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Pongamia tree produces oily pod

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Oct. 27, 2008) – A FJ$174 million [US$98,000 ] biodiesel initiative is proposed for Fiji in the first three years of its inception.

Still in the planning stage, the proposed project is part of attempts to reduce the country’s reliance on imported diesel through the use of pongamia oil.

And this proposal by Bio-Fuels International has the support of the Department of Energy that says this project, when implemented, will enable Fiji to stand alone in the region in confronting the issue of increasing fuel costs.

This will be the fourth project eyed to be established in Fiji to generate its own fuel – two ethanol (cassava and sugarcane), two bio-diesel (coconut oil and pongamia oil).

A brief prepared by Bio-Fuels International stated Fiji would be one of the major contenders among proposed sites in the South Pacific for Bio-fuel International’s ‘Renewable Energy Transformation Initiative’.

The brief stated that phase 1 of the development would see a cash infusion of more than $174 million to plant an estimated 100,000 hectares of pongamia in the first three years alone.

Pongamia is a deciduous tree that grows to about 15-25 meters in height with a large canopy that spreads equally wide.

Oil from pongamia seeds have been found to be useful in diesel generators and are being explored in hundreds of projects throughout India and the third world as feedstock for biodiesel.

According to the brief, "the overall project is anticipated to tip the scales at $870 million over the next 12 years and cover a total plantation span of more than 500,000 hectares".

Agricultural development specialist Frank Eggleton said the investors, from Australia and US were working on the basis that they did not want to own leases or have any control over the farmer’s land.

He said they wanted the farmer to farm his own land.

"One of the reasons in Fiji farmers haven’t been faming on their land is they haven’t got the money to develop it, or they haven’t got the expertise to develop it, or they haven’t got the market or they haven’t got the drive to develop it.

"So what we did was we found the market, we found the product, we supplied the import, we supplied the expertise or the training, and the farmer went ahead.

"In the pongamia situation, the farmers will have an extra advantage in that the company will be supplying the imports, they won’t have to borrow any money therefore they won’t have to pay it back.

"That’s the prime principle, the farmer farming his own land with his own experience so that he takes ownership of it and then he produces the product and he’s got the market for it. It’s not rocket science but it’s very difficult to implement.

"I’ve had 40 years in agriculture development and I know that this is nearly the only successful case worldwide where we have managed to implement it, and it has taken very intense management."

Department of Energy’s Bio-fuel Engineer, Filimoni Vosarogo said that with a cash injection of $174,000,000, the project would put Fiji on the big bio-diesel market.

Naitaisiri Provincial Council chairman Ratu Ilaitia Tuisese said there was land available in Naitasiri to accommodate this project.

However, he said proper consultations and meetings would need to be carried out with landowners for a clear understanding of the benefits of the project.

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