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Are biofuels good for Africa?

Richard Morgan?, Chief Executive Officer, ?Sun Biofuels, United Kingdom??


"Biofuels can help Africa to meet its energy needs"


The continent of Africa probably has more arable land available than anywhere other than Brazil and Argentina. There are large parts of the middle of the continent that are so dry that jatropha probably won’t grow there but, potentially, Africa has a lot of land that could in theory produce a lot more food, a lot more intensively, and with the potential to produce significant amounts of biofuels. Provided the balance between those two needs is met, then there’s a big opportunity for Africa to contribute not only to its own energy needs, but also as a net exporter of energy. ?We believe there will be a very positive soil stabilisation effect, improvements to watercourse sustainability, and positive contributions to greenhouse gas balances from jatropha. The trees will have a lifespan of 20 or 30 years and, over that period, the use of water and chemicals, fertiliser and fossil fuels (in terms of machinery) will be quite low. ?There are issues with access to land, and this is the same for biofuels as it is for large-scale agriculture operations. It’s a political process. It’s not something that should be bulldozed through simply because there’s a demand for energy and investors out there with money, it doesn’t work like that. Land is acquired by legal processes that involve consultation with the communities that live on the land. Unless they want that land allocated, it’s extremely unlikely that I or anybody else will be allowed to operate. Land title and land law are massively complicated and bureaucratic, and that is one of the barriers I see to investment, expansion and intensification of agriculture in many African countries.


Bakari Nyari, ?Vice-chairman of the Regional Advisory and Information Network Systems (RAINS), Ghana??


"We need a much stronger voice for local communities"


The impact of biofuels on Africa depends on the approach. If the focus is export-oriented, biofuel projects can have negative fallouts, but if it fulfils the energy needs of the local community, then production does have its place. ?The general perception is that agrofuel crops do well on marginal lands, but what we are seeing in Ghana is that these so-called marginal lands are in use by local communities. Some may be used for grazing, others may be lying fallow to allow for regeneration and subsequent use, but often local communities are dispersed from these lands in favour of large-scale agrofuel projects. Much of the value of the investment, and the resulting exports, end up with the local elite who negotiated the land deal, seeding dispute and division in villages. ?Agrofuel farmers get greater support from local government agricultural officers, diverting their attention away from other more traditional crops. Jatropha, which has traditionally been used in Africa as a hedge, is now being planted en masse for agro-fuels. But farmers find there is no alternative use for jatropha seeds and in addition, some are now getting half the price for their seeds that they expected when they planted them. ?In Africa, we need to internalise our sources of energy. We should be cautious of situations where the market element, rather than self-sufficiency, is the driving force behind the choice of agricultural investment. When it comes to new agrofuel projects in Africa, we need to build a stronger voice for local communities, who need to have the opportunity to carefully measure the impact of potential biofuel production and understand the realities

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