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March 15, 2009

Biofuels seen as Tanzania’s new goldmine

by Deogratias Mushi

Tanzania is poised to become Eastern Africa's economic giant within the next 15 years, from large-scale cultivation of jatropha for production and distribution of biofuel, a Congolese researcher has said.

The biofuel processing project in Tanzania that has already attracted local and international researchers, is expected to supply diesel products to East and Southern African countries.
A Congolese researcher, Dr Zacharie Kasongo, from the Bukavu-based Institut Superior de Developpet Rural said that Tanzania has a vast land, which is suitable for cultivation of jatropha more than any other country in the region.

Dr Kasongo who conducts research on rural development and currently touring different regions in Tanzania, says that the biofuel project would boost the local economy and give the people a new cash crop to lift their living conditions. He said that a recent survey has shown that ordinary diesel reserves in the world were drying up, calling for alternative sources of energy to be used in diesel-run engines.

Giving an example of his country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dr Kasongo said that local people in his area have started using jatropha seeds to process oil for domestic consumption including cosmetics, something that could also be applicable to Tanzania. Apart from being used as diesel, jatropha products could be used to produce detergents and other cosmetics, says Dr Kasongo.

In some areas he has visited in Tanzania, he said, few small factories have started using simple technologies in biodiesel processing, proving to produce well in some small quantities.

"The investment climate in Tanzania is favourable now and opportunities are many and open to foreign investors to venture into jatropha farming," said Dr Kasongo. Jatropha tree oil does not require any processing and has been used for years in South America for medicinal purposes.

Scientists consider jatropha's ability to grow in harsh conditions with minimal water as a condition that favours the crop in Tanzania. Two years ago, Dr Oscar Kabazohi of the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Dar es Salaam, said he has successfully supervised the research on processing of bio-diesel from seeds of Jatropha and palm oil seeds.

Kabazohi said the university had already produced experts for working in the factories for processing of bio-diesels and bio-fuels, calling for the mobilization of stakeholders to embark on this project commercially. Prof Nzali said the country was able to embark in this project, provided that there was strong government commitment and collaboration among stakeholders. His point was that if the country embarks on the project, it would be killing two birds by a single stone, because it would be protecting the environment, through reforestation at the same time reducing the cost of energy and poverty.

The Zimbabwean

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