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September 22, 2008

Tanzanian govt. skips international biofuels meeting held in its capital

Representatives from the Tanzanian government were noticeably absent last week at an international conference on biofuel production hosted in Dar es Salaam. Officials said it was because the government was not yet prepared to present its regulations for the biofuels industry.

The ministry of energy and minerals had originally agreed to send a speaker to the Biofuels Markets East Africa conference, held September 16 and 17 at a Dar es Salaam hotel, but backed out three weeks before because guidelines being drafted for the biofuel industry's operation in Tanzania have not been finished.

The event drew biofuel industry executives, food security researchers and regional agronomists, as well as government officials from Malawi, Mozambique and Kenya who spoke on their progress in developing regulations for the industry in their countries.

Nigel Yeates, a spokesperson for the conference organisers, said they had been in conversation with the ministry for months and had been under the assumption that a Tanzanian official would be in attendance, until they received a letter asking them to reschedule the conference to coincide with the completion of the guidelines, expected in late November, or cancel it altogether.

Ngosi Mwihava, Assistant Commissioner for Alternative Energy in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals and chair of the biofuels taskforce, charged with drafting the regulations, seemed offended that the conference had carried on without accommodating the ministry`s wishes.

"You have to observe the rule of law in a country," he said. "Every country has got its own priorities. (Biofuels are) a priority, but we have to have a policy first."

Fadhili Mbaga, Executive Secretary of the Tanzania Sugar Producers Association and a member of the biofuels taskforce, attended the conference and said that the guidelines were taking longer than expected to complete. "Investors came in and nobody was ready really for policy or guidelines on biofuels development," he said. "It`s taken us a little longer than usual to develop these guidelines. One reason is because there's no dedicated secretariat for this work."

The absence of Tanzanian government officials was commented on several times at the conference, which was intended to bring potential investors, experts and country representatives together for networking and information sharing.

"I personally would have expected half of this hall to be filled with Tanzanians because we are in Dar es Salaam," Daniel Liwimbe, CEO of Ethanol Company in Malawi, said during his presentation. "There`s no point in us coming here and the Tanzanians are not present to gain from the knowledge that is here."

George Joannou, chairman of Cams Agri-Energy Tanzania Ltd - a company that is investing between $450 million and $600 million in sweet sorghum plantations in Bagamoyo and Handeni in Coast and Tanga regions that will buy from and employ 40,000 to 60,000 farmers - said it was embarrassing that the host country did not have more of a presence at the conference.

"I was very disappointed to see we have more representation here of other African countries than we have from Tanzania - I`m talking about the ministries and government," he said.

At least three companies are planning to invest more than $1 billion total in biofuels production in Tanzania, and others are gauging the investment climate here as compared to other East African countries with the ability to grow sugarcane, sweet sorghum or jatropha, all crops that can produce bioethanol or biodiesel.

Sun Biofuels Tanzania is finalising the acquisition of an 8,000-hectare estate southwest of Dar es Salaam, and it has already begun planting jatropha on a 5,000-hectare piece of property in southern Ethiopia in addition to another 5,000-hectare estate in Mozambique.

Sekab, a Swedish biofuels firm, is expecting to invest close to $300 million in a 10,000-hectare sugarcane estate near Bagamoyo between now and 2011, when it hopes to be producing 100 million litres of ethanol a year.

Olivier Mace, regional director for BP Biofuels in Europe and Africa, said the company is doing preliminary research into setting up a sugarcane plantation in an East African country and expects to pour at least $100 million into the project.

He said BP is looking at a number of countries in the region, and it is too early to elaborate on what plans in Tanzania might be, but he said the forthcoming regulations could impact BP's decision.

"The extent to which the policies are clear and the rules are simple to follow, the extent to which we can have confidence that the business context isn`t going to change - they are very important factors for us," Mace said. "Because in terms of land suitability, there is land which is suitable to grow sugarcane in all of these countries."

The guidelines are expected to be finalised by the end of November and then turned over to Parliament to be signed into law by the end of the year, Mbaga, the taskforce member, said.

IPP Media

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