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February 28, 2010

Dutch companies to invest in biofuel programs in Mali

by Rachel Pollock

Dutch automaker Kia Netherlands recently announced that it would be investing in Mali Biocarburant SA (MBSA), a Dutch-backed biodiesel program in Mali. This investment allows for Kia automobile owners to participate in a voluntary carbon tax program, which will benefit jatropha production in Mali. The Dutch government as well as the Malian farmer’s union also supports the program.

Jatropha curcas is a poisonous plant that grows abundantly in Africa, Central and South America, Asia, and the Caribbean. The plant can cohabitate with other crops such as coffee, sugar, fruit, and vegetables and is already being used by farmers to protect their pre-existing crops from animals and insects. The seeds from a Jatropha plant can be crushed to produce oil that can be used in a standard diesel car and the remaining residue can be used to power electricity plants and also used as fertilizer. Jatropha can grow in areas where the environment is arid and the soil has experienced erosion, therefore, a place like Mali is the perfect candidate to cultivate jatropha as biofuel.

Since 2007, Jatropha has been recognized by several Dutch organizations to be a viable source of biofuel. However, it was not until recently that projects aimed at jatropha production were able to be implemented and show their impacts on the rural communities. Wind Energy for Mali, a small organization based in the Netherlands has set up workshops in mid-December to teach Malians how to build turbines and to educate the rural communities about energy alternatives and sustainable fuel. Piet Willem Chevalier, who is the founder of the organization, told MediaGlobal, “Mali has abundant renewable energy resources that can be used to make a relevant difference for access to affordable electricity in especially rural areas, which, until now, has been absent.”

Mali Biocarburant is a private company aimed at setting up sustainable decentralized biodiesel processors in West Africa. Hugo Verkuijl, who is the CEO of Mali Biocarburant, said, “Farmers are 20 percent shareholders in the company. We have a strategy of local production, processing, and consumption.”

Unlike other sources of biofuel, Jatropha production poses little threat to the local agriculture production and food security. It also offers the most practical advantages for the local farmer and the environment. Verkuijl told MediaGlobal, ”[Jatropha biofuel] allows farmers to produce food and also to reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and increase yield of food crops.”

Verkuijl said, “Biofuel is sold at a competitive price, which is about 10 percent lower than the pump price of ordinary fuel.” The recent integration of biofuel has provided jobs and supplemental income for farmers utilizing land that was otherwise futile. The Jatropha oil is produced in Koulikoro with a field staff of 60 and works with over 5,000 farmers in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Furthermore, large-scale projects like the 15-year electrification program of Mali-Folkcenter in Garalo have been set up in small villages to bring electricity to communities that lack the technology and financial means. In May of 2007, special generators were installed to run on jatropha oil. Ultimately, the project aims to set up 1,000 hectares of jatropha plantations to provide oil for a 300 kilowatt power plant, thus providing electricity for 10,000 people in the Garalo community.

In regards to the environment, the jatropha tree reduces carbon emission. According to Biocarburant, biodiesel produces less carbon fossil fuel by about 73 percent. Furthermore, the waste left over from the jatropha seed can be used to make charcoal rather than the usual method of burning down trees.

The jatropha plant has many advantages when it comes to both the economic impact on the local Malian communities and sustainable energy alternatives for the rest of the world. Communities cultivating jatropha seed in Mali are serving as and example to companies looking to invest in these alternatives and replicate projects like those in small Malian communities. India, Brazil, Swaziland and the Philippines are among the countries, which foreign companies are looking to invest in the future.

Media Global

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