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Cow Dung Holds the Key to Nepal’s Green Economy — Global Issues

A company in Pokhara has enlarged household digesters into an industrial scale plant that uses climate-friendly technology that could ultimately be scaled nationwide to reduce Nepal’s balance of trade gap.
  • by Kunda Dixit (kaski, nepal)
  • Friday, January 17, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

Over the past 30 years, Nepal has become a world leader in spreading locally-designed household biogas digesters. There are now 300,000 of them, helping reduce deforestation, improving people’s health and lifting women out of drudgery and poverty.

Now, a company in Pokhara has enlarged household digesters into an industrial scale plant that uses climate-friendly technology that could ultimately be scaled nationwide to reduce Nepal’s balance of trade gap.

Kushal Gurung’s grandfather was in the British Army, and he also applied for recruitment but failed the eyesight test. So, he set up Gandaki Urja in Pokhara that works with wind, solar and hydropower, but he believes Nepal’s best option for sustainable growth lies in energy from waste.

“Nepal must abandon fossil fuels, but even among renewable energy sources biogas has a three-fold advantage. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore climate friendly. It allows us to manage raw waste. And it can slash our import bill for LPG and chemical fertiliser,” says Gurung. “It is a win-win-win.”

A tipper truck has just arrived from Gorkha at Gandaki Urja’s biogas plant at Kotre near Pokhara, which with its dome digester looks like a nuclear reactor. The truck tilts its container to empty 5 tons of smelly poultry waste into a pit where rotting vegetables and cow dung from a farm in Syangja are all being mixed before being fed into the 4,000 cubic meter digester that is kept inflated.

In the absence of oxygen, bacteria already in the cow dung go to work to break down the waste into methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The impurities are removed by filters to produce 200 cylinders of bio-CNG a day which are sold to big hotels and restaurants in Pokhara.

Customers pay a deposit for the cylinders and pressure regulators, and usually use up about two cylinders a day. The cost per kg for the bio-Compressed Natural Gas (bio-CNG) is the same as the state subsidised Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). However, customers prefer the biogas because it saves them up to 30% cost because it has higher calorific value than LPG, and there is no residue that goes waste.

“So far, the customers are satisfied, and we see demand growing in the future as word spreads,” says Ashim Kayastha, Director of Gandaki Urja.

Half the plant’s revenue comes from bio-CNG and the other half from the effluent which is dried and sold as organic fertiliser. The plant can produce up to 11,000 tons of fertiliser a year and is sold to surrounding farms.

The future of bio-CNG depends on scaling up the technology since any municipality generating more than 40 tons of biodegradable waste per day could have its own biogas plant. Nepal imports 500,000 tons of chemical fertiliser a year, and if each of 100 municipalities produced 5,000 tons of organic fertiliser Nepal could slash its import bill.

This could also significantly reduce the country’s annual import of Rs33 billion worth of LPG from India which grew four-fold in the past 10 years, making up 2.5% of Nepal’s total import bill. But to scale up, industrial biogas needs the same government incentives as hydro, solar and wind power.

At the moment hydropower investors enjoy a 100% corporate tax holiday for 10 years, and 50% for the next five years. There is only 1% tax on imports of equipment for solar, wind and hydropower, there is no such provision for the equipment for industrial scale biogas. Instead, there is a tax on interest, and also VAT on bio-CNG.



“The government should look at this not only as an energy project, but at its multifaceted benefits,” says Kushal Gurung of Gandaki Urja. “There is a waste-to-energy and fertiliser angle, too. If we want to make Nepal fully organic in the next ten years, projects like these need to be prioritised.”

Gandaki Urja got a boost from an unlikely source, Business Oxygen (BO2) in Kathmandu which helps entrepreneurs running Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to scale up by injecting equity and providing technical assistance.

Says Siddhant Pandey of BO2: “We are always on the lookout for climate investments, and we realised that bio-CNG would be an incredible adaptive resilience investment. It would displace imports of LPG and fertiliser. It was going to be clean, no carbon footprint, and it made business sense because it met our internal return on investment expectation.”

The challenges are ensuring reliable sources of raw material and building knowhow for the technology within Nepal.

Says Pandey: “The Pokhara plant is a drop in the ocean, it can abe replicated in all 7 provinces. We know it is scalable, and it depends how proactive provincial governments will be.”


This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Trump turns focus to Sanders as senator holds steady near top of the Democratic pack

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has been ramping up his attacks on Bernie Sanders as the Vermont senator has consistently stayed near the top of the Democratic pack.

Trump lobbed a fresh jab at Sanders on Sunday on Twitter, noting his rise in the polls, and brought him up throughout his rally on Thursday in Toledo. Trump’s campaign sent out back-to-back emails blasting Sanders last week.

The moves are part of a deliberate shift in focus towards Sanders, a campaign official said. As Trump’s attacks are likely to do more to help Sanders than hurt him with Democratic voters, it’s an indication the campaign is trying to put its finger on the scale in the weeks before voters begin weighing in.

“Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “So what does this all mean? Stay tuned!”

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Sanders shot back moments later, replying on Twitter, “It means you’re going to lose.”

Sanders took a narrow lead in the most recent poll of Iowa voters, but the race there remains essentially a four-way dead heat less than a month before the critical first-in-the-nation caucuses. The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll, released Friday, shows Sanders with 20 percent support among likely Democratic caucus-goers.

While Trump’s campaign advisers believe the president has a good shot at defeating any of the Democratic contenders, they have said Sanders would be an easy mark because they believe his progressive policies would alienate moderate and independent voters.

But the campaign has also sought recently to go after Sanders’ character, not just his policies. In a campaign email sent Thursday, Sanders was described as a “wealthy, fossil-fuel guzzling millionaire” — a somewhat paradoxical attack from a billionaire who used to fly around in a private jet. In another on Wednesday, the campaign said Sanders “can’t be trusted to defend American lives.”

“He’s just another Hollywood-style hypocrite who demands working class Americans make sacrifices while he plays by his own rules and enjoys a lavish lifestyle,” the campaign email on Thursday said.

Although Trump often refers to Sanders as “crazy Bernie,” he has previously reserved his most stinging attacks for Democrats like Biden and Warren.

But at a campaign rally in Toledo Thursday, Trump went after Sanders several times, attacking the senator’s health care plan and his criticism of the administration’s decision to kill top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, while seeking to paint Sanders as a leader of the Democratic Party.

“Democrats are taking their cues from socialist Bernie Sanders,” along with the group of freshman women in the House known as “The Squad,” Trump said. “They’re the leaders of the party.”

Trump’s attacks haven’t gone unnoticed by Sanders.

“Some of you may have noticed that recently our campaign and me personally have been the target of attacks from Trump and the Republican party because they are catching on that our campaign is the campaign that can and win defeat them,” Sanders said at a town hall event in Newton, Iowa, on Saturday. “We are going to expose the fact that when Trump talks about being a friend of working people, he is a liar and a fraud.”

Gary Grumbach contributed.

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Algeria holds state funeral for army chief | Algeria News

The state funeral for Algeria’s army chief is taking place, despite protesters defying calls for three days of mourning.

Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah suffered a heart attack on Monday.

The 80-year-old’s body was transferred to the People’s Palace where the newly elected president paid his respects.

Salah was regarded as the most powerful man in the country after longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in April.


Al Jazeera’s Laura Burdon-Manley takes a look back at his life.

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US House holds debates before vote on impeachment

The US House of Representatives holds a full session to vote on two articles of impeachment that have been filed against President Donald Trump, Trend reports citing Sputnik.

If the House Democratic majority votes to impeach on 18 December, the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to start the formal impeachment trial which is likely to occur in the coming weeks or even days. A two-thirds Senate majority – 67 votes – is needed to convict the president and thereby remove him from office.

The impeachment inquiry was launched by House Democrats in September after a whistleblower complaint alleged that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to probe his political rival and former US Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who once sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. Trump has said that the impeachment inquiry is a sham and another political witch hunt by Democrats to reverse the results of the 2016 presidential election.

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Mexico holds assemblies to consider controversial Maya Train plan | Mexico News

Mexico City, Mexico – The future of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s ambitious Mayan Train project hangs in the balance this weekend as the communities on the train’s proposed route express their thoughts about the plan.

The new 1,525-km train-route in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is expected to connect nature reserves and archaeological zones in the impoverished southeastern states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Campeche to the existing tourism hub of Cancun.

Mexico’s tourism board, the Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo (FONATUR), has estimated the project will cost between $6-8bn. FONATUR expects the train to bring more than three million visitors a year to the region to see the area’s vast biodiversity, including the biospheres at Calakmul and Sian Ka’an.

But despite Lopez Obrador’s claim last year that that the project “won’t uproot a single tree”, environmentalists have expressed their concerns over the project, and indigenious groups also worry about whether the government will adequaretly listen to the local communities’ concerns.

More than a dozen assemblies will be held in areas along the train’s proposed route this weekend. The assemblies will allow residents tell the government about what they think of the route and overall project.

“It’s not about a ‘yes or no’ answer,” said Maritza Licona, a spokeswoman for the government’s Instituto Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas (INPI), one of three state bodies overseeing the consultation. “If a community decides they don’t want the train on their land, we’ll change the route. If they want it stopped, we’ll stop.”

Maya train

A collection of houses can be seen on either side of an existing train track that currently only transports freight in Campeche, Mexico [Lexie Harrison-Cripps/Al Jazeera] 

Jose Martin Naal, an ejido (or community) leader from Xkakoch in Campeche who attended the Tenabo consultation on Saturday, said his ejido welcomes the potential to increase tourism and allow members of his community to commute to find work.  Other ejido leaders echoed Martin’s sentiments although several, including Pedro Raul Chi Canche from Calkini, expressed concerns about the amount and timing of any compensation that will be paid to those affected by the project.

The initial consultation phase saw conversations with 4,800 participants from 115 municipalities, Licona said, and took place over a four-week period beginning in November.

“We provided materials in Spanish and in four Indigenous languages,” she continued, “with broadcasts on 21 Indigenous radio stations.”  Many who participated in the initial consultation spoke about the need to improve local infrastructure or to clarify the property rights of those affected by the project.   

But the nature of the consultations has come under scrutiny.

‘We don’t have the power’

With photographs of apparent construction work on the site of the train circulating in local press earlier this week, questions have arisen about the consultation’s true function.

“The consultation is just about ‘listening to opinions’,” said a press release from El Consejo Civil Mexicano de Silvicultura Sostenible (CCMSS). “This violates the free will of the Maya people. We don’t have power to accept or reject anything.”

The CCMSS also says that the nature of the consultation breaches the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, which protects Indigenous populations.

Maya train

Leaders of the affected communities (known as ejidos) use their official stamps to register their attendance at the consultation in Tenabo, Mexico [Lexie Harrison-Cripps/Al Jazeera] 

It is a flaw that the government acknowledges.

“We want a constitutional reform that respects Convenio 169,” INPI spokeswoman Licona told Al Jazeera. “Until then, we have to follow protocols to the best of our ability.”

An INPI spokesman at the Tenabo consultation in Campeche on Saturday, confirmed that the process will not end this weekend and the conversation will  be an “ongoing conversation”.

But according to Leo Agusto, a left-leaning columnist with El Grafico “these consultations aren’t about listening. They’re a bang on the table, reinforcing presidential will. Too few people take part for them to tell us much about an outlook on the projects.”

‘Grave danger of extinction’

Environmentalists also worry about whether the government has performed adequate impact studies on the effects of the train’s construction on the wildlife along its route.

“The south of Mexico needs this project,” said Diana Friedeberg, director of the Mexican office of Panthera, a charity dedicated to preserving 40 endangered big-cat species worldwide. “But the Tren Maya cuts through the habitats of a jaguar population in grave danger of extinction. We’re already seeing inbreeding and malnutrition. This new project could finish them off entirely.”

Although Rogelio Jimenez Pons, the director of FONATUR, has said that the Tren Maya will be less damaging than highways, Friedeberg says she has “never seen” an impact study to support this claim.

Proposals to mitigate the train’s impact – such as tunnels allowing animals to pass under the train-tracks – are also seen as inadequate.

“The idea is for a large thoroughfares through the forest for jaguars and their prey – deer, boar, and armadillos – but animals won’t travel five kilometres to do that,” Friedeberg said. “Smaller, more numerous tunnels might help. But the government hasn’t included us in planning discussions.”

The train’s 18 stops are likely to grow into mid-scale towns, bringing an estimated 20,000 jobs and $7m annually to some of the country’s most impoverished communities, according to FONATUR.

Maya train

Lake Bacalar is seen as sunrise in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The lagoon is currently relatively undeveloped with few tourists visiting the area [Lexie Harrison-Cripps/Al Jazeera] 

For Friedeberg, this could be a disaster for the area’s jaguar population.

“Planning has never been our forte in Mexico,” she said. “You only have to look at the sprawl around Cancun and Playa del Carmen. On top of the impact of construction, we’ll have to deal with poaching.”

But for Carlos Ortega, an architect with experience working on public projects, the Tren Maya could benefit locals.

“I would expect an average income of 15,000 pesos (USD$790) per month for the jobs created by this project,” he said. “These wages have the potential to lift people out of poverty.”

Ortega also considered the “preventive security benefit” of population centres growing up around infrastructure.

‘We’re unlikely to get ‘no-man’s-land’ zones where large cartel massacres often happen,: he said.

However, Ortega went on to stress that proper planning is “the only way” the project will help locals.

“Without community cooperation,” he said, “whatever altruism there is in the project is cosmetic.”

Mixed signals

This weekend’s assemblies follow a national vote on the Tren Maya project, held in November 2018, before Lopez Obrador took office.

Just over 1 percent of registered voters nationwide cast their ballots on the project, with the president’s press office reporting an approval rating of slightly under 90 percent for the train.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has sent mixed messages about the binding power of the consultation.

At a morning news conference in Mexico City last month, the president promised “to respect the will of the citizens”.

“If people say ‘Yes’, let’s go,” he said. “If people say ‘No’, that’s where it’ll stay, the people are in charge.”

Two months earlier, however, speaking in the town of Hecelchakan, Campeche – where 70 percent of the population lives in poverty – the president stated that “come rain, thunder, or lightning, the Tren Maya will be built – whether people want it or not.”

With addtional reporting by Lexie Harrison-Cripps in Campeche, Mexico.

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Hornsey and Wood Green constituency results 2019: Labour’s Catherine West holds seat

Voters in Hornsey and Wood Green have gone to the polls to cast their ballots in the General Election.

Boris Johnson called the election to end the Brexit deadlock, the first December election since 1923.

MPs passed legislation approving the poll in October by a decisive margin of 438 votes to 20, seeing Britain’s political parties leap into action for an impassioned five-week campaign period.

The PM said the election beckoned the country to “come together to get Brexit done”, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded it a “once-in-a-generation chance to transform” the nation.

Hornsey and Wood Green results:

2017 result: Catherine West, Labour

  • Dawn Barnes, Liberal Democrats, 15,884

  • Daniel Corrigan, The Brexit Party, 763

  • Jarelle Francis, Green, 2,192

  • Ed McGuiness, Conservative, 6,829

  • Helen Spiby-Vann, Christian Peoples Alliance, 211

  • Catherine West, Labour, 35,126

To secure a majority and form a government, a party needs to win more than half the seats in the House of Commons – 326. The party that comes second sits on the Commons’ opposition benches, with its leader named ‘leader of the opposition’.

In 2017 the result was a hung parliament, where no single party commands a majority in Parliament. In this situation, several parties can join forces to become a ‘coalition government’, as in 2010 with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, or a single party can form a minority government.

You can read the Evening Standard’s list of candidates standing in every London constituency for the 2019 election here.


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Clashes as Algeria holds disputed elections

Protesters have poured on to the streets of the Algerian capital to demonstrate against what they say is a “sham” presidential election.

Riot police blocked streets in Algiers as protesters called for sweeping political reforms.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika was toppled earlier this year after two decades in power in Africa’s largest country.

Protesters are unhappy that all five presidential candidates have links to the former government.

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New European Central Bank chief holds her first rate meeting

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Newly appointed European Central Bank head Christine Lagarde makes her first official assessment Thursday of the mixed bag that is the eurozone economy, which suffers from slowing manufacturing and global trade even as consumer spending helps prop up growth.

Analysts think Lagarde will stress that the economy still needs support from the central bank, and that policymakers must be their guard against things turning out worse than expected. The ECB, however, is not expected to announce changes to a stimulus package decided Sept. 12 before Lagarde succeeded Mario Draghi on Nov. 1.

Doubts have grown about how much good additional central bank action can do to support developed economies; the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept interest rates unchanged and signaled it would leave them alone through 2020.

Instead, interest is focused on Lagarde, who is presiding over her first meeting since she was appointed by European leaders as the head of the institution that sets monetary policy for the 19 euro countries that use the euro and their 342 million people. She is well known from her previous jobs as head of the International Monetary Fund and as French finance minister but investors will want to see how she communicates and explains the complexities of monetary policy to markets and voters.

Other themes that may come to the fore at her news conference are her plans for a review of the bank’s monetary policy framework and how it defines price stability, the goal it is supposed to seek under the European Union treaty. There’s also been discussion of whether the ECB should do more to support financing of projects aimed at fighting environmental pollution and climate change.

Analysts will also look for signals on how she will manage dissent on the ECB’s 25-member governing council. A minority criticized the measures enacted under predecessor Draghi on Sept. 12. Those included a cut in the deposit rate to minus 0.5% from minus 0.4%. The rate is charged on excess cash left at the central bank overnight by commercial banks, so the negative rate is in effect a penalty that aims to push banks to lend the money to companies. The bank also started 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in monthly purchases of government and corporate bonds.

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Trump Holds Off on Labeling Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists

(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump said he’s holding off — at least for now — on a proposal to classify Mexican narcotics cartels as terrorist organizations, adding that he’s doing so as a favor to Mexico’s president.

“All necessary work has been completed to declare Mexican Cartels terrorist organizations,” Trump tweeted on Friday night. “Statutorily we are ready to do so.”

“However, at the request of a man who I like and respect, and has worked so well with us, President Andres Manuel @LopezObrador we will temporarily hold off this designation and step up our joint efforts to deal decisively with these vicious and ever-growing organizations!”

Trump’s Twitter post appeared as talks with Mexico’s government over a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada free-trade agreement had reached a crucial stage.

Lopez Obrador’s top trade negotiator, Jesus Seade, remained in Washington on Friday in an attempt to resolve final details with the Trump administration.

The Mexican foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, praised Trump’s move.

”On behalf of the Government of Mexico,” he wrote on Twitter, “I appreciate President Donald Trump’s decision to postpone the designation of organizations as terrorists at the request of President López Obrador, who also respects and appreciates him. Cooperation won, and there will be good results.”

The proposal to designate the drug crews as terrorist groups emerged amid the outrage over the killing early last month of nine members of a Mormon family with dual American-Mexican citizenship in an attack by cartel gunmen in northern Mexico.

Key administration officials are in favor of the policy, according to people familiar with the matter.

Under that plan, the State Department would be allowed to designate cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, putting them in the same category as Islamic State and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Trump said in a tweet after the attack that it was time “for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels.

Trump appeared to refer to Mexico’s drug cartels during a news conference Tuesday in London, where he was attending a NATO summit: “We’ll be looking at other forms of terror. We’ll be looking at other countries. We’ll be looking at countries that are aggressive, and not just one particular part of this world.”

(Updates with statement from Mexico’s foreign minister, starting in sixth paragraph.)

–With assistance from Eric Martin.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Harney in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at [email protected], Kevin Whitelaw, John Harney

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©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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