Monday, February 23, 2009

Bob Geldof believes biofuels can eradicate poverty in Africa

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The biofuels debate isn’t going away anytime soon, just like the global financial meltdown, the food crisis and energy crisis, which is directly related to the surging interest in biofuels as alternative sources of energy.

There are also growing fears that the festering global financial crisis which has already impacted the eating habits of many people, coupled with the growing interest in biofuels would greatly change eating habits.
Renowned singer, philanthropist, political activist and biofuels advocator Sir Bob Geldof believes that biofuels can be developed from feedstocks without impacting food production, thereby, providing a positive impact on poverty-stricken communities by giving the opportunity to develop energy independence and eradicate poverty across Africa.

Information available to say Sir Geldof is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the World Biofuels Market 2009 to be held in Brussels from March 16 to 18.

He is expected to present the outlook for biofuels sustainability in Africa.

He says, “Africa has always used biofuel as a primary source – wood, dung, residue, etc. and can build responsibility on this tradition.”

Sir Geldof recognizes that instrumental procedures must be in place such as regulated industries, sustainable cropping in a sustainable economy, and utilizing non-arable land for non-edible crops.

He also believes that the biofuels cultivation in Africa could provide an influx of capital into the economies of African nations.

This position is however in sharp contrast with that of the UN’s top adviser on food, Prof. Olivier de Schutter. He told the BBC in May 2008 that investments in biofuels are “irresponsible”. Earlier his predecessor Jean Ziegler, had condemned biofuels calling their production a “crime against humanity” and called for an immediate ban on their use.

Ghana as a country is vigorously involved in the biofuels industry. Gold Star Biofuels, a subsidiary of Gold Star Farms Ltd., is cultivating five million acres of land in Ghana to plant jatropha for the production of biofuels for export.

In April 2008 Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed an agreement with the Ghanaian government to produce sugarcane for biofuels in Ghana.

The agreement was signed while he was in Ghana for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII).

During the signing ceremony, da Silva said, “in Ghana we are developing a project that will result in growing 27,000 hectares (of sugarcane) for the production of 150 million litres of ethanol per year that are destined for the Swedish market.”

And then in November 2008 a Norwegian company ScanFuel Ltd., was reported to start operations outside Kumasi in the Ashanti region to produce biofuel. The reports said ScanFuel will initially cultivate Jatropha seeds, considered high oil-yielding on 10,000 hectares of land.

The company which has a Ghanaian subsidiary, ScanFuel Ghana Ltd said its Ghanaian unit has contracted about 400,000 hectares of land, with up to 60 percent reserved for biofuel production, “not less” than 30 percent for food production and the remainder for biodiversity buffer zones.

But some analysts continue to argue that the growing interest in biofuels could negatively affect food crops production on the African continent. The argument is based on the fear that productive agriculture land could be ceded for the cultivation of crops for biofuels, and this obviously could exacerbate the food crisis.

Indeed, it is now known that with the global financial crisis, many people are changing their diets. Reports indicate that because people do not have enough money to spend on healthy meals, they have resorted to eating unhealthy foods which could potentially have adverse effects on their health.

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