A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
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Saturday, May 06, 2006
Posted 7:27 PM by Luigi
Pacific islands see coconuts as potential biofuel source
Companies in Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa testing blends of vegetable, diesel oils
006-05-06 Reuters By Michelle Nichols
Palm trees conjure an enduring image of the South Pacific, providing shade on a white sandy beach as the water gently laps the shore and coconuts for cocktails garnished with small brightly colored paper umbrellas.
But many impoverished Pacific island nations are also looking to coconuts to combat soaring world oil prices and cut severe balance of payment deficits by using coconut oil to make biofuel.
Electricity companies in Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa are testing blends of coconut oil and diesel to run power generators.
A report by the 20-member South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) has found that if Pacific island countries were to replace 50 percent of diesel imports with coconut oil then the region's average import bill would be cut by 10 percent.
Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands and Palau spend more than US$800 million a year on fuel imports, SOPAC says.
In half of those countries fuel imports account for more than a quarter of total imports.
"Given the expected continuing rise in fuel prices and the increasing demand for energy supplies, without any indigenous fuel substitutes, Pacific island countries' balance of payments can be expected to further deteriorate," the SOPAC report says.
Australia, New Zealand and 18 Pacific island countries and territories are members of SOPAC.
The price of oil hit a record high of US$75.35 a barrel in April.
Coconut oil - extracted from copra, or coconut meat - can be used to make biodiesel to directly substitute diesel, or be blended with diesel. SOPAC said engines only need to be adapted for diesel blends of more than 10 percent coconut oil.
Biodiesel is made by enhancing the chemical composition of vegetable, seed or animal fats and oils. The process known as transesterification, removes glycerol from the oil or fat and replaces it with an alcohol.
In the troubled Solomon Islands, which relies on aid for 70 percent of its budget and has a population of 500,000, fuel for electricity and transport makes-up one-third of imports, Finance Minister Peter Boyers told Reuters in an interview.
Boyers says the Solomons must explore "creative solutions" to ease external pressures on a struggling economy.
One such solution is a plan by the Australian Biodiesel Group to produce biodiesel using coconut oil that was last month approved by the Solomons Foreign Investment Review Board.
"We're hoping that industry can come in and consume the copra production ... they would produce all that into biofuel, which would be an import subsidization against fuel," Boyers says.
"But most importantly it will stabilize the rural man's income by having a base line price per kilo (for copra). That's very important because that affects 80 percent of the population, which is involved in our rural informal sector."
Boyers says the government is currently finalizing incentive programs for the Australian Biodiesel Group investment, which he valued at about SB$250 million (US$33 million).
Australian Biodiesel Group Chief Executive Officer Len Humphreys told Reuters the company was considering similar projects in other places in the South Pacific, like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
"We assist the Pacific island in some sort of independency on diesel fuel and in return we take some sort of reciprocating deal on raw materials like coconut oil and palm, that we can bring back into Australia," Humphreys says.
He says the company is still in the early stages of planning a biodiesel plant to satisfy local need in the Solomons, but that the project will be reassessed following rioting in Honiara last month sparked by the election of a new prime minister.
"It's a great shame because there are a lot of benefits the islands can gain from the growing biodiesel industry if properly managed," he says.
But SOPAC has warned that while using coconut oil can cut fuel import bills, Pacific island countries need to consider how much revenue can be lost from import taxes and customs duties.
"(Our study) suggests that some duty on locally grown biofuels will be required to offset this loss," SOPAC says.
"Import substitution can have a positive impact on government revenues if both impact on trade balance, duties and taxes are taken into account."
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