Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Brazil, Kenya, And The Future Of Energy

In another sign of Brazil’s growing global clout, President Lula di Silva made a visit to Kenya a key stop on his whirlwind tour of Africa; the Brazilian president is trying to build ties with Kenya, which Brazil feels could serve as an anchor that the South American country could then use to build ties with the rest of the East African Community – a trading bloc that includes five nations and 125 million people.

One specific area where Brazil is willing to lend a hand to Kenya is in the area of biofuels. Brazil is one of the world’s top producers of biodiesel (diesel fuel made from plants rather than crude oil), a distinction that has allowed Brazil to become energy independent while maintaining a strong rate of domestic growth. Biofuel production is currently only done on a very small scale in Kenya, but the Kenyan government is eager to change that and Kenyan farmers have been turning more of their land over to the production of biofuel crops in recent years. Of course that might not be a good thing and if you watched 60 Minutes this past Sunday, you probably know what I’m getting at here. 60 Minutes did a story on what they called The Great Migration, the annual trek by millions of animals across the Maasai Mara plains in Kenya, the last migration of land animals of this scale left on the planet. But the Great Migration may be in danger; the Mara River, the source of the water that grows the plants that are the cause of the migration is drying up. And the most likely reason for the Mara drying up is the deforestation of the lands at its source, deforestation occurring so that the land can then be cultivated. While Kenya is now trying to preserve the forests at the Mara’s headwaters, increased demand for biofuel crops will only encourage farmers to clear more land for cultivation and reduce the amount of water the land is able to capture in seasonal rains and then funnel into the Mara River.

Along with help in producing biofuels, Presidents di Silva and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya talked about Brazil assisting Kenya in building ports, hydroelectric plants and rehabilitating Kenya’s dilapidated network of highways. Kenya’s long-term goal is to be considered a “fully developed” nation by 2030. Brazil, meanwhile, is trying to establish itself as a fully-fledged player in global politics, and sees development deals, like the one struck with Kenya, as a way of displaying their clout on the world stage.
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