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UNEP poised to stir green energy revolution in E. Africa

Oct 10, 2007 - The Associated Press

A U.N.-backed initiative is set to harvest environment-friendly hydroelectric power from millions of tea and sugar cane growers across East Africa, U.N. officials said Thursday.

In two separate but related projects, both tea and sugar cane farmers will benefit, the U.N. Environment Program officials said.

Sugar farmers will take part in a cogeneration project funded by the Global Environment Facility. They will use waste from the sugar industry to generate electricity, which in turn will fuel economic and rural growth in an environmentally safer way.

The initiative, the first of its kind in Africa, will introduce small-scale energy appliances that allow farmers in seven African countries to access clean power.

The officials said by using hydroelectric power plants in tea plantations and turning the waste produced by sugar cane into power, the new projects will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while spreading clean energy to rural areas in East and southern Africa.

"Those who enjoy a spoonful of sugar in their favorite day-time drink have double-cause to celebrate," said Stephen Karekezi, a director of Cogeneration for Africa, a UNEP/GEF-sponsored project.

These projects build on the successes with the cogeneration in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, where up to 40 percent of the country's electricity needs are met by waste by-products from the sugar industry, the officials said.

"Tea is known to be good for you, now it is also getting better for the environment," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "The decision by some countries in East Africa to establish contracts that allow unconventional generators of electricity to sell surplus power back to the Grid has opened up a raft of new opportunities for cleaner and renewable energy generation."

The projects, experts said, offer the chance to develop new forms of indigenous energy generation that will assist with the development in rural areas and help overcome poverty, reduce dependency on often-imported and expensive fossil fuels while having the spin-off benefit of contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the hydropower will reduce energy costs, enhance the African tea industry's global competitiveness, and spread clean electricity to rural communities, the officials said.

In December, governments will meet in Bali to define rules for a new international framework for emissions reductions as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol is due to expire at the end of 2012.

The $100 million initiative is being spearheaded by UNEP in collaboration with the African Development Bank and with funding from the Global Environment Facility.

Among the countries that have already endorsed the initiative are Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.