Recent developments in the world of biofuels

Water hyacinth mat on river Opinions on the use of crops for biofuel and bioenergy continue to be polarized – are they a ‘good thing’ or not? When are they a ‘good thing’? Who benefits?

How do you measure the impacts and their interactions at a local, national and international level on food security, land resources, water, greenhouse gas emissions, energy security, poverty, social development, sustainability…and try to remain impartial and objective?

The Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Analytical Framework developed by FAO aims to address these issues by providing an analytical framework and set of tools which can be used to measure these impacts. Using a step-by-step methodology, the goal is to help policymakers make informed decisions on whether development of bioenergy is a viable option for their country and identify suitable policies that will maximize benefits and minimize risks.

Three separate reports describe the implementation of the framework in Peru, Tanzania and Thailand, with suggestions for suitable options for each country.

Another source of information is Recent developments in the world of biofuels, a critical analysis by CABI scientists of the latest research on the potential and realities of growing and processing jatropha, algae and biomass for biofuels or bioenergy – see Biofuels Information Exchange.

Land use and poverty alleviation issues in Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, India, China and Brazil are discussed as well as research into using problematic invasive aquatic weeds (water hyacinth – pictured above – is a favourite) for bioenergy. The pros and cons of algal biofuels, and the latest technology for concentrating biomass energy into a more energy-dense form which makes transport to a processing plant more feasible are discussed, and more…

BIE is an impartial site for exchanging information on biofuels research – the exchange on pests of jatropha has generated the longest running discussion over the last 2 years – and the site provides open access to documents on biofuels, including the peer-reviewed Land Use Change: Science and Policy Review (copublished with Hart Energy Consulting) and abstracts of the latest research on biofuels from the CAB Abstracts database.

For a comprehensive resource of published information on research into man’s impact on the environment see CABI’s Environmental Impact which has a special section on biofuels research information – abstracts, books, book chapters, reports, reviews.

One medicine; in practice

‘One-medicine’ movement has been boosted by the launch of a new web site at
It aims to promote the idea of ‘one
medicine’ throughout the world and provide information on this initiative for
the public, political and governmental leaders, news media, and all ‘One Health’
professionals, advocates, and supporters.

The concept of ‘one
medicine’ is now well established having been adopted by both the American
Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Medical Association. It
seeks to enhance collaboration between veterinarians and physicians, and other
health professionals, to promote the health and well being of all species. More
recently, the health of the environment has been included in the ‘one medicine’
concept reflecting the facts that all three are interlinked. The term one medicine
was first used by the pioneering veterinary epidemiologist, Calvin Schwabe, who
sought to break down the barriers between human and veterinary medicine.
Professor Schwabe set up the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine
at the University of California, Davis, in 1966, which was the first veterinary epidemiology department in the world.
He developed his ideas from his experiences in researching into hydatid disease
and other parasitic zoonoses while he was teaching at the American University in Beirut.

The idea of ‘one
medicine’ sounds very worthy and laudable, but it is not always easy to
envisage how in practice to impact on the lives humans and animals and the
environment. If anyone wanted a really good example of how the ‘one
medicine’ approach can benefit all three, they would have done well to have
attended an excellent talk delivered by Dr Sarah Cleaveland on rabies control in
Africa, given at the British Veterinary Association Congress in London on Friday
26 September. Those of us who were fortunate to be there heard how the health of
livestock, wild animals and humans in the Serengeti are woven together in a
dynamic relationship, and how measures to control infectious diseases affect the
humans, livestock, wild animals and the environment. Dr Cleaveland has been
based at the veterinary school in Edinburgh, was awarded the Trevor Blackburn Award in recognition of her work on zoonotic,
livestock and wildlife diseases in East Africa and for her outstanding
contributions to animal and human health, wildlife conservation and animal
welfare in Africa and beyond. The talk covered the effects of
disease and its control in the Serengeti region of Tanzania, known to viewers of wildlife programmes as the site of spectacular wildebeest
migrations, followed by lions and other carnivores that live off them. Dr
Cleaveland spoke about the control of a number of zoonotic diseases such as
brucellosis, tuberculosis, and echinococcosis, but it was her account of the campaign
to control rabies which really showed the value of the ‘one medicine’ approach.
Rabies is a very serious problem in many parts of the world and it is
estimated that 55,000 people die from the disease each year. Most of the victims
are children, and poor children in remote areas are the most likely to die if
infected, because the cost of the post-exposure vaccine and time taken to reach
a clinic. We heard how epidemiological techniques were used to prove that dogs
were the reservoir host (and not the wild carnivores that were also affected),
and how a mass dog vaccination campaign that she directed and implemented, currently vaccinating
200,000 dogs annually, has prevented hundreds of human and animal rabies deaths.
We also learnt that one of the most difficult parts of the control programme was
persuading the Masai dog owners to wait in an orderly line to have their dogs
vaccinated, and that the commonest pet names for their dogs were ‘Osama’ and
‘Bush’. As well as saving at least 50 human lives saved each year, at a
fraction of the cost of post exposure vaccination, the measures have also
protected endangered wildlife species, such as the African wild dog.

We also learned how the wildebeest numbers, a dominant
feature of the ecology of the Serengeti, have grown since the control of
rinderpest in cattle in the 1960s, and that as reservoirs of malignant catarrhal
fever virus, the arrival of the wildebeest to the lush lowlands of the Serengeti
drives the Masai to take their herds, to higher more marginal grazing, which can
lead to environment problems from overgrazing.

A search of the CAB Abstracts database for information on
‘one medicine’ shows that not only is the concept helpful in improving the
lives of pastoralists in developing countries, but can also help deal with
global problems such as obesity and heart disease through the benefits of the
animal human bond.