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Mozambique: Great Potential Claimed for Biofuel Expansion

Maputo — There is enormous potential for the expansion of biofuel production, and Africa is the continent that enjoys the best climatic conditions to grow the crops that can be turned into biofuels, declared Mozambican Energy Minister Salvador Namburete on Thursday.

Speaking at the opening of a two day international conference on "Powering Africa: the Biofuels Options", organised by his ministry and the British company EnergyNet Ltd, Namburete pointed out that, of the 116.8 billion gigajoules of energy generated and consumed in the world in 2005, only 1.1 billion gigajoules came from biofuels, mostly in Brazil.

"This is a clear demonstration that there is huge potential for the exploitation of these clean sources of energy", he said, "particularly at a time when the entire world is confronted with the phenomenon of global warming".

For African countries such as Mozambique, he stressed, biofuels could be key to reducing the import bill for fossil fuels, and in the fight against poverty.

Namburete favoured the development of biofuel production through public-private partnerships, where private companies would raise the funding, and manage the projects, while the government played a "facilitating role" in establishing "an enabling environment and regulatory framework".

He stressed the importance of handling land allocation for biofuel production sensitively, avoiding any conflict between biofuels and food production, and preventing dependence on monocultures. He suggested that the most appropriate crops to use are sugar cane for bioethanol, and jatropha and copra for biodiesel. The advantage of the jatropha shrub, he argued, is that it can be grown on marginal land, and so does not compete with food crops.

Namburete cited examples of recent short and long haul flights by airlines using a mixture of jet fuel and biofuels. These had been successful, and no modification to the aircraft engines was required.

The paper circulated by Namburete to participants said that the government "has established a working group from all stakeholders to develop criteria for allocating land for food production and biofuels development. This is basically a mapping exercise aimed at defining the appropriate use of different types of land for food, feedstock for biofuels, reforestation, livestock and conservation zones, social and economic infrastructure development, special economic zones, residential areas, state reserves and other uses".

Nuno de Oliveira, of the Mozambican state fuel company Petromoc, revealed that Petromoc's own biofuels project, known as Ecomoz, is now producing 80,000 litres of biofuels a day, using copra from the southern province of Inhambane as the raw material.

It planned to expand production, and use 21,000 hectares in Manhica district, 80 kilometres north of Maputo, to produce jatropha and copra. Oliveira also pointed out that Mozambique has 36 million hectares of potentially arable land, of which only six per cent is currently being used.

A representative of Bioenergy Africa, the London-based company which is investing in a 30,000 hectare sugar plantation at Massingir, in Gaza province, to produce ethanol, praised the Mozambican government's policy of issuing temporary land use titles to investors. This was a test of the "seriousness and integrity of investors", since only after they had proved their capacity and initiated their project would they be granted definitive land rights.

Speaking to reporters, Namburete denied the frequent opposition claim that the government drive to persuade farmers to grow jatropha has failed. He pointed out that it takes four to five years of growth before attaining a yield of ten kilos of jatropha seeds per tree. Nonetheless, small amounts of jatropha have been purchased from farmers in several provinces.

He admitted there could be cases of farmers in isolated areas who have been unable to sell jatropha - but repeated that in principle the government will ensure that all jatropha production is purchased.

Relevant Links

* Southern Africa
* Economy, Business and Finance
* Energy
* Mozambique
* Sustainable Development

Namburete accepted that the international financial crisis might slow down investment in the Mozambican energy sector. All the projects on the drawing board - included new dams, power stations and refineries - would require investment of around 20 billion US dollars, and he certainly did not expect such sums to be forthcoming from one day to the next.

But while investors in such projects as the new dam at Mphanda Nkuwa on the Zambezi, or the planned oil refinery at Nacala, might have to reschedule their spending, nobody had abandoned projects.

"No investor has contacted us saying "we're going to pull out", he stressed.




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