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Monday, 4 May 2009

The future of bio-fuels in Zambia

An interesting and surprisingly cautious article from NAIS on the future of bio-fuel production :

Experts ponder the future of bio-fuel production in Zambia, Clifford Malambo, Daily Mail, Commentary :

Some experts believe bio-fuels are a catalyst to the threat of climate change. Others consider bio-fuels as a fatal mistake which might destroy land and increase poverty and hunger.

Experts have warned that widespread commercialisation of bio-fuels without proper sustainability standards could prove to be a disaster, causing more environmental and human harm than good.

Currently, research has shown that African countries are confronted with an increased energy problem and rising prices for fossil fuels while around 40 percent of Africans live below the poverty line.

Moreover, it is expected that the global economic and financial crisis and the impacts of global climate change will make things worse.

Under the circumstances, the expectations about bio-fuels from oil seeds are high because these could help to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

There has been increasing pressure on African countries to encourage the development of large scale plantations of species which can be used for oil reproduction.

In view of this pressure, governments in Africa have to critically assess the potential and risks of such developments.

To promote food security and social stability coupled with massive extension of biomass for energy use, Governments must put in place good policies.

The University of Zambia (UNZA) recently hosted an inaugural national symposium on agriculture which also focused on bio-fuel production.

Agriculture and Co-operatives Minister Brian Chituwo who was guest at the symposium, said Zambia, like most African countries has prioritised poverty reduction in its national development policy and strategy.

Dr Chituwo said to meaningfully target poverty reduction, empowerment approaches should be more effective.

He said while bio-fuel production was paramount to economic growth, members of households should sustain themselves in terms of household asset accumulation, income and food security.

“Currently, there is an emerging competing interest between food and fuel production as food grain is being used for bio-energy while agricultural land is being used to produce bio-fuel crops,” he said. 

Dr Chituwo also said the production of bio-fuels was a complex issue which affects not only farmers and rural development but also encompasses many other issues such as competition between food security and energy, climate threat, land use and other environmental problems.

UNZA Lecturer, Francis Yamba said there are various complex factors which influence policies and business decisions required for bio-fuels implementation strategies.

Professor Yamba makes reference to two sides of interested parties: policy makers who are keen to make sure issues including economic, environmental, ecological and social factors are comprehensively covered and stakeholders including the private sector involved in the bio-fuels value production chain which requires reasonable returns on investment and incentives to leverage competitiveness with gasoline and diesel fuels.

“The approach to bio-fuel production should take account of economical, financial, social and environmental considerations, including life cycle analysis for both bio ethanol and biodiesel,” Prof. Yamba said.

And researcher Morgan Makwembo said although the production of bio-fuels was a new phenomenon, long term social and ecological impacts were yet to be determined.

“There is need to ascertain whether jatropha, one of the crops being promoted as a bio-fuel can be intercropped with other food crops or whether its impact on biodiversity has been established,” Mr Makwembo said.

He said the bulk of the current production is done on a large scale, which often involves major monoculture.

“Monoculture farming often causes soil exhaustion and problems with pests and diseases that have to be fixed with fertiliser and chemical pesticides, which cause varying environmental problems,” Mr Makwembo said.

He said the increased spread of large scale energy crop cultivation also threatens biological diversity.

Other experts have said in the past that some traditional coping mechanisms such as gathering wood, hunting, fishing, harvesting herbs, fruits or nuts depend on land and put pressure on land resource. Demand for agro-fuel production by local people is high.

Critics of bio-fuels argue that there is not enough land to supply a growing population with both food and energy crops and that even if there are large areas in Zambia which may appear abandoned, local populations use them for charcoal, wood, food and fodder.

The critics argue that large scale cultivation of energy crops might cause some displacement and make communities even poorer.

Civil Society Bio-fuel Forum Chairperson, Marriot Nyangu said one common model for energy companies currently establishing themselves in Africa is to rent land on long term contracts of over 10 years.

This means that land is locked down for long periods of time without due consideration of the long term impact on the needs of local populations.

Mr Nyangu said agro fuels are one of the fastest growing branches of agriculture, but have no regulation mechanism by an international body.

There is need for a local code of conduct for sustainable bio fuel production to bind and guide the sector.
He argues that previous experiences have proved that large scale out grower schemes on crops like soya beans and paprika have not brought the desired results to small holder farmers.

“Promoters of the agro-fuel sector set the terms of international trade in key commodities and food crops. This process tends to reduce cash returns to poor farmers and increase food insecurity at household level,’’ Mr Nyangu said.

He said national governments easily give land concessions and control over natural resources without proper consultation and compensation to local communities.

Experts also say the development of the bio-fuel industry without the development of a bio-fuel environmental and socially sustainable framework may cause more harm than benefits intended to be derived from it.

It is feared that the commercial bio-fuel production will compete for land with food production. Most of the targeted land is customary land which may result in displacement of some locals. Conflicts may emerge as land is normally locked down for long periods of time.

Some experts in the sector are calling for government to take into consideration the conflict between food and energy seriously. For both, land facilitates production.

While Zambia welcomes new investments in the field of agro-fuels, it is important that an environmental and socially sustainable framework is put in place.
The government should hasten the finalisation of the bio-fuel strategy as a matter of urgency.

Unless the development of agro-fuel industry is done in a socially and ecologically sustainable manner, it will cause environmental degradation, reduced biological diversity and social exploitation - NAIS

For more information Contact:
The Editor,
Agriculture in Focus
National Agriculture Information Services
P.O Box 50968
Lusaka 
Email: naisnews@yahoo.co.uk

15 comments:

  1. There are a few ways around many of the objections raised:

    1) Start irrigation and start making use of Zambia's huge water resources and flood plains.

    Irrigation will bring much more land under cultivation. Presently only 20% of arable land is in use.

    2) Allow farmers to pay their taxes in Jatropha or another biofuel crop, like hemp.

    This would encourage production, while ensuring biodiversity, because the area covered would only be a part of many small farms.

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  2. As should be with all cases of unchartered territory, open debate and wide consultation by the government is needed. The government should not just 'steam-roll' their way through it because the environmental consequences could be grave.

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  3. Agreed!

    I just don't get why the government never consults.

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  4. Zedian and Cho, From reading between the lines in the article, one gets the impression that part of the group that participated were from UNZA. By that one gets the idea that they could be lecturers (experts) in the subject at the centre of discussion in the article. having said that, I would like to know whom you are suggesting governmnet to be consulting if you do not seem to agree with the views of some participants who might even be researchers in the subject matter?

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  5. Not,

    I would like to know whom you are suggesting governmnet to be consulting if you do not seem to agree with the views of some participants who might even be researchers in the subject matter?Isn't the point of consultation to get as many divergent views as possible, not to simply go whith 'the experts'? Is't the point of consulting widely to sidestep the trap of just having one 'expert opinion', especially in areas that cover many different disciplines (in the case of Jatropha - agriculture, finance, environmentalism, energy policy, rural economies, development, etc.)?

    If the government set up a website or blog on policy issues, they could get expert advice from all over the world - for free.

    Cho,

    I don't undersand why the government never publicly consults either. I think they might be very hierarchical in their organisation, with too much power vested in the President and ministers? Or maybe it is an extension of the hierarchical nature of their party.

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  6. MrK,
    Thanks for the lecture on the "aim" of consultation which I did not ask about but asked about who that person or group of people it had to be who needed to be consulted.

    This is because the article itself implies that already their are two groups involving proponents for biofuels and skeptics c.f. "Some experts believe bio-fuels are a catalyst to the threat of climate change. Others consider bio-fuels as a fatal mistake which might destroy land and increase poverty and hunger".

    Your point on "I don't undersand why the government never publicly consults either. I think they might be very hierarchical in their organisation, with too much power vested in the President and ministers? Or maybe it is an extension of the hierarchical nature of their party" well that depends on what you mean by "publicly", I guess you wanted to say globally so that you may also be part of the consultation. I do agree with you on that score for as long as those being globally consultated have an idea of what is going back in Zambia.

    How do you reconcile between this point "Isn't the point of consultation to get as many divergent views as possible, not to simply go with 'the experts'?"
    and
    "If the government set up a website or blog on policy issues, they could get expert advice from all over the world - for free" ?
    Are you implying that internet based "expert advice" counts more than the one back home on the ground in Zambia? To cut the question, it is evident that you do not think those people back in Zambia could provide the necessary advice on the subject matter. Isn't that some kind of "sooner-I-did-it-than-someone-else" syndrom you are exhibiting?

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  7. Not,

    My point is simple: The Zambian governments we've had thus far have not been known for actually listening to Zambian experts (either local or abroad), let alone the public. Examples abound, including the ongoing NCC.

    Consulting is one thing, but examples of government actually taking on board views from from outside are few and far between.

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  8. Not,

    MrK has captured my perspective fully.

    I do not think he was lecturing. He was merely focusing on what he perceived to be the most important question - the what.

    It may sound basic but as someone who has undertaken many consultations on behalf of other organisations, I can tell you understanding WHAT a consultation is....is not as simple as it sounds....

    GRZ does not even a public available strategy for taking forward consultations.

    They need to consult on their consultation strategy across GRZ before they can even gain legitimacy.

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  9. Not,

    Thanks for the lecture on the "aim" of consultation which I did not ask about but asked about who that person or group of people it had to be who needed to be consulted.

    Well isn't who is consulted intimately related to the aim of the consultation?

    Also, I would interpret the term 'expert' very broadly, and I think you interpret it rather narrowly (you mentioned 'the experts', as if there are a few people who can be relied upon to give you all the relevant information). I would consider a small scale Jatropha farmers in Tanzania who just happens to have grown the crop for 10 years as much of an expert as someone who has a PhD in Jatropha production and the energy crisis, for instance. The nature of their expertise differs greatly, but they both have to contribute to the debate - one from the theoretical point of view, one from the application point of view.

    It is the nature of the information age, that people with widely different experiences and geographic locations can contribute their knowledge to any debate, and we should make use of that as much as possible.

    I have stated before, that the nature of the consultation and who is consulted will greatly influence the outcome of the policy, and as such, it is important to have as many opinions represented as possible.

    Are you implying that internet based "expert advice" counts more than the one back home on the ground in Zambia? To cut the question, it is evident that you do not think those people back in Zambia could provide the necessary advice on the subject matter. Isn't that some kind of "sooner-I-did-it-than-someone-else" syndrom you are exhibiting?

    It is also important not to see wide consultation as some kind of power grab, which I think you have done. :) Although of course broad consultation makes policy much more widely acceptable and even increases the democratic content and with it social support, as Cho has stated.

    On the NCC website, even with it's severe limitations, has contributed as much as it could to the NCC debate. I don't know how many ideas expressed there were taken on board, but I think the contributions on decentralisation, SME policy and local government have stimulated some thought and the direction of the debate.

    (I would have liked to see a PhP Bulletin Board type of site, which is free and easy to navigate, as well as being already widely used. Now is that suggestion a 'sooner-I-did-it-than-someone-else' type of remark? Or just a helpful hint to improve the ease of the debate?)

    And perhaps that touches on another issue - how secure are the persons taking the advice in their own position, that they can take on board advice, without feeling that they have been given directions or told to do something? :)

    Cho,

    That brings me to your point, that there should be a formalized process, which makes it acceptable for the government to be seen to take and implement advice or at least consider it fully, without feeling that their authority is being undermined.

    I think that is the only way we can all cooperate and work for the good of the country.

    In a way, we are evolving the political process away from the one party state, and I think to a truly representative multi-party and decentralized system.

    Zedian,

    Consulting is one thing, but examples of government actually taking on board views from from outside are few and far between.

    For too long, the government has been relying on donor aid (instead of taxation), and I think that has contributed a lot to the fact that much of it's policies come straight from the IMF - and as a result, there is no real consultation. This clinging on to the foreign investors (FDI) as the main developmental agents is one example of that.

    So I think that if they ever start to just taxing the mines and as a result, generate revenue internally, we might see a lot more autonomy in decision making.

    As always - follow the money.

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  10. Well,

    MrK, Cho and Zedian. Not to waste your time, what I would like to find out is whether you see Jatropha as a solution to Zambia's fuel problems. I have asked so basically because from your initial comments of wanting a wider consultation shows you were not in agreement with the views of the "experts" quoted in the article. Would I be right to say if you were consulted you would say jatropha is the absolute way to go? And why would you say that?

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  11. Not,

    I was merely making a general point.

    On Biofuels, we have discussed this issue for the last two years onthis blogand the House of Chiefs blog.

    We have many experts on this blog. I can't speak for them but my view is that Zambia needs an energy strategy that had the buy in of all stakeholders,not a jatropha strategy. Jatropha is just one aspect and it has it's own downsides.

    There's nothing in the report above that has not been discussed on this blog. I flagged it up because it showed new caution.

    I believe what MrK was trying to do was test the experts assumptions!

    That is normal behaviour on this blog! We look into details and often find blind spots.

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  12. Fuel from banana waste:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8044092.stm

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  13. Incidentally, how do the sugar-cane plantations get around the problems of mono-crop cultivation?

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  14. Zedian,

    I must say that you ask some awfully good questions (difficult to answer, but that's probably part of what makes me think that they are good)!

    Traditionally sugar cane plantations do not adequately address the problems associated with monocropping, and typically consume large quantities of water, fertiliser, and pesticide/herbicides. Wastewater from milling and fertiliser runoff contributes to downstream problems. Pre-harvest burning of cane fields, boiling of cane and burning of leftover debris contributes to air pollution. Soil degradation from continual sugar production on the same land can be severe over time (e.g. estimates from Papua New Guinea indicate that soil fertility has declined as much as 40% in heavy cane production areas over the last 30-odd years).

    World Wildlife Fund produced a report in 2004 which outlines much of the impact of sugar plantations in general, as well as many suggestions on mitigation approaches. It is not clear if and how many of these mitigation strategies are being employed in Mazabuka by Zambia Sugar Plc. Among its other findings the report asserts that sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other single crop worldwide. The report is available for download as a .pdf from panda.org here: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/sugarandtheenvironment_fidq.pdfI also found this story from the Watchdog to be only loosely related, but interesting nonetheless: http://www.zambianwatchdog.com/?p=125

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  15. Sunflower DNA map project:

    http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_14245320

    ReplyDelete

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