26 June 2008

Oil Is Choking Africa, Biofuels a Better Fit

Africa is suffering from a lack of energy. Even South Africa--the jewel of sub-Saharan Africa--is forced to shut down vital industries due to lack of power.
From South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is said to have the potential to generate power for the entire continent, the shortage of energy to power growth in Africa has reached crisis proportions. _Source
Factional violence, government corruption, and abject poverty combine to impoverish Africa--even where oil and mineral wealth are abundant. Chinese workers and merchants are moving rapidly into Africa, but western industries are forced to hesitate for concerns over safety and the lack of infrastructure.

The answer for Africa's poverty, energy shortages, corruption, and lack of infrastructure lies in matching the resource to the population. Bioenergy--biofuels from tropical energy crops (both food and non-food)--offer a sustainable way of life for local and regional industry controlled by the local population--not by East Asians or Europeans.
The so-called second generation biofuels have recently gained praise as the solution to Africa's problem of eliminating the competition between biofuels and food production.

Jatropha which can be cultivated in semi-arid, arid, or sub-humid soils, appears to be the viable alternative although it then raises its own conundrum. Growth of such a crop would like a large scale movement of land from food crops or reclamation of forests into growing of fuel crops.

In Mali, Some 700 communities have installed biodiesel generators powered by oil from the hardy Jatropha curcas plant to meet their energy needs, according to Reuters.

Generation of biofuels could help provide solutions to transport costs and reduce expenditure on energy in rural areas by between 30 and 40 percent, argued Paul Ginies, managing director of the Ouagadougou-based International Institute for Water and Environment Engineering.

No matter what we say, today biofuels represent a pragmatic solution in light of the energy problems in relation to soaring oil prices,"

Meanwhile, some experts believe that the impact of biofuels in Africa, if well handled could have a dramatic effect on the millions of people who are adversely affected by the two major crises of our time, of oil and food scarcity.

Growing of biofuel crops like Jatropha could provide the necessary income that would enable farmers to afford the price of food.
The code word for adapting technology for the third world has always been "appropriate." The technology has to be appropriate for the third world region it is being adapted to. That is most important for Africa.

Africa cannot handle nuclear energy, the technology is not appropriate. Even large oil production and oil pipelines are not appropriate for Africa--given the propensity of local populations to illegally tap into the pipelines for fuel, often with catastrophic results. Pipelines are also destroyed in factional fighting, or held for ransom by militia groups in Africa. This technology is not appropriate for these parts of Africa.

Biomass and biofuels, on the other hand, are technologically straightforward, and can be adopted with simple machinery and basic skills. Local farmers can grow the energy crop, use the fuel to provide lighting and cooking fuel for the village, and sell the surplus fuel for cash to buy other amenities. Jatropha Curcus will grow well inter-cropped with food crops, improving the soil and keeping pests away from the food. Other oil seed crops--both edible and non-edible--grow very well in the tropics of Africa, and can be adapted cleanly to the local and regional small-scale economies of Africa.

Wherever there is large scale oil or mineral wealth in the third world, there is rampant corruption, violence, and poverty. For the "do-gooders" in the western world who truly wish to help Africans, it is important to see the problem clearly and act appropriately. Africa cannot handle the large-scale centralised technologies the western world depends upon. The underlying problems are too great. Its rulers are too corrupt. You cannot help Africa from the top down. You must empower Africa from the bottom and the middle up.

China is not in Africa to help Africans. China is in Africa to help China. Unless westerners wish to see the entire continent of Africa becoming "enslaved" to China and Chinese technologies, they had better help Africans to help themselves--and quickly.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Oxfam recently released an extended an poorly informed rant about biofuels hurting the poor. I have not read it but none of the information I have seen about it even mentions the effect of Chinese cow and pig farming on food prices or the effect of high energy prices on food prices. Typical.

As an aside, shouldn't high food prices be an incentive to farmers in developing nations to expand production? After years of seeing their businesses undercut by free aid food, that might not be such a bad thing in the longer term.

Thursday, 26 June, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

The biggest problem will still remain, though; corrupt and/or ineffective government.

Until Africa as a whole cleans up its act, there is not going to be an incentive for a farmer to produce when a thug (free lance or governmental) will come along and take the fruits of the harvest.

Thursday, 26 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Biofuels will be more diffuse--a tougher target for thugs. Pipelines are easy to attack, as are high voltage transmission towers and oil refineries and drilling rigs. But thousands of small groves of oilseed shrubs are hardly worth the trouble. Particularly when most of their energy is used at the local level.

The big palm oil plantations the Chinese are building in Africa are different. Not only will they tear down the tropical forests, but they will require large refineries that will make natural targets for thugs.

Anything that can decentralise energy in Africa and put it on a smaller, local scale, is a good thing.

Friday, 27 June, 2008  

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