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UK firm mulls 'bio-diesel' plantation

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Mong Reththy and British Ambassador David Reader discuss the merits of a Stung Treng jatropha plantation. Residents in the area apeared to welcome the idea. "The area is a forest and a malaria site," said local villager Sok Kimseng.

Mong Reththy Group is considering an agreement with British firm D1 Oils to plant

jatropha trees in Stung Treng province.

Mong Reththy, president of Mong Reththy Group and a Cambodian People's Party senator,

said if the memorandum of understanding is signed his Green Sea Agriculture company

and the UK-based D1 Oils will plant jatropha - a versatile plant common in Cambodia

whose seeds can be crushed into an oil.

Mong Reththy said D1 Oils would invest $300 million in planting and $100 million

in production facilities.

"We are learning from each other," Reththy said, "I hope the agreement

will be signed soon."

A delegation led by British Ambassador David Reader visited agro-industrial development

zone at Stung Treng province on September 28. Within the zone Mong Reththy has a

70-year, 100,000-hectare land concession from the government.

The company received the concession before the 2001 land law, which limited such

concessions to 10,000 hectares.

Mong Reththy said the investment looks timely because of the rapidly rising cost

of petrol and increased fuel needs in Cambodia.

According to Biodiesel Cambodia, Jatropha Curcas is found all over the country. It

is often used as a live fence to protect agricultural fields against damage by livestock

because it is unpalatable to cattle. It is known in Khmer as "lahong kwong."

Seeds from its fruit are crushed to extract raw oil used for making soap, candles,

and biodiesel fuel.

Reththy estimated that the project would ultimately require half a million laborers

over the long term to live permanently on the site.

Patrick O'Leary, D1 Oil's regional director of operations for Africa and Asia, said

the company has 200,000 hectares of jatropha throughout the world. D1 is investigating

the potential for growth in Cambodia.

"We are considering the scope of capital for investment on this project,"

O'Leary said.

Ambassador Reader said more discussions with Mong Reththy group are planned.

People in Siem Pang district questioned by the Post said they were happy to hear

about such a big investment project in their area.

"The area is a forest and a malaria site," said Sok Kimseng, a local villager.

"We want the company to develop and we will work for them."

Stung Treng Deputy Governor Long Phall said he welcomed the investment too, because

it would provide jobs for people in the province.

Sat Samy, under secretary of state at Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy, said

Cambodia offers good potential for planting jatropha, and such plantations will not

impact the environment.

He said a Malaysian firm called Top Rank E.S. Agriculture is already grown jatropha

on 20 hectares of land in Treng Trayeung in Kampong Speu and plans to plant one thousand

more hectares.

"I noticed that more companies are interested in planting jatropha in the last

four years," Samy said. "Local people also planted jatropha privately."

He said five kg of jatropha fruit could produce about one liter of biodiesel. The

current market price is about 400 riel ($0.10) per kilogram.

Mong Reththy Group comprises six companies, with involvement in deep-water ports

in Sihanoukville, palm oil plantations, construction, sugar, and Green Sea Agriculture.

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