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July 27, 2008

Ivory Coast diversifies into biofuels production

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, is diversifying into the booming market for biofuelsby growing the oil-rich jatropha plant. To take advantage of a global trend toward alternatives to fossil fuels, several jatropha projects are underway across the West African nation, which intends to produce enough oil to make biofuel domestically.

In Toumdi in centre of the country, the Ivory Coast Reneweable Energies Development Agency (ADERCI), a privately-owned firm, is producing seeds for a project to grow jatropha and castor plants on 100,000 hectares from 2009. The project involves around 70,000 farmers, and is seen producing a total of 1.8 million tonnes of jatropha and castor seeds a year, enough to make 705,600 tonnes of biofuel.

"Right now we are producing the feedstock seeds for the plants and the project is well advanced," said ADERCI director Jean Koudou Goussou.

Oil produced by pressing jatropha and castor seeds will be sold to the Ivorian Refinery Company, and the national petrol firm, Petroci, to make biodiesel.

"Jatropha and castor oil plants can grow on any type of land. It's a project which will help redress the social imbalance caused by cocoa and coffee, which only grow in some soils," he said.

According to Goussou, 5,000 hectares of jatropha or castor oil will be enough to produce between 15 and 23 million litres of biodiesel per year.

The Ivorian government intends to pass a law by the end of the year governing the biofuel sector, and setting a fixed price per kg at which it will buy jatropha seeds.

In the eastern region of Abengourou, cocoa planter Joseph Amani said several coffee and cocoa farmers in the area have already started growing jatropha.

"There is lots of previously unused land here which farmers are using for jatropha," he said. "There are some who have started selling seeds for 60 CFA francs ($0.14) a kilo. For the moment, the seeds are being sold to Indian and Chinese buyers, who it seems are taking them to make biofuel," Amani said. "Planters are happy because it's a source of additional income on top of cocoa and coffee," he said.

In the central regions of Taabo and Dimbokro, Valentine Yao, a project manager responsible for 200 hectares of jatropha, aims to rapidly increase her planted area. Her firm, Jatroci, also sells seeds and helps new planters get started.

"It's a craze. We have 200 hectares and we want to get to 1,000 hectares by the end of the year because we have partners in Italy and Canada who demand a certain level of production before they will help us install biofuel production units," she said.

Reuters

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