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November 19, 2008

Food insecurity complicates land use for biofuel crops in Southern Africa

Significant potential exists for additional crop production in Southern Africa based on land availability. However, growing crops for biofuel feedstock will only be realised if there is concerted effort from key stakeholders to address the food shortages in the region.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan ( http://www.chemicals.frost.com), Opportunities for Biofuel Feedstock Production in Southern Africa, finds that the market is still in its development stage. Expansion of the agricultural sector to include crop production for biofuels has been hampered by the absence of coherent biofuel policies, a lack of resources dedicated to the agricultural sector, declining agricultural production and climate change.

"Available land is a key driving factor encouraging the production of agricultural crops for the biofuels industry," notes Frost and Sullivan Research Analyst Jhill Johns. "Underutilisation of land resources for agricultural production presents Southern African countries with an opportunity to access the growing global biofuels market. By doing so, these countries will also be able to derive numerous benefits, most importantly reducing their fuel and economic dependency."

Southern African countries including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have sizeable tracts of arable land available. Most of the crops that can be used as feedstock sources are already grown in the region, but the expansion of the current agricultural production to include crops for biofuels would require significant investments.

Southern Africa's rapidly declining crop production has left millions facing starvation, with rural populations being the most affected. Although governments favour the establishment of a strong biofuels industry, they lack the financial resources to incorporate feedstock production into an already strained agricultural sector.

"Most countries in Southern Africa are net importers of staple crops," adds Johns. "Crop production for biofuel feedstock purposes should however be over and above a country's domestic food requirement."

Opportunities for growing crops for biofuels may therefore be determined by the ability of the countries in the region to first increase production to sustainable levels for food requirements. It is also imperative that governments finalise their biofuels policies and stipulate clarity on the use of agricultural resources for feedstock production.

"Investors in biofuel feedstock would then be able to adopt a holistic approach, conducive to sustainable agricultural production," advises Johns. "Alternatively, governments need to promote the use of non-food crops such as jatropha for feedstock purposes."


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