The government of Tanzania has been urged to localise biofuel commercial production by empowering small farmers in terms of training, loans and marketing.
The call was made by Tanzanian researchers and scientists during a recent visit to Zimbabwe where they saw for themselves how non- governmental organisations in collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe have managed to localise jatropha production.
Unlike Tanzania, where jatropha crop is mainly cultivated by foreign investors, Zimbabweans at Mutoko and Mudzi districts in Zimbabwe, some 280 kms from the capital, Harare, have been enabled to sustainably produce, process, utilise and market the crop and related by-products.
The Guardian witnessed some of the jatropha products such as soap and oil, among many others, with the farmers saying the initiative has rescued them from abject poverty as they now sell and earn regular income from the crop.
The delegation comprising officials from non-governmental organisations and the government had gone to the southern African country, under the auspices of Tanzania Bioenergy Forum, to share knowledge on biofuel issues including biofuel policy development.
The head of delegation Godfrey Massay from Hakiardhi said as the Tanzania government fleshes out the national biofuel policy, there was a need to borrow a leaf from Zimbabwe by giving priority to small scale producers instead of focusing mainly on foreign investors.
Citing the case of Kisarawe jatropha production which failed, Massay, who is also a lawyer, researcher and programme officer for Hakiardhi said big investors in jatropha which is one of the major crops producing biofuel, are not doing well. Some of them have failed and abandoned production completely denying locals even to produce food on the land leased to them for 99 years, he said.
“The government needs to learn from what happened and what is really taking place on the ground at the moment in order to draft a better policy,” he said.
The policy should make sure that biofuel production is in the interest of Tanzanians and the local market and allow excess to be exported to earn them foreign currency, he stressed.
Although Zimbabwe was in the process of developing a biofuel policy, but grouping of small scale producers, training and empowering them to grow the crop has enabled them to generate income, a clear testimony that the crop can change people’s lives.
For his part, Dr Stephen Minja from Jatropha Products Tanzania Limited (JPTL) cautioned that there was a need to take appropriate action in formulating and implementing effective biofuel policies and regulations for the crop to effectively benefit small holder farmers.
Dr Minja, explained that the criteria and issues for consideration in developing biofuel production and use policies should include, sustainability for local and national biofuels development and use, pro-poor policies to protect and empower small scale producers.
He said that fair trade practices at all levels, established local and national biofuel markets and integration of biofuel development with other initiatives aimed at self-sufficiency in food and fuels at national and local levels should also be considered.
“It is important to give priority to smallholder farmers and local markets for rural electrification, water pumping, transport and agro fuels thus ensuring rural livelihood improvement, economic growth through the development of biofuels processing industry at different levels,” he said.
The researchers said the Tanzanian government would need an intensive research on the appropriate species and agronomy of jatropha before it allows commercial farming of the crop in the country because not all species are viable for feed stocks.
The government should also encourage investment in other feedstocks which have multiple uses instead of relying on non-edible wild crops such as jatropha for sustainable bioenergy sector, they advised.
They said research has shown that jatropha is a wild crop with over 100 species, saying some of them are not viable for biofuel feedstocks, a thing that needs more research to establish the viable ones.
Apart from developing the biofuel policy, the government of Zimbabwe through research and specialist services of the Ministry of Agriculture is doing more research on the crop, by working together with University of Zimbabwe and civil society organisations. The organisations include Environment Africa and International Organisations such as WWF.
Recently, there has been an influx of foreign investors in Tanzania acquiring huge chunks of land for 99 years lease in the name of biofuel investment but most of their projects have failed, but rendered farmers landless.