for an environmental permit, will operate with single-axis tracking technology in order to follow the sun during the day from east to west.

Camus said the solar park will be so large that “if it began to operate in 2015 it would be the biggest in the world.”

At night, the plant will continue generating solar power, thanks to the energy stored in Espejo.

The salient aspect of the two projects is that they will harness the natural attributes that Chile has in abundance: seawater, coastal cliffs, and the Atacama Desert’s solar radiation.

This will avoid the need to build dams and reduce construction of underground tunnels by up to 80 percent, according to the promoters of the project, who say it is one of the most innovative renewable energy initiatives in the world.

“More than in the technology employed, the innovation of Espejo de Tarapacá lies in the more efficient use of geography, which makes it possible to build the plant at the lowest possible cost,” said Camus.

“The big opportunity is in the efficient use of the territory, more than in the technological barrier,” he added. Chile is a long, narrow country between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east. It has 6,435 km of coast line.

Valhalla has been working closely with the people of Caleta San Marcos.

The fishing village’s 300 inhabitants, who make a living from small-scale fishing and harvesting shellfish and giant kelp, were initially wary, afraid the initiative would have a negative impact on local marine resources.

Working groups were set up to discuss things with the local community, who asked for advisers with expertise in marine issues and a lawyer to support them in technical and legal aspects.

Finally, after months of work, the company signed agreements with the local fishing union and the residents’ association pledging to make contributions to the local community. They also agreed on a set of principles to guarantee transparent management of the plant, as well as a mechanism to address problems in case damage to the sea is detected.

Aerial view of the area where the Espejo de Tarapacá project will be built, to produce 300 MW of electricity using seawater and solar energy, in an innovative plant that will generate energy 24/7 in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Valhalla Energía

Aerial view of the area where the Espejo de Tarapacá project will be built, to produce 300 MW of electricity using seawater and solar energy, in an innovative plant that will generate energy 24/7 in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Valhalla Energía

“This has been beneficial, and I hope other communities can have access to this and will be able to decide for themselves, but with information, equal opportunity, while defending their rights, so that ignorance doesn’t become a curb on development,” said Genaro Collao, president of the local fishing union of Caleta San Marcos.

“At this tipping point the decision is: I put money in your pocket or I improve your life,” he told IPS by phone from the village. “Money in my pocket is going to last one day, one week, one month. But life is an ongoing legacy, that’s the concept.”

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of total electric power, respectively.

Of the country’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas, while the rest comes from renewable energy sources – mainly large hydropower dams.

Only 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind power (4.57 percent), solar (3.79 percent), mini-dams (2.8 percent) and biomass (2.34 percent).

In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewable sources by 2050.

“Seventy percent of the greenhouse gases in Chile come from the energy sector,” Environment Minister Pablo Badenier has told IPS. “That means it is our commitments in energy that will enable us to live up to the pledge to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2030.”

“Looking at the 2050 energy road map, it appears viable that by the year 2050, 70 percent of power generation in Chile could come from renewable sources. That is what makes it possible to seriously commit to this goal regarding greenhouse gases.”

Studies indicate that Atacama has one of the highest concentrations of solar energy in the world. According to experts, the entire country could be supplied with electricity if less than 0.5 percent of the desert’s surface were covered by solar panels.

“Projects like this one could offer an opportunity by putting Chile at the forefront of development of green technology that does not require people to pay more for it,” said Camus.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Soy Boom Revives Amazon Highwayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 00:09:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143536 A local small farmer, Rosineide Maciel, watches the road improvement works on highway BR-163, which runs past her house in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A local small farmer, Rosineide Maciel, watches the road improvement works on highway BR-163, which runs past her house in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MIRITITUBA, Brazil , Jan 8 2016 (IPS)

The BR-163 highway, an old dream of the Brazilian military to colonise the Amazon jungle, was revived by agroexporters as part of a plan aimed at cutting costs by shipping soy out of river ports. But the improvement of the road has accentuated problems such as deforestation and land tenure, and is fuelling new social conflicts.

The 350-km stretch of road between the cities of Miritituba and Santarem in the northern Brazilian state of Pará look nothing like the popular image of a lush Amazon rainforest, home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world.

Between the two port terminals – in Santarém, where the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers converge, and in Miritituba on the banks of the Tapajós River – are small scattered groves of trees surrounded by endless fields of soy and pasture.

Cattle grazing peacefully or resting under the few remaining trees, taking shelter from the high temperatures exacerbated by the deforestation, are the only species of mammal in sight.“A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land.” – Mauricio Torres

“When we came here 30 years ago this was all jungle,” local small farmer Rosineide Maciel told IPS as she and her family stood watching a bulldozer flatten a stretch of the BR-163 highway in front of their modest dwelling.

Maciel doesn’t miss the days when, along with thousands of other Brazilian migrants, she was drawn here by the then-military government’s (1964-1985) offer of land, part of a strategy to colonise the Amazon rainforest.

Thanks to the paving of the highway that began in 2009, it takes less time to transport her cassava and rice to the town of Rurópolis, 200 km from her farm.

“It’s been easier since they improved the road,” she said. “In the past, there were so many potholes on the way to Rurópolis, and in the wet season it took us three days because of the mud.”

BR-163, built in the 1970s, had become practically impassable. The road links Cuiabá, the capital of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso – the country’s main soy and corn producer and exporter – with the river port city of Santarém.

Of the highway’s 1,400 kilometres, where traffic of trucks carrying tons of soy and maize is intense, some 200 km have yet to be paved, and a similar number of kilometres of the road are full of potholes.

Accidents occur on a daily basis, caused in the dry season by the red dust thrown up on the stretches that are still dirt, and in the wet season by the mud.

But compared to how things were in the past, it is a paradise for the truckers who drive the route at least five times a month during harvest time.

Truck driver Pedro Gomes from the north of the state of Mato Grosso told IPS: “When soy began to come to Santarém, three years ago, sometimes the drive took me 10 to 15 days. Today we do it in three days, if there’s no rain.”

The BR-163 highway runs up to the entrance of the port terminal built in Santarém by U.S. commodities giant Cargill, where the company loads soy and other grains to ship down the Amazon River to the Atlantic Ocean, and from there to big markets like China and Europe.

This and other ports built or planned by different companies in Santarém, Miritituba and Barcarena – in Belem, the capital of Pará, at the mouth of the Amazon River – are part of a logistics infrastructure which, along with the paving of the highway, seeks to reduce the costs of land and maritime transport in northern Brazil.

The river ports and the road improvement have nearly cut in half the transport distance for truck traffic from Mato Grosso, which is around 2,000 km from the congested ports in the southeast, such as Santos in the state of São Paulo or Paranaguá in Paraná.

The Mato Grosso Soy Producers Association estimates the transport savings at 40 dollars a ton.

“Shipping out of ports in the north like Santarém has boosted competitiveness,” José de Lima, director of planning for the city of Santarém, told IPS. “BR-163 is a key export corridor that was very much needed by the country and the region.”

But the country’s agroexport model has many critics.

Road works on highway BR-163 in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Road works on highway BR-163 in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

With the soy production boom in Pará, illegal occupations of land have expanded and property prices have soared.

“The paving of BR-163 has heated up the land market,” Mauricio Torres, at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS. “As this is happening in a region where illegal possession of land is so widespread and where there is no land-use zoning, it generates a series of social and environmental conflicts.”

This, in turn, has driven deforestation.

“Forests are cut down not only for agriculture but to make fraudulent land claims. A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land,” he said.

In 2006, the government launched a sustainable development plan for BR-163, aimed at reducing the socioenvironmental impacts caused by the paving of the road, by means of self-sustaining projects for local communities.

“But this pretty much just petered out,” UFOPA chancellor Raimunda Nogueira explained to IPS.

“If the communities along BR-163 are not strengthened, they will undergo a radical transformation,” she said. “For example, land prices are skyrocketing and small farmers are selling out, which accentuates the phenomenon of the latifundio (large landed estates).”

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon became more widespread in the 1960s, driven by the expansion of cattle ranching and the timber industry.

However, that did not leave the land completely free of vegetation, according to Nogueira, because subsistence farming “maintained different levels of regeneration of the forest.”

“When the big agricultural producers came in, they cleared all of those areas in the stage of regeneration that maintained a certain equilibrium,” said the chancellor, who estimates that around 120,000 hectares of land have been deforested to make way for soy.

Torres, meanwhile, referred to the emergence of other social problems like prostitution, involving minors as well as adults.

“There are towns in Pará that could turn into huge brothels for truck drivers,” he said.

The residents of Campo Verde, a town of around 6,000 people located 30 km from Miritituba, who depend on the production of palm hearts and on sawmills for a living, have started to feel the effects.

The town is located near the intersection of BR-163 and the 4,000-km Trans-Amazonian highway that cuts across northern Brazil.

“Only soy is going to come through here,” Celeste Ghizone, a community organiser in the town, told IPS. “An average of 1,500 trucks are expected to pass through every day. Just think of how many accidents we’re going to have with all of these truck drivers who drive through like mad men without even slowing down,” he said, adding that he is worried about rising crime and drug abuse rates.

When the improvement of BR-163 – including widening it to a four-lane highway along one major stretch – is completed, an estimated 20 million tons of grains (Mato Grosso currently produces 42 million tons) will be shipped northward to Amazon River ports rather than on the longer routes to ports in the southeast, by 2020.

The dream of agribusiness corporations is to continue expanding the soy corridor, by building a railway to Miritituba.

But Torres complained that “It’s important to stress that a paved BR-163 is not local infrastructure but is for the big soy producers of Mato Grosso. The state of Pará will become merely a transport corridor for soy exports.”

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Villagers Fight “Evil Spirit” of Hydropower Dam in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:28:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143410 Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SAWRÉ MUYBU, Brazil , Dec 21 2015 (IPS)

At dusk on the Tapajós River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River in northern Brazil, the Mundurukú indigenous people gather to bathe and wash clothes in these waters rich in fish, the staple of their diet. But the “evil spirit”, as they refer in their language to the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam, threatens to leave most of their territory – and their way of life – under water.

“The river is like our mother. She feeds us with her fish. Just as our mothers fed us with their milk, the river also feeds us,” said Delsiano Saw, the teacher in the village of Sawré Muybu, between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

“It will fill up the river, and the animals and the fish will disappear. The plants that the fish eat, the turtles, will also be gone. Everything will vanish when they flood this area because of the hydroelectric dam,” he told IPS.

The dam will flood 330 sq km of land – including the area around this village of 178 people.

According to the government’s plans, the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam will have a potential of 8,040 MW and will be the main dam in a complex of hydropower plants to be built along the Tapajós River and its tributaries by 2024.

But the 7.7 billion-dollar project has been delayed once again because of challenges to the environmental permitting process.

“The accumulative effect is immeasurable. Environmental experts have demonstrated that it will kill the river. No river can survive a complex of seven dams,” Mauricio Torres, a sociologist at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS."No river can survive a complex of seven dams.” -- Sociologist Mauricio Torres

The Tapajós River, which flows into the Amazon River, runs 871 km through one of the best-preserved areas in the subtropical rainforest, where the government whittled away at protected areas in order to build the hydroelectric dams, which are prohibited in wildlife reserves.

The area is home to 12,000 members of the Mundurukú indigenous community and 2,500 riverbank dwellers who are opposed to the “megaproject” – a Portuguese term that the native people have incorporated in their language, to use in their frequent protests.

The Mundurukú have historically been a warlike people, and although they have adopted many Brazilian customs in their way of life, they still wear traditional face paint when they go to the big cities to demonstrate against the dam.

Village chief Juarez Saw complains that they were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which has been ratified by Brazil.

The process of legalisation of their indigenous territory has been interrupted by the hydropower project.

“We aren’t leaving this land,” he told IPS. “There is a law that says we can’t be moved unless an illness is killing indigenous people.”

The village is located in a spot that is sacred to the Mundurukú people. And they point out that their ancestors were born here and are buried here.

“This is going to hurt, us, not only the Mundurukú people who have lived along the Tapajós River for so many years, but the jungle, the river. It hurts in our hearts,” said the village’s shaman or traditional healer, Fabiano Karo.

The interview is taking place in the ceremonial hut where the shaman heals “ailments of the body and spirit.” He fears being left without his traditional medicines when the water covers the land around the village – and his healing plants.

Academics warn that the flooding will cause significant losses in plant cover, while generating greenhouse gas emissions due to the decomposition of the trees and plants that are killed.

 A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS


A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This biodiversity-rich river basin is home to unique species of plants, birds, fish and mammals, many of which are threatened or endangered.

“The impact will be great, especially on the aquatic fauna, because many Amazon River basin fish migrate from the lower to the upper stretches of the rivers to spawn,” ecologist Ricardo Scuole, at the UFOPA university, explained to IPS.
“Large structures like dikes, dams and artificial barriers generally hinder or entirely block the spawning migration of these species,” he said.

The village of Sawré Muybu currently covers 300 hectares, and the flooding for the hydroelectric dam will reduce it to an island.

María Parawá doesn’t know how old she is, but she does know she has always lived on the river.

“I’m afraid of the flood because I don’t know where I’ll go. I have a lot of sons, daughters and grandchildren to raise and I don’t know how I’ll support them,” Parawá told IPS through an interpreter, because like many women in the village, she does not speak Portuguese.

A few hours from Sawré Muybu is Pimental, a town of around 800 inhabitants on the banks of the Tapajós River, where people depend on agriculture and small-scale fishing for a living.

This region was populated by migrants from the country’s impoverished semiarid Northeast in the late 19th century, at the height of the Amazon rubber boom.

Pimental, many of whose inhabitants were originally from the Northeast, could literally vanish from the map when the reservoir is created.

“With the impact of the dam, our entire history could disappear underwater,” lamented Ailton Nogueira, president of the association of local residents of Pimental.

The consortium that will build the hydroelectric dam, led by the Eletrobrás company, has proposed resettling the local inhabitants 20 km away.

But for people who live along the riverbanks, like the Mundurukú, the river and fishing are their way of life, sociologist Mauricio Torres explained.

“Their traditional knowledge has been built over millennia, passing from generation to generation,” he told IPS. “It is at least 10,000 years old. When a river is dammed and turned into a lake, it is transformed overnight and this traditional knowledge, which was how that region survived, is wiped away.”

The Tapajós River dams are seen by the government as strategic because they will provide energy to west-central Brazil and to the southeast – the richest and most industrialised part of the country.

“The country needs them. Otherwise we are going to have blackouts,” said José de Lima, director de of planning in the municipality of Santarém, Pará.

But the Tapajós Alive Movement (MTV), presided over by Catholic priest Edilberto Sena, questions the need for the dams.

“Why do they need so many hydropower dams on the Tapajós River? That’s the big question, because we don’t need them. It’s the large mining companies that need this energy, it’s the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro markets that need it,” he told IPS.

It’s evening in Sawré Muybu and the families gather at the “igarapé”, as they call the river. While people bathe, the women wash clothes and household utensils.

From childhood, boys learn to fish, hunt and provide the village with water. For the community, the river is the source of life.

“And no one has the right to change the course of life,” says Karo, the local shaman.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil’s Amazon River Ports Give Rise to Dreams and Nightmareshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 22:48:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143303 The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SANTARÉM, Brazil, Dec 11 2015 (IPS)

River port terminals in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém are considered strategic by the government. But what some see as an opportunity for development is for others an irreversible change in what was previously a well-preserved part of the Amazon rainforest.

In the evening light on the Tapajós River, whose green-blue waters mix with the darker muddy water of the Amazon River in Santarém, it’s not easy to ignore the silos that overshadow what used to be a public beach, where passenger boats and fishing vessels typical of this part of the Amazon jungle state of Pará tie up.

The port terminal of the U.S. commodities giant Cargill began to operate in 2003 as a centre for the storage, transshipment and loading of soy and corn, in this city of nearly 300,000 people.

The cargo ships and convoys of barges carrying grains are headed for the Amazon River and then the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Europe or China, the biggest markets for Brazil’s main agribusiness exports.

This country is the world’s second-largest producer of soy, after the United States, and the biggest exporter. In the 2014-2015 harvest it produced 95 million tons, 60.7 million of which were exported.

Municipal authorities argue that the river port terminals generate jobs and tax revenue, while they drive the construction and services industries, hotels and fuel supplies.

But Edilberto Sena, a Catholic priest who is the president of the Tapajós Movement Alive, holds a very different view.

“Cargill’s arrival has been a tragedy for Santarém,” he told IPS. “When they began to build the port they argued that it would bring jobs, and while they were building it did create 800 jobs. But as soon as it was completed, most of the workers were fired, and now it employs between 150 and 160 people.”

With a current capacity to export five million tons of grain, the port of Santarém was built to ease the congestion in ports in southern Brazil like Santos in the state of São Paulo, or Paranaguá in the state of Paraná.

This port and the transshipment terminal in Mirituba – 300 km to the south of Santarém – have also cut distances by land and sea for the shipment of soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest soy producer.

The installation was built by the U.S. agribusiness and food company Bunge, which was later joined by Cargill and other transnational corporations.

“These ports make Brazil more competitive,” the director of planning in the Santarém city government, José de Lima, told IPS.

As an example, he pointed out that with respect to the port in Santos, from Santarém to the port city of Shanghai, China, “the distance was cut from 24,000 km to 19,500 km, and going through the Panama Canal will reduce the cost from 159 to 147 dollars per transported ton.”

As of 2020, with an investment of around 800 million dollars, the transnational corporations project that they will export 20 million tons a year of grains through the Amazon basin.

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

Nelio Aguiar, the Santarém secretary of planning, stressed the strategic importance of these ports for the agroexport sector. “Brazil’s GDP is growing, based on agribusiness, which is supporting our economy,” he told IPS.

Most of the cargo arrives by truck, over the BR-163 highway in the process of being repaved, which ends at Cargill’s port terminal.

Currently, during the soy and corn harvest some 350 trucks a day arrive. But Lima estimates that the number will rise to 2,000 a day when other port terminals set to be built in the city are in operation.

That is what worries social organisations and academics who have fought the construction of the port.

“Because the city was not adapted to receive so much cargo traffic, it has caused disruptions and we have seen an increase in the number of accidents due to the intensification of truck traffic,” Raimunda Monteiro, the rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, told IPS.

But despite a number of lawsuits challenging the legality of the Cargill port, construction went ahead with the support of local authorities.

“It destroyed a beach in Santarém and there were also a number of indirect impacts because it attracted more soy producers, who expanded across the Santarém plan. These impacts were not foreseen in the environmental impact study,” Ibis Tapajós, a lawyer who works with social movements, told IPS.

To decongest truck traffic, the city government projects the construction of new access roads and truck parking lots outside of the city.

But there is concern about environmental effects such as contamination of the river and pollution from motor vehicle emissions and from the chemical fertilisers carried by the ships.

“The Cargill port is a clear example of the violation of socioenvironmental rights by large corporations,” said Tapajós.

The construction of at least six new port terminals in Santarém is in the study phase. Two would be next to the Cargill terminal and four would be in the area around Maica Lake.

The most advanced project on the lake – now in the phase of obtaining environmental permits – is to be built by EMBRAPS, a private company.

“Maica Lake is an extremely fragile ecological area,” said Monteiro. “It is at one end of a 50-km series of lakes and canals at the mouth of the Tapajós river and its confluence with the Amazon River.”

The EMBRAPS port is to be built in the Green Area neigbhourhood on the lake, in an area that floods during the rainy season and is without water in the dry season.

There are already signs warning “no trespassers, private property,” and the 480 fisherpersons on the lake are worried about the impact on their activity due to the circulation of the cargo vessels and because a large area will be covered over with soil.

“They’re going to practically privatise the lake,” Ronaldo Souza Costa, the president of the Association of Local Residents of the Perola Neighourhood of Maicá, told IPS. Thirty percent of the fish eaten in Santarém comes from the lake.

“As far as we can tell, there will be a major impact on our fishing, mainly in this area, where we fish in the wintertime. They will mark off no-trespassing areas,” said Raimundo Nonato, the administrator of the Maicá market.
The Santarém city government says the installations will be on dry land and that the companies are not interested in the lake but in the Amazon River, which the waters flow into and which is deep enough for large vessels.

“The entire operation of the trucks will be on ramps. It will not affect the water in the lake at all,” said Aguiar.

But because the local communities have not yet been formally consulted about this and other port projects, fears are growing.

“From what we know, if the ships come near us, our boats will be in trouble because of the big waves, which will be dangerous for our small vessels,” local fisherwoman Telma Almeida told IPS.

After unloading her fish, Almeida casts off and sets out on the Amazon River once again in her small boat. Her silhouette becomes tiny and dim in the shadow of a large cargo vessel.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Soy, an Exotic Fruit in Brazil’s Amazon Junglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/soy-an-exotic-fruit-in-brazils-amazon-jungle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-an-exotic-fruit-in-brazils-amazon-jungle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/soy-an-exotic-fruit-in-brazils-amazon-jungle/#comments Tue, 08 Dec 2015 00:36:47 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143252 Members of the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative in the rural municipality of Belterra in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peel manioc, to make flour. The associations of small farmers help them defend themselves from the negative effects of the expansion of soy in this region on the banks of the Tapajós River. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Members of the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative in the rural municipality of Belterra in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peel manioc, to make flour. The associations of small farmers help them defend themselves from the negative effects of the expansion of soy in this region on the banks of the Tapajós River. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BELTERRA, Brazil, Dec 8 2015 (IPS)

In the northern Brazilian state of Pará, the construction of a port terminal for shipping soy out of the Amazon region has displaced thousands of small farmers from their land, which is now dedicated to monoculture.

The BR-163 highway, along the 100-km route from Santarém, the capital of the municipality of that name, to Belterra runs through an endless stretch of plowed fields, with only a few isolated pockets of the lush rainforest that used to cover this entire area.

State-of-the-art tractors and other farm machinery, a far cry from the rudimentary tools used by the local small farmers in the surrounding fields, are plowing the soil this month, ahead of the planting of soy in January.

José de Souza, a small farmer who owns nine hectares in the rural municipality of Belterra, sighs.

“Soy benefits the big producers, but it hurts small farmers because the deforestation has brought drought,” he tells IPS. “The temperatures here were pleasant before, but now it’s so hot, you can’t stand it.”

The effects are visible in his fields of banana plants, which have been burnt by the hot sun.

Resigned, De Souza waters a few sad rows of straggling cabbages and scallions.

Like other farmers, he has been hemmed in by the expansion of soy in the municipalities of Santarém and the nearby Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos.

According to the Santarém municipal government, of the 740,000 cultivable hectares in this region, soy now covers 60,000.

But Raimunda Nogueira, rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, offers a much higher figure. “Land-use change has involved 112,000 to 120,000 hectares, which have been turned into soy plantations,” she tells IPS.

And with the soy came the spraying.

“The soy fields bring a lot of pests because the poison they use to fight them drives them off their plantations onto our small fields,” laments De Souza.

The agrochemicals have polluted the soil and poisoned crops and animals, local farmers complain.

“The crops die, and as a result the property becomes completely unproductive – and the solution is to sell,” Jefferson Correa, a representative of the local non-governmental organisation Fase Amazonia, tells IPS.

There are no epidemiological data. But in these rural municipalities, the widespread perception is that health problems like respiratory and skin ailments have become more common.

According to Selma da Costa with the Rural Workers Union of Belterra, the threats to their health and the temptation to sell their land have led 65 percent of local small farmers to leave the municipality, which had a population of 16,500.

“They end up leaving, because who is going to put up with the stench of the pesticides? No one. People are getting sick. Pregnant women often feel ill and they don’t know why,” she tells IPS.

José de Souza waters the garden on his nine-hectare farm in the municipality of Belterra in the northern Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where his vegetables grow sparsely due to the effects of the spread of soy monoculture, which has hurt family farmers in the area, who produce 70 percent of the food consumed by the local population. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

José de Souza waters the garden on his nine-hectare farm in the municipality of Belterra in the northern Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where his vegetables grow sparsely due to the effects of the spread of soy monoculture, which has hurt family farmers in the area, who produce 70 percent of the food consumed by the local population. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“They sold their land for a pittance. They practically gave away their land to the big producers, thinking their lives would get better, that they would build a nice house in Santarém But they can’t support themselves because they can’t grow anything,” she explains.

Correa points out that back in 2000, land here was cheap. There were people who sold 100 hectares for 1,000 to 2,000 dollars, and later regretted it.

“They went to the city, spent all the money, and without any formal education, the only solution was to go back to work in the countryside, as rural labourers for the people who had bought their land,” he says.

Others scrape by on the outskirts of Santarém as street vendors or in other informal sector activities.

“The farmers had their property, their own food, like beans, rice, flour and what they could fish and hunt; but in the city they no longer have that,” adds Claudionor Carvalho with the Federation of Agricultural Workers of the State of Pará.

The change, he explains to IPS, has fuelled prostitution in the slums surrounding the city, “because the families weren’t prepared for what they would face.”

The process was accentuated 15 years ago, with the construction of a port facility in Santarém by the US commodities giant Cargill.

Through the new port terminal in Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós River where it runs into the Amazon River, soy and other grains can be exported to the Atlantic Ocean.

The aim was to reduce the distance and the costs of transporting soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest producer.

Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer and leading exporter of soy, which it sells to China, Europe and other markets.

Ports like this one in the Amazon basin have nearly cut in half the transport distance from Mato Grosso, which is around 2,000 km from the congested ports in the southeast, such as Santos in the state of São Paulo.

The new Amazon port, with silos that now have a total capacity of 120,000 tons – double the initial capacity – has drawn hundreds of soy producers from the south of the country, leading to a land-buying stampede and driving up property prices.

One of those who came with his family was Luiz Machado, from Mato Grosso.

“We had 90 hectares that we sold to buy a bigger farm here because the land was cheap,” he tells IPS. “Besides, we would be closer to the port, so we could get a better price for our product.”

Machado says the purchase was legal, and that he has left untouched the rainforest surrounding his property, much of which had already been deforested.

But many others did not do this, and the expansion of soy has devastated large swathes of forest, Cándido Cunha with the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform explains in a conversation with IPS.

In 2006, in a “soy moratorium,” associations of producers, many of whom had ties to Cargill, pledged not to sell any more soy from deforested areas.

There was a temporary drop in deforestation. But it once again increased because the farmers that sold their land cleared property in other areas.

“What happened was what we call ‘grillaje’ of land: forged documents or illegal appropriation of public land,” which further complicated the already highly irregular land tenure situation in the Amazon region, says Cunha.

Of the two million and a half tons of soy exported annually from Santarém, just six percent is locally grown; the rest comes from Mato Grosso.

But Nelio Aguiar, secretary of planning in Santarém, says it helped modernise the economy, fomenting a shift from family farming to mechanised agriculture.

“Today we have larger scale, dollarised agriculture, and every harvest produces great riches,” he tells IPS.

But while some celebrate the expansion of agribusiness here, others are worried about the future of local food security.

The greater metropolitan region, population 370,000, depends on family farming for 70 percent of the local food supply.

“Now you have to buy everything in the market, even rice and beans – things we didn’t have to buy before because we produced everything ourselves. And we also sold what we produced,” complains De Souza.

“Why are we buying? Because we don’t have land anymore. And what we plant is being poisoned,” says Da Costa.

For Correa, one solution is to expand government programmes that support family farming. De Souza is a beneficiary of one of them.

Another solution is to join together in farming associations or cooperatives.

De Souza proudly takes IPS to the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative, of which he is a member, where a festive group of men and women are sharing the tasks of peeling, grating and cooking manioc to make the flour that is a staple food in Brazil.

“We have to help each other, because small farmers face a difficult situation today,” he says.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Uruguay Puts High Priority on Renewable Energieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/uruguay-puts-high-priority-on-renewable-energies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguay-puts-high-priority-on-renewable-energies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/uruguay-puts-high-priority-on-renewable-energies/#comments Tue, 17 Nov 2015 00:10:46 +0000 Veronica Firme http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143018 Since July 2014, Uruguay’s state power utility, UTE, has 30 100 percent electric vans. After the success of this initiative, it doubled that number in its fleet of vehicles, and incorporated two electric cars, in November 2015. Credit: Verónica Firme/IPS

Since July 2014, Uruguay’s state power utility, UTE, has 30 100 percent electric vans. After the success of this initiative, it doubled that number in its fleet of vehicles, and incorporated two electric cars, in November 2015. Credit: Verónica Firme/IPS

By Veronica Firme
MONTEVIDEO, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Uruguay is modifying its energy mix with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, by means of a strategy that bolsters non-conventional clean energy sources through public-private partnerships and new investment. A majority of this South American country’s energy already comes from renewable sources.

“By the end of 2014, this country’s energy mix was made up of 55 percent renewable sources, compared to a global average of just 12 percent,” said Ramón Méndez, the president of the National Climate Change Response System, during a meeting on renewable energy.

Furthermore, 94 percent of electric power comes from renewables, he said, in a country which is only responsible for 0.06 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.

The transformation of Uruguay’s energy mix began during the first term (2005-2010) of the current president, Tabaré Vázquez, although the country was not starting from zero in terms of renewable sources, Gonzalo Abal a physicist with the Solar Energy Laboratory of the University of the Republic of Uruguay, said in an interview with IPS.

Thanks to hydropower, a significant proportion of Uruguay’s energy already came from renewables. But hydroelectricity is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Traditionally, the country depended on four old hydroelectric dams, three of which were built on the Negro River between the 1930s and the 1970s. The fourth is on the Uruguay River, shared with neighbouring Argentina, and was built in the 1970s.

In addition, two ancient thermal plants powered by fuel oil have served as a back-up when the hydropower supply drops or collapses due to water shortages. The last time this happened was in 2004.

This Southern Cone country of 3.3 million people has fully exploited its large hydropower sources, and began to turn towards wind power and later biomass, the two clean energies around which the greatest progress has been made, according to data provided by the experts and documents consulted by IPS.

The transformation of the energy mix required a legal framework, which included authorisation for clients connected to the low voltage grid to generate electric power from renewable sources – wind, solar, biomass or mini-dams – with a potential of no more than 150 kilowatts.

Also approved were several initiatives like the 2005-2030 Energy Policy, or the 2015-2024 National Energy Efficiency Plan, adopted on Aug. 3.

The Energy Efficiency Plan is aimed at reducing energy consumption in all industries and sectors of the economy, but especially in residential areas and transportation, which will be responsible for 75 percent of the total accumulated reduction by 2024.

In addition, the Investment Promotion Law was modified to offer tax breaks so that at least five percent of the investment in any given project goes towards renewable energy, for the goal of cleaner production.

Uruguay has 16 medium-sized and large wind farms, like this one in the northern department of Tacuarembó. The country already has 670 MW in installed wind power capacity and a similar amount under construction, which means that 30 percent of demand for electric power will be covered by wind energy by late 2016. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Uruguay has 16 medium-sized and large wind farms, like this one in the northern department of Tacuarembó. The country already has 670 MW in installed wind power capacity and a similar amount under construction, which means that 30 percent of demand for electric power will be covered by wind energy by late 2016. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

The state power utility, UTE, is responsible for the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electricity to the 1.2 million clients distributed throughout Uruguay’s 176,215 square kilometres of territory.

UTE has a monopoly over energy distribution but not generation, which the private sector is also involved in, which made it difficult to include power generation in the government’s energy strategy goals.

As of late 2014, Uruguay had a total installed capacity of 3,719 MW, including generators connected to the national power grid as well as stand-alone power systems, according to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining.

The supply consisted of 1,696 MW of thermal energy (from fossil fuels and biomass), 1,538 MW of hydropower, 481 MW of wind power and four MW of solar power, says the National Energy Balance 2014 report.

Breaking down the installed power capacity by source, 66 percent came from renewable sources (hydroelectricity, biomass, wind and solar), while the remaining 34 percent came from non-renewable sources (gasoil, fuel oil and natural gas).

In the economy, there was a structural shift in the energy consumption mix since 2008, which has remained unchanged for the past seven years. Industry is the biggest consumer (39 percent), followed by transportation (29 percent), residential (19 percent), commerce and services (eight percent), and lastly agriculture, fishing and mining (five percent).

From 2007 to 2014, industry overcame transportation, which was pushed to second place, driving up biomass consumption. Pulp mills played a decisive role in that, because thanks to biomass they became 90 percent self-sufficient in energy, as part of the transformation that began in 2005.

In this country, “the important change came in regard to wind power – that is where changes became necessary and challenges were addressed,” Gerardo Honty, an expert with the Latin American Centre for Social Ecology, told IPS.

Wind energy is in full expansion, “and we are nearing one gigawatt (1,000 MW) of installed capacity,” said Abal.

With respect to solar energy, “we have a 50-watt plant already in operation – that’s 100 hectares of solar panels – and a second 50-MW plant has begun to be built, with investment from Europe,” said the academic.

“The rest of the plants, around 15, are smaller, between one and five MW, and are distributed throughout the north of the country,” Abal added.

Connecting with the neighbours

Uruguay is diversifying its energy sources, but it can also “expand the grid in geographic terms; if you interconnect with Argentina and southern Brazil, the probability of having an atmospheric event that leaves you without wind power in the entire area of the pampas is very low,” said the physicist.

The national power grid has interconnections with Argentina (2,000 MW) and with Brazil (70 MW, currently being expanded to 500 MW). The latter has been delayed because the two countries’ power grids operate on different frequencies, and conversion capacity must be added to overcome the problem.

In Uruguay, “the problem isn’t the electric power industry but combustion engines that cannot run on the renewable sources mentioned,” said Honty.

Transportation, especially public transit, poses the big future challenges.

The Montevideo city government is studying the possibility of purchasing autonomous electric vehicles for the sake of energy efficiency and because they do not emit greenhouse gases while at the same time they reduce noise pollution, economist Gonzalo Márquez with the department of mobility said in a forum on energy.

But no timetable has been outlined yet, he told IPS, because there are difficulties to work out like the cost and maintenance of the vehicles, the driving range of the batteries, and the subsidy for public transport, “a hidden cost that society assumes.”

Uruguay projects that when the transformation of its energy industry is complete, greenhouse gas emissions will be 20 to 40 times lower than the global average, said Méndez, the top official in the government’s climate change response office.

This country also aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. That means “our target for that year is for the CO2 (carbon dioxide) that we absorb to be greater than what our entire economy emits,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Leading Powers to Double Renewable Energy Supply by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:45:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142983 China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 12 2015 (IPS)

Eight of the world’s leading economies will double their renewable energy supply by 2030 if they live up to their pledges to contribute to curbing global warming, which will be included in the new climate treaty.

A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.

Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.

Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.

Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.

But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.

Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.

“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.

Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.

That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.

The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.

In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.

Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.

“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.

The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.

To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.

Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.

“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.

The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.

She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.

Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.

Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”

Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.

“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.

But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.

Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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School Meals Bolster Family Farming in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 21:04:38 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142946 Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil, Nov 9 2015 (IPS)

“That law should have existed since the end of slavery, which threw slaves into the street without offering them adequate conditions for working and producing, turning them into semi-slaves,” said Brazilian farmer Idevan Correa.

The law he was referring to, which was passed in 2009, requires that at least 30 percent of the funds that municipal governments receive from the National Fund for the Development of Education go towards the purchase of food produced by local family farmers.

The formula is one of those discoveries that later seem obvious, self-evident, normal.

Besides guaranteeing small farmers an important market for their produce, “it improved the quality of the food,” the mother of two students, Jaqueline Lameira, who represents families on the Itaboraí School Feeding Council, which oversees the quality of school meals, told IPS.

Itaboraí, a municipality of 230,000 people in the southeast state of Rio de Janeiro, 11 percent of whose residents are rural, dedicates more than the required minimum.

Over 40 percent of school breakfasts and lunches served in the municipal schools are made up of food produced by local small farmers, said Inaiá Figueiredo, in charge of nutrition in the city government’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing.

That proportion was just seven percent when the current municipal administration took office in 2012, she told IPS.

The food offered in the school meals was diversified, with a larger proportion of fresh produce, including typical local vegetables that are highly nutritious but not widely consumed, she explained, adding that each meal includes at least three kinds of vegetables.

“For dessert there’s fruit, never candy, and the juice doesn’t have sugar, but locally produced honey,” she said.

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The kids eat everything, they ask for seconds; there’s one who only comes to school because of the meals,” Penha Maria Flausina, the cook at the João Baptista Caffaro School in a poor neighbourhood of Itaboraí told IPS, laughing.

She showed IPS the maize, okra, squash and fresh fruit in the school pantry.

This is the result of a lengthy process that began in 1986 with the First National Conference on Food and Nutrition, further editions of which were held in 2004, 2007, 2011 and in the first week of November 2015 in Brasilia, with 2,000 participants.

The National Council on Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) was created in 1993, with representatives of civil society and the government. The Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security was passed in 2006.

Three years later, under that legal framework, a new law linked the National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) and family farming, after overcoming stiff resistance in the legislature, economist Francisco Menezes told IPS.

“The enormous school meals market, today made up of 45 million students, was dominated by companies, some of them contracted by municipal governments for all of the schools,” said Menezes who, as president of CONSEA from 2004 to 2007, played a key role in the drafting and approval of the law.

“Higher prices and lower quality” are typical when suppliers enjoy a monopoly, he said.

It took the law three years to make its way through Congress, where it was blocked by legislators interested in that market themselves or financed by companies that supplied it, which in the end still had control of 70 percent of sales to school meal programmes, although that is a ceiling that was set.

Forging a new path

But in this huge country of 206 million people, the effectiveness of the law has been irregular. “There are municipal governments that comply with it, others don’t, and there are some in the south of Brazil that achieved 100 percent supplies from family farming,” said Menezes.

But there is also fraud, he admitted.

“Strong” municipal councils inhibit irregularities, but they are also subject to pressure, said the expert. Because of that, “everything depends on family farms organised in associations and cooperatives, so that if one producer fails, other members are there to step in to guarantee supplies,” he added.

But the law is essential, because “it turned the school meals programme into a state policy, making setbacks more unlikely to occur,” he said.

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Correa, the farmer who would have liked the law to have been in place since slavery was abolished in 1888, told IPS it was smart to set the minimum quota for supplies from family farms at 30 percent.

“It’s a first, experimental step; small farmers can’t increase their production overnight, they have to do it gradually,” said Correa, the president of the Association of Rural Producers of the Fourth District of Itaboraí, who inherited a 100-hectare farm that his father received during the agrarian reform process in the 1950s.

He also agrees with the annual limit of 20,000 reals (5,200 dollars) for each farmer’s sales to the municipal government, although that was not ideal for him this year as he could have sold above that quota with his production of maize, beans, potatoes and fruit.

“It’s better this way, more farmers can sell; if the quota were to be expanded a lot, very few would be able to sell,” he said.

“At the start of the current municipal administration, in 2012, only nine or 10 farmers were taking part in the school feeding programme; now that number is 54,” agronomist Ana Paula de Farias, technical adviser to the local Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing in Itaboraí, told IPS.

There are some 300 farms in the municipality, but most of them raise cattle.

Another problem in expanding the number of suppliers for the school meals programme is that many of them do not have the required documents, she explained.

Furthermore, technical assistance was necessary to help farmers begin to grow organic products, or at least to significantly reduce their use of pesticides and herbicides, and to adapt to the specific needs of meals for children, such as guava fruits in small uniform sizes, in order to provide one for each child without having to cut them into pieces.

“The most important lesson in this learning process was planting without agrochemicals,” said Correa. “You learn as you go along, living up to the requirements of the programme. We used to plant more to earn more, since we weren’t in a position to compete with the big companies; now we try for better quality, and we’re more careful, because it’s food for local children.”

Sales to schools gave a boost to local small farmers, even though there is a quota, he said, because the programme pays retail “supermarket prices,” and there are no costs for transportation because the municipal government sends out its own trucks, while in the big agricultural market farmers have to deal with middlemen who pay less and charge to cover their own costs.

Exportable model

Brazil’s experience in linking family farms and school feeding programmes has already been exported to several countries in Latin America and in Africa, including Bolivia, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal.

It is also one of the models used by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, an initiative that emerged in 2009 with technical support from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Brazil’s law will be studied during the Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, to be held in Lima with the participation of legislators from throughout the region as well as guest lawmakers from Africa and Asia.

Brazil’s Food Purchase Programme, based on an earlier law from 2003 and geared towards supplying social assistance networks, has also been replicated abroad, as an example of a public policy that has been doubly successful: in bolstering food security while strengthening family agriculture.

In addition, the area of food security has served to develop a multi-disciplinary approach involving various ministries, such as those of agriculture, health and education, which tend to act in an isolated fashion, said Menezes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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