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By Joshua Arlo

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 18, 2008) - A US$100 million [PGK280 million] cassava bio-fuel project is now taking shape in Central province, aimed at cashing in on the growing popularity of the fuel additive ethanol -- a cassava by-product -- in the world market.

Funded by Korean firm Changhae Tapioka (PNG), the project is now on its first phase in which the most feasible cassava variety is being determined. The company said it expects to know at the end of this year which variety out of the 10 being tested right now is well suited for the project.

The most suitable cassava variety will be propagated by participating farmers nationwide.

Project developer Changhae Tapioka, a Korean-based investor, plans to develop over 20,000ha in Launakalana for its nucleus plantation which includes 100ha for the nursery site in Bore.

Local farmers would be encouraged to mass-produce the variety and supply it to the company.

Last Thursday, a field-day was organized at the nursery site to see the progress on the project, with heavy equipment, seedlings and nursery already on hand.

Changhae Tapioka chief executive officer John Lim said he appreciated the support for the project from the surrounding villages, the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and the provincial government. He said that through hard work, the people would be rewarded for their efforts in the next two years when the project becomes fully operational.

Mr. Lim said at present, there are 55 local workers involved in the project and that he expects to increase the number as the estate expands. The second cassava estate to be developed will be launched in New Ireland province next month, the company said.

Central provincial administrator Rahael Yipmaramba told landowners and the people Rigo the project is the "beginning of their lives and that they must see it through."

Changhae Tapioka said the international market for bio-fuel (ethanol) has since been growing rapidly and is expected to grow even further due to the increasing popularity of ethanol, a by-product of cassava, as a fuel additive to petrol.

Bio-fuel is not only an alternative fuel but also environmentally-friendly and could be used in existing vehicles in controlled amount without the need for any engine modifications.

Lim noted that the project will give a big boost to the rural economy as it will generate income for the farmers and provide large-scale employment.

Ethanol as fuel is very popular in developing countries like the Philippines, Thailand, India and China.

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