Friday, March 14, 2008

[PBN] Opinion article on Jatrpha in Africa


A case for Jatropha
By Augustine Moyo

ON Friday His Majesty King Mswati III will officially open the Hluti
Model Farm Jatropha project, marking the formal launch of government's
endorsement of the biodiesel oil projects being undertaken by D1 Oils

.D1 Oils Swaziland is a D1-BP Fuel Crops and Ning Group joint venture,
which is a locally registered biodiesel feedstock company that is
committed to developing the bio-fuels industry in Swaziland.

However, a lot of questions have been raised on the sustainability of
Jatropha as an alternative energy source for the Swazi people.

Fears of the toxity of the Jatropha plant on local soils, livestock and
human beings have been raised by various pressure groups.

The big question has been, "Does Swaziland really need a jatropha
project right now at the expense of land for food and if so, will it be

A case study relevant to Swaziland is that of Zimbabwe where the
government has taken a deliberate move to promote the production of
Jatropha as an alternative energy source.

The Zimbabwe government has set aside 40 000 hectares of land for
jatropha production and to date 10 000 hectares have been put under
jatropha production. The Zimbabwe government has also set a target of at
least 10 percent fuel import substitution by 2010.

With the local price of petrol having gone up by 70 cents at midnight, a
sustainable alternative energy source is then worth considering.

However, at the same time there is also need for a clear national policy
on bio-fuels coupled by extensive research to expedite its quest of
mitigating the fuel import bill.

It has become accepted globally in the world of economics that the major
inflation driver in African economies is fuel.

Any increase in the price of fuel has a domino effect on the price of
basic goods and services, thereby creating inflationary pressures on the

In Zimbabwe, the jatropha project was in 2006 nationalised as a National

The National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (Noczim), a parastatal whose sole
responsibility is the procurement, research and quality control of oil
and fuel imported into the country was, through the Ministry of Energy
and Power Development mandated to spearhead the biofuels revolution.

The company then embarked on a successful outgrower scheme in which it
entered into a direct relationship with willing small-scale farmers who
have land and capacity to raise jatropha seedling which is then sold by
Noczim to jatropha farmers countrywide.

The buying price is benchmarked against international diesel prices in a
bid to incentivise farmers to grow jatropha and it has been widely
received by most small-scale farmers who have seen it as an opportunity
to generate their own revenue to improve their quality of life.

Recently, President Robert Mugabe commissioned a US$80 million (about
E632 million) bio-diesel fuel plant in Harare in a joint venture project
with a private South Korean company.

This high-tech plant has the capacity to produce at least 100 million
litres of bio-fuel annually.

The establishment of such infrastructure is not a government issue alone
but strong and smart partnerships between any government and the private
sector are key.

Neither can private sector companies embark on a successful jatropha
project without government intervention and support in terms of clear
cut policies on the promotion and production of sustainable fuels.

The strengthening of linkages among researchers, policymakers and the
private sector players and well detailed implementation plans are key to
the success of any jatropha national project.

One of the key advantages of growing the jatropha plant is that it can
be established in low-rainfall regions on wastelands and poor soils.

Presently, institutions of tertiary education in Zimbabwe such as the
Harare Polytech and the Scientific & Industrial Research Development
Centre (SIRDC) are researching more on how best can Zimbabwe fully
harness and be part of the global bio-fuels revolution.

The question of land for food or bio-fuels is really not an issue
particularly in Africa where vast tracts of land is underutilised.

It is an issue in Europe where Europe wants to be part of the Bio-fuels
Revolution but has no land for jatropha projects.

In cases where land is an issue, intercropping is advised, thereby
maximising the use of land.

It is more of an issue of global debate than for one particular African
country. Naturally, human beings are resistant to change, yet the only
constant in life is change.

African countries have not fully caught up with the Bio-fuels Revolution
due to resistance by some of them.

At the end of the day, the pros for the adoption of jatropha as a
sustainable alternative fuel for Africa outweigh the cons, hence its
adoption and nationalisation by Zimbabwe.

(NB: Augustine is Business Editor for The Sunday Mail in Harare)

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts:

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