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July 05, 2010

'Opposition to Kenya woodlands jatropha project is misguided'

Environmental groups have opposed plans by Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd. to grow jatropha at the Dakatcha woodland forest in Malindi, Kenya.

The groups say that the area is important for indigenous birds, such as the Clarke’s Weaver which is only found in two places in the world: South Africa and Kenya. Executive Director of Nature Kenya Paul Matiku said that the East Africa Natural Society strongly objects to the project and the proposed plan of setting apart of 50,000 hectares of Trust Land in Bungale area for the project.

Matiku added that a number of companies in East Africa have abandoned Jatropha cultivation citing its non-profitability with no single large-scale commercial growing of Jatropha succeeding in East Africa.

And while understanding the importance of the woodlands, it is somewhat incomprehensible as to why Matiku would suggest that many jatropha companies have pulled out of the region particularly suggesting that it is not a successful industry for the region (particularly without naming which companies in his speech).

Mr. Matiku, Alternative Energy Africa would like to introduce you to a company that is making great strides in the region from Ethiopia to Tanzania and also down to southern Africa in Mozambique. Sun Biofuels negotiated 5,000 hectares of land for jatropha plantations in Mozambique and 8,000 hectares in Tanzania in 2006.

Jatropha, used as a feedstock for biofuels, has been a success story for both countries with a 95% germination rate. And while the debate continues on food vs fuel, Sun Biofuels said that the Mozambique plantation did not displace any existing food crops as the site was acquired from a tobacco firm with the Tanzanian operations clamed from coastal scrub land “badly degraded by local charcoal production.”

Another example includes Magdalene Mucite who left her job in the city to begin commercially farming jatropha. Oil extracted from the jatropha seeds was successfully used to power a car in Kenya's Shimba hills two years ago and Mucite wants to achieve a similar feat in Uganda. Last year, Mucite won first position at the Uganda National Farmers' Association show in Jinja, earning her recognition from President Yoweri Museveni.

In addition to jatropha, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Farm Concern International have launched a three-year program to promote cassava that will help 30,000 small scale farmers in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Communities will set up 120 village processing units that will train farmers to become cassava producers on a commercial scale. AGRA has already partnered with Equity Bank in Kenya, Standard Bank in Tanzania and Uganda, and National Micro-finance Bank in Tanzania to help small landholder farmers and agribusinesses accrue lines of credit.

Uganda Clays is also receiving a boost as Joseph Kawombe began working on alternative fuel options for clay baking. The results of the research partnership allowed Uganda Clays to reduce the drying time for artificial dryers from 10 to three days; increase stock of fired products by 5%, reduce customer complaints by 70% and improve order fulfillment from 10 weeks to less than a week.

If biofuels weren’t a viable option, the Kenyan government wouldn’t have added a provision for it in its revision of its feed-in tariff.

While the biofuel industry has a ways to go before becoming commercially viable on a large scale, it is still a sector that shows great potential in Africa as long as important factors such as land for food crops are taken into account.

Alternative Energy Africa

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