Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Using our sugar and coconut plantations wisely
In winding up this discussion on renewable energy and the use of coconut oil as an alternative to diesel, this article from a Jamaican (Caribbean) newspaper gives food for thought.
The Jamaican sugar industry is in dire trouble. Its failure to meet its export obligations, the hurricane of 2004 and the drought of early 2005, the impending price cut by the European Union in 2006, the millions of dollars that have been pumped into modernizing the sugar factories with little to show, are all indications of the problem. While these are all valid criticisms, we believe it would be a mistake to rush into a shut-down of the industry without serious consideration of some other important facts. For one, sugar is still the biggest earner of foreign exchange of all the agricultural products. It is unquestionably the largest employer of labour utilising a wide range of expertise, from the low-skilled cane cutters to the specialised scientists and engineers. Large townships are dependent on the operation of sugar factories in at least eight rural parishes in Jamaica. Closing these factories could prompt a drift to urban centres and negative social consequences of increased poverty and crime. More than 20,000 hectares of land have been taken out of sugar over the past 40 years; some have been used for housing but the greater proportion remains idle. The versatility of the sugar cane plant is well established. Rum is produced from molasses, a by-product of sugar. Ethanol, also produced from molasses or directly from the sugar cane, is a potential additive for petrol. This will result in major foreign exchange earnings as well as savings. A third product is the generation of energy from the burning of bagasse (residue of sugar cane crushing), not only to drive the factories, which is already being done, but to sell to the national electricity grid. It can be argued that these plans should have been implemented long ago. But it is not too late. The sugar industry has played a significant role in our national development and it still has an important contribution to make. (Adapted from an Editorial in the Gleaner Newspaper, 18 October 2005).
And a final call for action from Tony Deamer in Vanuatu (Pacific): Give coconut oil a go! It is here now and it will run in your big 4x4 vehicles and in your present generator sets. No big capital investment is needed. Education is the key, not capital investment. We have all we require now in many places – Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati - all have oil mills and small ones are popping up in the Solomon Islands too. So give it a go. Coconut oil is a cheap form of renewable energy and will also give many more megawatts of electricity for a much lower investment than wind or solar power. Even one big German diesel engine maker said a 50% mix (diesel/coconut oil) "is worth a try," although of course they added in all the usual "at you own risk phrases" as well. But, they did not say "Don't put it in the engines." And we were not talking a little home generator set here, they were referring to some big 4 Mw generator sets used to power Port Vila. So give it a go. I don't think you will find a better way to boost the local economy and reduce the green house emissions, lower imports and give the youth something to do and boost their self esteem too; all in one small move on your part - running your big 4x4, your little pickup truck, your minibus, and the local power station on local coconut oil. After all, we in the islands have been making the stuff for centuries.
If you would like to see a full compilation of all the responses received during this discussion on coconut oil and renewable energy, click here http://www.unesco.org/csi/smis/siv/Forum/keyissues15.htm
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