SUNKRAFT - Concept


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"ENERGY FARMING"

opens news prospects for developing and industrialized countries

 

1. RECENT SITUATION

1.1 Recent situation in the developing countries

Many people in developing countries are still affected by poverty, hunger, lack of education and poor health care. The trend of migration from the rural areas into the vicinity of urban centers continues unabated, leading to the formation of ever more extensive slums whose residents try to earn their livelihood with simple services in the next city. 

In view of the widespread hunger this fact seems to be surprising, since it would be obvious at first glance, to produce food in the rural environment, at least on a modest scale agriculture. On closer examination, however, it turns out that this is not even worth as part of a subsistence economy, since the sale of the already modest surpluses brings not enough profit to bear the cost of housing, clothing, heating, education, health care etc. - the recoverable food prices are simply too small, the competitive range of agro-industrial produced products from abroad is too large. Therefore it is more interesting to provide low-paid jobs in the urban space and buy additional cheap food, as to generate it far away from the urban centers themselves.

In view of this facts the commonly made assumption that described calamities of the poor population depend on a shortage or high prices of food, is inapplicable. On the contrary - when food prices were higher, smallholder livelihoods would bear in rural areas. Due to the large supply of cheap food from abroad small and medium farms, however, are not viable and large areas of arable land are therefore not farmed.

So the reason for the misery described is not the lack of cheap food, but the lack of jobs with secure income. To overcome this problem it´s essential to generate more jobs, not only more food.

 

1.2 Recent situation in the industrialized countries

Most of the food is produced in the highly developed agricultural industries in the developed world. Production-related, worldwide food shortage has not occurred for decades and food-price increases were caused more by speculation on the stock market as by poor harvests.

The global agricultural markets are also characterized by a strong regulatory and competition distance. Food imports from developing countries are in many industrialized nations restricted with quotas or punitive tolls, while on the other hand highly subsidized exports of their own surpluses go to developing countries, or even given away as part of "food aid" - usually with disastrous consequences for the regional markets there.

With the described safeguards food production in industrialized countries was protected from unwelcome competition from abroad and partly to ensure food self-sufficiency, which was nevertheless dependent on massive imports of potassium, phosphate, and petroleum in the past. Thus, much of the food demand in these countries could be met without any serious, irreparable bottlenecks in the past decades.

 

 

2. CHANGED SITUATION IN RECENT TIMES

2.1 Changed situation in the developed countries

Still largely unnoticed of the public, tremendous efforts are being made by the modern industrial society to solve the one-sided dependence on fossil fuels and to develop renewable sources of raw materials, exceeding the administrative influences significantly. Due to the still relatively low price of mineral-oil, these efforts have not yet led to large and obvious changes. However booming economies with extremely high energy requirements, e.g. China, are setting meanwhile on biomass, primarily on vegetable oils, in addition to crude oil as THE classic source of energy. But also in a number of older industrial nations such as D and the US, policy interventions have now created a market for herbal energy sources, such as supplement quotes for biodiesel and bioethanol. These rates, however, are strongly oriented to the amounts that can be supplied by the domestic farms and thus have the character of a guaranteed outlet for local agricultural products, as they represent a serious attempt to support the conversion of fuel supply to renewable sources.

In case a serious commitment of biogenic fuels would be established the demand for raw materials, however, would increase dramatically because the 30 million tons of diesel oil consumed in D annually, are nowhere near to substitute from domestic fields, even if largely in favor of rape-seed cultivation food production will be omitted. If petroleum fuels should be largely or even completely replaced by biofuel, most of the necessary raw materials must be imported. This doesn´t impact the sales of domestic agricultural products at all, because in contrast to food imports, the demand could not be nearly covered by domestic production. Therefore, there is no need to regulate the import for energy-crops to avoid injury to domestic producers.

 

2.2 Changed situation in the developing countries

As stated above it is not purposeful to increase only food production by means of modern, industrial farming to overcome hunger and poverty in developing countries. Undoubtly this is often possible, but to establish a viable agricultural economy, it must be done according to the requirements of industrial food production, which is characterized by large, continuous areas, a high degree of mechanization and intensive agriculture with the use of modern high-yielding varieties, pesticides and fertilizers, what requieres a high level of investment capital. Thus, although often considerable quantities of food can be created, but only a few jobs and thus only a few people who have a secure economic existence and the opportunity to buy the food crops produced. Therefore, the products often are exported or even destroyed due to "market adjustment", while the broad mass of the population continues to starve.

Another aspect is that intensive agriculture in many developing countries, especially in tropical regions, is not useful because rain forests are to be cleared first, and after a few years of cultivation must be abandoned because the soils are not suitable for this type of management and become devastated in a short time. The long-term disadvantages for the countries concerned and the CO2-balance of the world are obvious.

This can be avoided only with development efforts that gives many people an economically secure existence, so that people are able to buy food and consumer goods in sufficient quantities. But the intensive food production, the conventional "food-farming", is hardly the appropriate instrument for this purpose, as described. Suitable alternatives, e.g. a competitive industrial production, which provides sufficient jobs in short times is hardly to establish too. This way has been gone successfully in the "tiger-economies" such as South Korea, Taiwan and China, but has required a long time and can not be a short-term instrument.

 

 

3.  "ENERGY FARMING" AS AN INSTRUMENT AGAINST EMPOVERISHMENT

3.1 "Energy Farming" creates economic livelyhoods

In contrast to the described highly industrialized "food-farming" is "energy-farming" still characterized by a high recommendation of manual work, which can be hardly replaced in the foreseeable future through fully automated systems. This is especially true when vegetable oil is produced with woody, perennial plants, which must be harvested by hand. The work is most comparable to the wine or tea production, but has a much larger potential market.

The products of the "energy-farming", especially vegetable oils, usually achieve much higher prices than food-crops. It is recalled on the development of canola oil prices over the past 15 years. Besides, many oil plants are relatively modest and can be easily produced on low-quality sites in addition to food. Many oil plants are also perennial woody plants that are left on the fields after the harvest and not every year completely harvested, so is no need to grow a whole plant in the following year. Therefore, they have little fertilizer and care needs, protect the soil from drying out throughout the year by intense solar radiation, wind and rain erosion. Since no expensive machinery, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides need to be purchased, fall in contrast to the "food-farming" in low capital costs. As a result, "energy-farming" can finance much more jobs than "food-farming".

Ricinus communis (Rizinus, Castor) - an example for a wild oil-plant

 

Water-lilly (Eichhornia crassipes) - a wild energy-plant for biogas-production

The proposed production of energy crops is by no means contradicting the traditional food production by family units on small and medium-sized farms for their own use. Food-crops for the own consumption can be produced as well as energy-crops for sale to generate income for other goods than food.

"Energy-farming" is not limited to sedentary agricultural societies, but in principle for nomadic people useful. Since many oil plants thrive wild or semi-wild as the Jatropha curcas or the Ricinus communis and often bear fruit only in the rainy season, it can also be collected from migratory pastoralists and sold as extra income. This option is of course to people without livestock ownership, if they draw along with the cattle-owners or independently.

Noteworthy in this concept is that land acquisition is NOT requested as by foreign corporations, such for palm oil plantations. It would be perfectly adequate to create only a market for energy-crops and -products to make (re)-creation and maintenance of small-scale structures and livelihoods in rural areas of developing countries possible.

 

3.2 "Energy-Farming" saves the environment

3.2.1 ... in the co-cultivation with food by sedentary farmers

In most cases, "energy-farming" is also extensively possible, because it can be performed in addition to the food production in the traditional, non-intensive way, which is operated on small and medium-sized farms in developing countries typically. "Energy-farming" does not necessarily contradict or even interfere with food production, as to observe on several plants, e.g. Moringa oleifera wich produces edible leafs for human consumption, as well as vegetable oil.

The proposed concept of "Energy Farming" is in contrast to the normally practiced, intensive production of vegetable oils, which is mostly performed by the cultivation of "classic", usually non-perennial oil plants that actually deliver vegetable oils for human consumption and animal feed, such as rapeseed (Brassica napus) and soybean (Glycine max), but also the perennial oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). However, the oil plants mentioned are all very sophisticated and are usually intensively cultivated.

Due to the traditional, non-intensive cultivation natural resources are saved. Especially groundwater becomes less spoiled with fertilizers and pesticides than in intensive farming, the soil is being compacted less by heavy machinery and better protected against damages caused by sun, wind and heavy rains, especially when perennial oil plants are built.

Wasted areas are exposed to massive erosion in tropical regions

 

Because many oil crops are quite undemanding and occur as pioneer plants on ruderal areas, such as regressed rain forest areas, the already mentioned Castor (Ricinus communis) or Cashew-tree (Anacardium occidentale) for example, these plants may also be used to regenerate devastated surfaces for farming demanding plants once again.

 

3.2.2 ... with nomadic pastoralists

The destruction of vegetation by overgrazing is often responsible for the spread of deserts. This is hardly to avoid when cattle- or goat-breeding is the only basis for the prosperity. Establishing a trading with oil-seeds by "energy-farming" (or rather "energy-collecting") creates an interesting alternative or supplement to livestock, because it becomes interesting to avoid the destruction of the vegetation by overgrazing, to save this new source of income.

 

3.2.3 ... in the remediation of contaminated soils ("phytoremediation")

A special case of "energy-farming" is the "phytoremediation": plants are grown in contaminated soils to detoxify them. A proven, but time-consuming and expensive process. These soils, e.g. drain-sumps around mines, are normally contaminated with heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (polycycles, phenols) and can not be considered for food production, but the cultivation of energy crops is possible, because these products are neither intended for human consumption, nor for feeding, but simply burned. So the costs for the phytoremediation can be regained by the sale of energy crops produced on these soils.

 

3.2.4 ... with „Carbon Farming“

In non-perennial oil-plants CO2 is bound only for a short time and quickly released when the whole oil-plant is harvested and the plant oil is burned. But many oil-plants are perennial woody plants. Their cultivation leads to an ingestion of CO2 from the atmosphere as long as the living biomass ("standing crop") of the oil plants increases until a saturation value is reached at least.

Quantitative considerations (eg, Becker et al., Earth Syst. Dynam., 4, 237-251, 2013) assume that every hectare of an adult jatropha plantations binds 90 tons of carbon organically. That corresponds to 330 tons of CO2 , wich is removed from the atmosphere for long terms.

 

 

4. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE LOGISTICS

In order to sell the "energy-crops" to the market to be established it is essential to move them to transport- and marketing-centers. This is problematic in many developing countries, since the countryside is often developed only very sketchy logistically. So the market development for energy-crops depends critically on the availability of transportation.

In the equatorial regions of West Africa, such as Togo and Cameroon, forest areas have been developed by Chinese and South Korean companies with simple lines. Along these lines a flourishing trade in palm kernels is picked up. Palm kernels are left over from the production of palm oil for cooking by the local rural population and can practically not be further used, but are an interesting vegetable oil source. This palm kernels are transported by small farmers in bags to the next street and there bought directly from truck drivers who leave the streets. The concept has already been proven, but has several drawbacks: first, the necessary preparatory work building the road, especially in tropical environment, is considerably. On the other hand these roads penetrate the rain forests and lead gold miners and loggers deep into virgin territories, bringing disease, alcohol and other drugs to the local population and sometimes force of arms, illegal logging and mining, what causes serious harm. Moreover, there is of course always a risk that trucks are robbed, because the palm kernel trade is conducted mandatory cash.

In logistically well-served areas, such as South Africa, the rural area is already sufficiently well developed. So "energy-crops" can be bought and delivered for shipment easily. Here are only commercial connections to the consumers in the industrialized countries to be established.

 

 

5. PROSPECTS

The proposed concept is not only limited to the production of energy crops, but can also be applied to other renewable resources, because the industrialized nations are not only in a great need for energy sources such as vegetable oil, but also to other raw materials such as:

 - fibers

 - surfactants

 - pharmaceutical raw materials

 - specialty chemicals

the supply must be converted to sustainable sources either in the near future.