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BRAZIL: Humble Cassava Regains Prestige

RIO DE JANEIRO - Cassava, a traditional crop pushed aside in recent years by the advent of large-scale agro-industry export crops, is recovering some of its former prestige in Brazil, as reflected by the resurrection of the Brazilian Cassava Congress.

A regular annual event until its suspension in 1999, the conference is being held once again Oct. 25-28 in Campo Grande, capital of the central-western state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Cassava is a tuber native to Brazil that was later introduced to other tropical regions around the world, primarily Africa -- currently its largest producer -- and Asia. Today it is the main source of calories for half a million of the world's people, Auro Otsubo of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation told Tierramérica.

Traditionalism and prejudices have hindered the development of cassava cultivation, Otsubo commented. However, it is a more productive option than corn, and is of greater social benefit, because its production requires a larger labor force. It can also help to revive local economies as a crop ideally suited to family farming.


CUBA: Electricity from Sugarcane

HAVANA - A project to generate electricity using sugarcane biomass at a sugar mill near Havana will contribute 143 gigawatt hours annually to the national electric power grid and help curb the emission of harmful greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels.

A 30 megawatt thermal power plant will be built next to the Héctor Molina Sugar Complex and supply steam and electricity to the sugar processing plant and distillery generated from the fibrous residue that remains after the sugar juice is extracted from crushed cane.

The project was presented at a regional workshop held in Havana in mid-October on energy generation from biomass in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The papers presented at the workshop will be published in November, Denis Desgain of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) told Tierramérica.


VENEZUELA: Cleaning Up a Garbage Dump

CARACAS - The local authorities in Valencia, 80 km west of Caracas, have launched a program to clean up La Guásima garbage dump. The 2.5 million dollar project will include the construction of a solid waste treatment plant, waste classification pits and leaching ponds, reported Mayor Argenis Loreto.

At both La Guásima and La Bonanza, the ironic name of the Caracas garbage dump, "there are hundreds of people working, gathering reusable materials, but exposing themselves to diseases, because hazardous wastes from hospitals are not separated from the rest," Giorgio Restori of the non-governmental organization Participemos told Tierramérica.

According to Rosa María Gil, director of environmental affairs in Valencia, there are around 1,500 people working in the La Guásimo. Venezuela currently has no policies or regulations for the classification of wastes before their disposal and collection.


CHILE: Video on Dead Swans Censored

SANTIAGO - Environmental watchdog group Oceana is using the Internet to disseminate a video on the death of hundreds of swans at the Rio Cruces nature sanctuary in southern Chile after its public screening was censored.

Sara Sinsay of Publicitaria, the company that owns the theater where the video was scheduled to be shown, initially reported that the ban was imposed by the Santiago municipal authorities, although she later retracted the statement.

According to Oceana, Sinsay asked the organization to send a new version of the video that did not show individuals "publicly linked to the destruction of the sanctuary," including former Chilean president Eduardo Frei (1994-2000), whose administration authorized the construction of the pulp mill blamed for the death of 500 swans and the migration of another 3,000.

As a result, "the municipal government of Santiago is an accomplice to those responsible for the worst environmental disaster of the decade in Chile," Oceana vice president Marcel Claude told Tierramérica.

* Source: Inter Press Service.

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