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Green Gas: Energy As a By-Product of Sugarcane in Brazil



The biodigester and part of the biogas plant of the Cocal company, surrounded by a sugarcane plantation on all sides, in the municipality of Narandiba, in the west of the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo, where sugarcane has replaced cattle ranching as the main economic activity. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPSby Mario Osava (narandiba, brazil)Monday, December 20, 2021Inter Press Service

“Sugarcane is the green oil,” said André Alves da Silva, commercial and new products director of Cocal, as the company Comércio Indústria Canaã Açúcar e Álcool Ltda. is better known, which started large-scale production of biomethane, i.e. refined biogas, a renewable and clean equivalent of natural gas.

“We have a biofactory here,” he told IPS in an interview in the Cocal plant in Narandiba, a municipality located in the west of the southern state of São Paulo.

Referring to the plant whose scientific name is Saccharum officinarum as “sugarcane” has become obsolete in this region.

In addition to sugar and ethanol, electricity is generated from sugarcane bagasse, and biogas and other by-products are also created, such as biofertilizers, carbon dioxide gas and dried yeast, leftovers from alcohol fermentation, which, when processed, serve as protein-rich animal feed.

Biomethane in place of gas

The big novelty is biomethane, produced since June, as the starting point of a project that will bring gas to three closely grouped cities: Narandiba, Pirapozinho and Presidente Prudente, with a combined population of 264,000 people.

GasBrasiliano, a company of the state-owned oil conglomerate Petrobras, will be in charge of distribution and is building a 65-kilometer gas pipeline, which is scheduled to be inaugurated in June 2022.

“It is our first biomethane project, the first among many,” Alex Gasparetto, director-president of the distributor that holds the concession for piped gas in the west and north of São Paulo state, an area encompassing 375 municipalities and 9.2 million inhabitants, told IPS.

São Paulo, the richest and most populated state in Brazil, home to 46 million of the 214 million inhabitants of this enormous country, accounts for more than half of the national sugarcane production, in more than 150 agroindustrial sugar or ethanol plants next to sugarcane plantations, most of them in the GasBrasiliano concession area.

Sugarcane is the “green oil”, says André Alves da Silva, commercial and new products director of Cocal, an agroindustrial company located in Narandiba, in southern Brazil, which uses almost everything from sugarcane to produce electricity, biogas, biomethane, biofertilizers, yeast as animal feed and other gases, in addition to sugar and ethanol. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

“The potential is huge, sugarcane biomethane can replace all the diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (for cooking) consumed in the state, a privileged situation,” said Alessandro Gardemann, president of the Brazilian Biogas Association (ABiogás).

“Cocal is a demonstration project, which goes from sugarcane cultivation to the final consumer with the supply of biomethane for the entire year,” he told IPS by telephone from Londrina, a city in the southern state of Paraná where his technology services company, Geo Biogas & Tech, which promoted biogas in the sugar-energy sector, is headquartered.

Solution for seasonal limitations

Geo’s technological contribution was decisive for the Cocal biomethane project to take off. It has long been known how to make biogas from vinasse, but this liquid residue from the ethanol (or alcohol) distillery can only be used during harvest season, generally from April to November.

The vinasse is bulky and smelly, impossible to store for many days in the ponds built to collect it before it is put into the horizontal biodigesters where the organic material is broken down in an anaerobic process that produces biogas.

To ensure a year-round supply, Geo adapted a German technology to incorporate into biodigestion another waste product, cachaça or filter cake, a dark sludge resulting from the processing of sugarcane juice to make sugar. Cachaça, for Brazilians, is the name for sugarcane brandy.

A treatment process that removes impurities and part of the moisture converts this waste, which used to be discarded, into raw material for biogas. It has “10 times more organic matter than vinasse,” which is why it is more productive, Eduardo Baptista, supervisor of industrial production at the Cocal biogas plant, told IPS.

A sea of sugarcane plantations flood Narandiba and its neighboring municipalities in the southern state of São Paulo, where the agroindustrial company Cocal grows it as the raw material for its biofactory for energy, fuels and agricultural inputs. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

This innovation made it possible to overcome seasonality, as it is stored in four open-air tanks next to the two vertical biodigesters, specifically for the cachaça. “During the harvest, we use the vinasse and between harvests, the cachaça,” avoiding interruptions in the production of biomethane, explained Alves, the company’s commercial director.

A second factor in favor of the project, he said, was that there is local demand for gas that could not be met by the GasBrasiliano pipeline, whose nearest point is more than 100 km from Presidente Prudente, the main city in the region, with a population of 230,000.

Extending the existing network to this limited market would not be economically viable, but a 65-kilometer gas pipeline from Cocal is, said Gasparetto, GasBrasiliano’s director-president.

The third factor is environmental. With biomethane, Cocal seeks to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted in its ethanol production. Replacing diesel with green gas decarbonizes the activity by 95 percent. Additional reductions can be obtained with the new fuel in trucks and agricultural equipment, an alternative that is currently being tested.

In addition, the waste from which the biogas is extracted is converted into clean biofertilizers, which emit 75 percent less carbon than chemical fertilizers, said Cocal’s commercial director.

Lastly, the decision was also based on the dual use of biogas: electricity or biomethane.

“Having two options reduces the risks,” the proportions can be modified according to demand and prices, Alves said. Currently, 53 percent of the biogas is refined into biomethane and 47 percent is used for electricity generation.

The vinasse pond at the Cocal plant, in the Brazilian municipality of Narandiba, feeds the biodigesters that produce biogas, later purified and refined for use in electricity generation or conversion into biomethane, a renewable and clean fuel equivalent to natural gas. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Cocal has also been generating energy by burning bagasse since 2002. Today it can supply electricity to a city of 730,000 inhabitants, the company reports.

Social contributions

For all this energy production, Cocal has two industrial units, each with its own sugarcane fields around it. The first was installed in 1980 in Paraguaçu Paulista, 135 kilometers from Narandiba.

It employs a total of 5,500 workers in 22 municipalities and has 125,000 hectares planted to sugarcane, mostly on land leased under 20-year contracts, according to Alves. The harvest reached 8.7 million tons of cane last year.

Narandiba currently has about 6500 inhabitants, after 2000 arrived, attracted by the local operation of Cocal, inaugurated in 2008, said the town’s mayor, Itamar dos Santos Silva, who estimated at 600 the direct and indirect employees of the sugar and alcohol plant a year ago – almost 10 percent of the population.

The municipality, which had stagnated when cattle ranching dominated its economy in the last decades of the last century, has prospered again. “Sugarcane totally changed the social and economic situation in the region,” the mayor said in a meeting with IPS in his office.

Deposits of cachaça or filter cake, a residue from sugar production, proved advantageous in the generation of biogas at Cocal’s two plants in western São Paulo state, in southern Brazil. The reason is that the residue contains a lot of organic material and is available when there is a lack of vinasse between sugarcane harvests. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

In addition to offering more jobs, Cocal pays even the lowest-earning employees double what a ranch worker used to earn, he said. With the rise in purchasing power, “every day a new house is built in Narandiba” and commerce and the demand for schools, health services and recreation has grown, Dos Santos Silva said.

Tax revenue also increased, but it lagged behind the immediate demands created by the influx of new residents, lamented the mayor, whose plans include attracting industry and stepping up the training of young people for the new supply of technical jobs in the sugarcane agro-industry.

Environmental sustainability was the main motive for Liane, a company that makes food products such as biscuits and pasta, to sign the first contract for the purchase of biomethane distributed by GasBrasiliano in Presidente Prudente.

Biomethane does not pollute like fossil fuels and probably has lower costs than “the natural gas that comes to us by truck from far away,” Mauricio Calvo, Liane’s industrial director, told IPS by telephone from the company’s headquarters.

Initially, biomethane will go to companies, fuel stations, shopping malls, hotels and large restaurants, i.e. large consumers.

The supply of piped gas to households remains a long-term goal, Gasparetto told IPS by telephone from GasBrasiliano’s headquarters in Araraquara, a town 280 kilometers from São Paulo.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Up to 70% of Children in Developing Countries to Be Left Unable to Read?



Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPSby Baher Kamal (madrid)Monday, January 24, 2022Inter Press Service

The alarm bell has been rung by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in his message on the International Day of Education, marked on 24 January 2022.

In fact, some 1.6 billion school and college students had their studies interrupted at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and it’s not over yet, said Guterres, adding that today, school closures continue to disrupt the lives of over 31 million students, “exacerbating a global learning crisis.”

The UN Education, Sciencia and Culture Organisation (UNESCO), the World Bank and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) have quantified the economic dimension of this drama.

Giant losses

“This generation of students now risk losing 17 trillion US dollars in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.”

The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report,  released in December 2021, shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.

According to the three world bodies’ report, simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses are now being corroborated by real data.

And it provides some specific examples: regional evidence from Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa, and Mexico, among others, show substantial losses in maths and reading.

Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. However, there was great heterogeneity across countries and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level.

“For example, results from two states in Mexico show significant learning losses in reading and in maths for students aged 10-15. The estimated learning losses were greater in maths than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately.”

Inequities of education, exacerbated

Learning to read is a milestone in every child’s life. Reading is a foundational skill, the report explains, adding that all children should be able to read by age 10. Reading is a gateway for learning as the child progresses through school – and conversely, an inability to read constraints opportunities for further learning.

“Beyond this, when children cannot read, it’s usually a clear indication that school systems aren’t well organised to help children learn in other areas such as maths, science, and the humanities either.”

And although it is possible to learn later in life with enough effort, children who don’t read by age 10 – or at the latest, by the end of primary school – usually fail to master reading later in their schooling career.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted education systems around the world, it was clear that many children around the world were not learning to read proficiently, according to the report. Even though the majority of children are in school, a large proportion are not acquiring fundamental skills.

“Moreover, 260 million children are not even in school. This is the leading edge of a learning crisis that threatens countries’ efforts to build human capital and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

No human capital

Without foundational learning, students often fail to thrive later in school or when they join the workforce.

“They don’t acquire the human capital they need to power their careers and economies once they leave school, or the skills that will help them become engaged citizens and nurture healthy, prosperous families. Importantly, a lack of foundational literacy skills in the early grades can lead to intergenerational transmission of poverty and vulnerability.”

As a major contributor to human capital deficits, the learning crisis undermines sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

To spotlight this crisis, the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics jointly constructed the concept of Learning Poverty and an accompanying indicator.

“Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.”

Aggravating global learning crisis

COVID-19 is now wreaking havoc on the lives of young children, students, and youth. The disruption of societies and economies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating the global learning crisis and impacting education in unprecedented ways.

Learning poverty to rise

With more than a complete year of schooling lost in many parts of the world, learning poverty is estimated to rise to 63 percent in developing countries.

Gaping inequalities

UNESCO says that this fourth International Day of Education is marked “as our world stands at a turning point: gaping inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarisation and the devastating impact of the global pandemic put us before a generational choice: Continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.”

Education is key to charting the course towards more justice and sustainability, but it is “failing millions of children, youth and adults, increasing their exposure to poverty, violence and exploitation,” adds UNESCO.

Education, a human right

And here goes a needed reminder: the right to education is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration calls for “free and compulsory elementary education.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries “shall make higher education accessible to all.”


“Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future.”

But about 258 million children and adolescents around the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school, and 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic maths…

And less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school.

“Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable,” warns the United Nations.

“Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.”

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Bringing Dry Land in the Sahel Back to Life



©FAO/ Giulio NapolitanoA field with mid-moon dams used to save water in the coming rainy season in Burkina Faso.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Those trying to grow crops in the Sahel region are often faced with poor soil, erratic rainfail and long periods of drought. However, the introduction of a state-of-the art heavy digger, the Delfino plough, is proving to be, literally, a breakthrough.

As part of its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought the Delfino to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut through impacted, bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a metre.

The Delfino plough is extremely efficient: one hundred farmers digging irrigation ditches by hand can cover a hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hooked to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is ploughed, the seeds of woody and herbaceous native species are then sown directly, and inoculated seedlings planted. These species are very resilient and work well in degraded land, providing vegetation cover and improving the productivity of previously barren lands. 

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plough. In Nigeria and Senegal, it is working to scale up the restoration of degraded land.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Workers preparing tractors to start ploughing in Burkina Faso.

Farming seen through a half-moon lens

This technology, whilst impressive, is proving to be successful because it is being used in tandem with traditional farming techniques.

“In the end the Delfino is just a plough. A very good and suitable plough, but a plough all the same,” says Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

The half-moon is a traditional Sahel planting method which creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favourable micro-climate conditions allowing seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino creates large half-moon catchments ready for planting seeds and seedlings, boosting rainwater harvesting tenfold and making soil more permeable for planting than the traditional – and backbreaking – method of digging by hand.

“The whole community is involved and has benefitted from fodder crops such as hay as high as their knees within just two years”, says Mr. Sacande. “They can feed their livestock and sell the surplus, and move on to gathering products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine”.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Women dig mid-moon dams to save water in Niger.

Women taking the lead

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for the African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plough will also reduce the burden on women.

“The season for the very hard work of hand-digging the half-moon irrigation dams comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So, the work falls on the women,” says Ms. Berrahmouni.

Because the Delfino plough significantly speeds up the ploughing process and reduces the physical labour needed, it gives women extra time to manage their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s participation in local land restoration on a bigger scale, offering them leadership roles through the village committees that plan the work of restoring land. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to set up a village committee to manage the resources, so as to take ownership right from the beginning.

“Many women are running the local village committees which organise these activities and they are telling us they feel more empowered and respected,” offers Mr. Sacande.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that half-moon dams are the best way of harvesting rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is just making the job more efficient and less physically demanding.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Tractors at work to prepare the land for plantation in Burkina Faso.

Millions of hectares lost to the desert, forests under threat

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that over nine million hectares of land, once used for agriculture, is no longer viable for farming.

It is projected that degradation will continue to expand at 360 000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, forests are at risk of being cleared to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest every year for this reason, yet has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land viable for restoration. By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn into cropland for Africa’s rising population and growing food demands.

When Mr. Sacande talks about restoring land in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident. “Restoring degraded land back to productive good health is a huge opportunity for Africa. It brings big social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It’s a bulwark against climate change and it brings technology to enhance traditional knowledge.”

A version of this story first appeared on the FAO website.

Action Against Desertification – Delfino ploughs for land preparation and landscape restoration

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change



© United Nations MoroccoYoung Moroccan climate activists and entrepreneurs are taking a group photo with Sylvia Lopez-Ekra in Morocco.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Behind all these initiatives, are the young men and women featured in “From Milan to Glasgow: Moroccan Youth Leaders in the Spotlight“, a new campaign launched by the United Nations team in Morocco to empower young people to take climate action and reduce the harmful carbon emissions that are dangerously heating the planet.

For the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Morocco, Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the new campaign is a “bet on the importance of partnering with Moroccan youth invested in climate issues.”

Tipping the balance

One of the activists featured is Manal Bidar, an 18-year-old from the city of Agadir, who believes “it is young people who can tip the balance to the right side in the fight against climate change.”

She first got involved in climate and environment action at 13, when she joined a group of friends from a local club, to clean a beach.

She is now an ambassador for the African Youth Climate Hub, a platform that brings together activists from the continent, and serves as an advisor to the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), an international non-profit dedicated to promote climate-resilience around the world. 

‘Fight of our lives’

Like Ms. Bidar, Hasnae Bakhchouch, a 22-year-old student from Rabat, is taking action to tackle the impact of climate change. 

“With its adverse effects on biodiversity and the health of living beings, climate change jeopardizes societies and can cause conflicts over access to natural resources”, she says.

Ms. Bakhchouch was a National Coordinator of the Moroccan youth delegation to the UN Conference of Youth on Climate, held in September 2021 in Milan, Italy. 

She explains that the goal was to draft recommendations for the 26th UN Climate Change conference (COP26), which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, a couple of months later. 

The Conference closed with a “compromise” deal, which the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said was simply “not enough”. 

At the time, the UN chief encouraged young people and everyone leading the charge, to keep fighting. 

“We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won”, he said. 

From coffee to bricks

One day, while enjoying a cup of coffee, Hamza Laalej, a 23-year-old Moroccan student from Meknes, asked himself if there was a way to recycle the large amount of coffee grounds that end up in the garbage every day. 

Months later, Mr. Laalej managed to turn his idea into a viable green business, where one of the main products is an eco-friendly brick made with a mix of coffee grounds and regular clay.

“Inspired by the Moroccan craft tradition, the production of these bricks relies on [using less] heating, thus helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, he explains. 

Since then, he has teamed up with 23-year-old Moroccan, Nour El Houda Ben Khoudja, to launch a company that specializes in the collection, sorting, and transformation of coffee grounds into building materials and decoration products.

“You don’t have to wait for the perfect time to start [a green business]. It’s the obstacles you encounter along the way that make business creation an inspiring and fruitful adventure”, he says. 

Green entrepreneurs

A roundtable organized last November, during the launch of this UN campaign, saw other young people present their green start-up projects.

Oussama Nour and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, for example, introduced WAVEBEAT, a company that aims to produce electricity from ocean waves.

© United Nations Morocco

Oussama Nour, President, and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, General Director of WAVEBEA in Morocco

The goal is to provide companies operating in the Moroccan port of Tangier Med, with a renewable alternative to meet their energy needs.

Younes Ouazri presented an ecological and energy-efficient construction method to build homes, including seasonal residences and tourism resorts, using locally sourced materials. 

Hicham Zouaoui and Otman Harrak spoke about their carpooling app, that currently allows some 400,000 Moroccans to travel across the Kingdom, helping save on transportation costs and reducing CO2 emissions.

For his part, Seifeddin Laalej heads a start-up that specializes in recycling plastic waste to manufacture building materials, which he sells all over the country.

“It is important that young people believe in their potential and launch their own projects based on their skills and professional networks”, he said. 

A key player

According to the UN Resident Coordinator, “thanks to its climate policy for the past years, Morocco has become a key leader on initiatives for climate action.”

Through an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme and strategies for the preservation of natural resources, Morocco intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45.5 per cent by 2030 and achieve a 52 per cent share of renewable energy in its energy mix in the same year. 

The country is currently one of the few nations with a nationally determined contribution (NDC) in line with the global target of 1.5°C.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News


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