JANUARY 24, 2007 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - Following President Arroyo’s move to sign the Biofuels Act into law, the Department of Agriculture (DA) formed yesterday a task force to ensure the production of ethanol and coco biodiesel in the country.

DA Secretary Arthur Yap created the Task Force on Agribusiness Lands for Biofuels to enable the country to cash in on the booming global market for biofuels.

The decision to set up the task force for biofuels was reached during a meeting of the DA Executive Committee the other day.

"We should immediately take advantage of the signing into law of the Biofuels Act so that our farmers can start reaping its benefits in the form of higher incomes, more livelihood opportunities, and more areas developed for agribusiness projects," Yap said.

He said the task force will pinpoint existing and new lands suitable for ethanol and coco biodiesel production for the benefit of prospective investors in "this eco-friendly enterprise that will energize farms and reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuel."

Yap pointed out that investing in the "global trend towards the use of crop-based alternative fuels" will help the DA propel the growth of the nation’s agriculture sector to a projected four to five percent this year, and increase the growth rate to as much as eight percent next year.

Aside from identifying the areas currently planted to sugarcane, coconuts, cassava, sorghum, and other crops used as feedstock for biofuel projects, the task force will also locate new areas that could be planted to these crops.

The task force will also look for possible partners among the local government units and in the private sector to team up with potential investors in developing agribusiness lands for the production of ethanol or coco methyl esther (CME), otherwise known as coco diesel.

The task force will map out possible incentives under the law to attract foreign partners to invest in biofuel projects and assist prospective business groups interested in leasing lands devoted to these crops or opening up new areas for biofuel production.

Yap said the task force will be headed by Director Carlos Mendoza, who is in charge of the DA program to develop two million hectares of farm lands for agribusiness ventures.

He also said the task force, which will set up satellite offices across the country, will include representatives from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Bureau of Soils and Water Management, Information Technology Center for Agriculture and Fisheries, National Agriculture and Fisheries Council, and the Agricultural Marketing and Assistance Service.

"It will closely coordinate with such agencies as the Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Investments, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agrarian Reform, in identifying all lands suitable for biofuel investments and helping investors meet all requirements set by (Republic Act) 9367 (or the Biofuels Act) for such agribusiness projects," Yap said.

At this point, Yap noted that Chinese investors have already expressed serious intent in developing an initial 40,000 hectares of agribusiness lands in the Philippines for cassava and sugar that would be used to produce ethanol in China.

Earlier, he said the DA will speed up ongoing efforts with the SRA to pinpoint some 200,000 hectares of farmlands devoted to other crops that can otherwise be planted to sugarcane, and which investors can consider as investment sites for ethanol projects, following the enactment of the eco-friendly measure.

Yap said the DA, through the PCA, would find ways to develop an additional 122,000 hectares of coconut lands to meet the demand for coco diesel under the new law.

He believes the Biofuels Act will give an extra boost to the sugar industry that "is now on the mend," and help reinvigorate the coconut industry with sales of coco diesel to oil companies projected at P3.5 billion a year.

Government data revealed that the country has 3.5 million coconut farmers and 56,000 sugarcane farmers.

Last week, Mrs. Arroyo signed into law the Biofuels Act, which aims to ease the country’s dependence on imported, dollar-draining and pollution-generating petroleum products.

The DA is among the key agencies tasked to draw up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Biofuels Law, which mandates the pre-blending over a specific period of one percent CME or coco diesel in diesel-fed vehicles, and five percent of ethanol in gasoline-fed vehicles.

Bogo and Danao eyed as ethanol plant sites By Ehda M. Dagooc The Freeman 01/24/2007

Bogo and Danao have been eyed as potential sites for ethanol plants, this according to Biofuels Act principal Author Bukidnon Representative Juan Miguel F. Zubiri.

In his recent visit to Cebu, Zubiri revealed that the enactment of the Biofuels Act of 2006 into a law signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has attracted interests from at least 20 local and foreign investors to build biofuel plants across the Philippines, including Cebu.

He said that 15 ethanol plants and five biodiesel plants are waiting to be built in the country, mostly in the provincial areas, that would cost more than P35 billion investments.

Building an ethanol plant, he said would require about P2 billion while a biodiesel plant would need around P1.2 billion.

Among the 15 ethanol plant proponents include Japanese Company Marububeni Philippines, Bronze Oak Philippines and Teves Group of Companies, he revealed.

There are about 20 biofuel plant project proposals waiting for approval in the Board of Investments (BOI).

Aside from northern Cebu towns Bogo and Danao, Zubiri mentioned Davao del Sur and other potential site for ethanol plants.

The five biodiesel plants, will be built in areas of Camarines Sur, Candelaria, Quezon;Vigan, Ilocos Sur; and two in the western part of Zamboanga, Zubiri said.

Enacted as a law early this month the Biofuels Act of 2006 calls for the mandatory blending of at least five percent of bio-ethanol by volume into all gasoline that will be sold as motor fuel within two years.

The law provides incentives to investors including a cap of one percent for 10 years on the taxes imposed on all types of inputs, machinery, equipment, and planting and breeding materials that are to be used in biofuel production, as certified by the Department of Agriculture. Biofuels are also not covered by the Value Added Tax (VAT).

The law also directs government financial institutions like the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines to prioritize financing groups or individuals that seek to engage in biofuel production and feedstocks like sugarcane, coconut palm, jatropha, cassava, sweet sorghum, and corn.

This new law is seen to lessen the country's dependence on imported fuel and achieve energy dependence and more employment and bigger trade opportunities for farmers could also be expected.

A National Biofuels Board (NBB) will soon be formed to formulate implementing rules and regulations (IRR) and assess the impact of the use of bio-ethanol as well as the availability of the local supply of this fuel.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Department of Agriculture (DA), will be the composition of members of the NBB.

NBB will then increase the mandated minimum blend by up to five percent every two years until it determines a higher limit. The octane rating of all gasohol, however, is to be maintained at a minimum of 87 percent.

Also, the law, penalizes violators with fines ranging from P50,000 to P100,000 per day of violation, confiscation of the gasoline supply that does not comply with the specifications provided and closure of distribution facilities for non-payment of fines and blatant disregard of DOE orders.

Within six months, DOE is expected to phase out the use of harmful gasoline additives and oxygenates which have been found to be hazardous to both health and environment.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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