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Jatropha dream collapses

06 Sep, 2012 - 07:09 0 Views

The Herald

trees lining the family compound picking up the seeds for the past three hours. The not so lucrative business has now been left only to children and a few women who want to earn a few cents to cover their daily expenses.
School-going children are in the business to ensure they get some pocket money while women want to get money to pay the local grinding mill. Some of the women are part of the soap and oil making clubs supported by a non-governmental organisation, Environment Africa.
The majority of villagers in Mudzi have just given up, as the market is not encouraging. Companies dealing in the seed are paying an average of US10 cents and US15 cents a kilogramme.
The low prices have virtually knocked out jatropha production as a business in the area. The project that showed a lot of promise for the people of Mudzi and Mutoko is slowly losing steam even before the people start enjoying the proceeds.
This has seen a number of plantations that had been established in Mudzi, Murehwa and Mutoko to provide feedstock for the national bio-diesel projects being neglected.
Under the programme plantations established in every village as income-generating projects in a bid to improve the lives of the communities are now in serious neglect.
Headman Antony Meza said lack of support for the project coupled by the prices being offered for the jatropha seed had made the project less attractive.
“We had established an eight-hectare plantation of the jatropha plant to complement the plants already there. Presently no one is willing to work in the field because there are no visible returns in sight. The prices being offered for the seed have remained low.
“Every village in the entire area under Chief Mukota had a jatropha plantation but if you are to visit them you will be disappointed.
“The prices being paid for the seed do not encourage one to pursue large-scale production of jatropha. Imagine getting 15 cents or less for a kilogramme of jatropha. In some instances, buyers of the commodity do not come and we end up spending days waiting for them but to no avail,” headman Meza said.
He said villages like Tseko, Dengwa, Meza, Chijaka and Rongani had established jatropha plots but their hope for better future is fast disappearing.
Finealt Engineering and Environment Africa are the only reliable buyers of the seed although they are purchasing only small quantities.
The dearth of jatropha production is most disheartening for the people because it had the potential of becoming the lifeline of the Mudzi given the area’s history of failed crops.
Jatropha plant shrub grows naturally in all regions of the country and is adaptable even in drier regions making it easier to grow in low rainfall areas. Its seeds haves 30 to 40 percent oil content with great potential in bio-diesel.
It is thus disappointing that the massive investment nationwide in jatropha might be going down the drain.
With the price of fossil fuels fluctuating at the global market, the jatropha plant held great promise for Zimbabwe and Africa.
The promise has been heightened by Government’s deliberate effort to reintroduce biofuels in 2005 in response to the energy crisis as well as the global move aimed at limiting local carbon emission in line with Montreal Protocol on greenhouse gases reduction agreements. The introduction of the jatropha plants coupled by a ready market and perceived benefits saw a jatropha rush grip Zimbabwe. Government also made a deliberate effort to entice communal and resettled farmers to diversify into growing jatropha to produce feedstock for bio-diesel production.
Mr Edward Cheuriri of Meza Village said Government failed to own up to its promises and support jatropha programmes in Mudzi and Mutoko.
“We were convinced that jatropha plant might be the silver bullet to deal with the increase demand of fuel in Zimbabwe and to economically empower people in the area. Three years down the line the Government has not provided the much-needed resources to ensure people can take care of the plantations.
“It has not provided us with fencing material and a marketing strategy that would ensure the growth of the project. In fact, the few soap-making projects and sporadic buying trips by Finealt Engineering have failed to spur the development of the jatropha programme and the participation of community groups in bio-fuels production in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Headman Rongani, Never Kandigomba, concurred with Mr Cheuriri saying the project was dying because of the lack of a proper investment plan.
“We have been realising a few dollars that we spent on salt and other small items. The income is too little to stimulate farmers’ desire to increase jatropha production. Lack of financial and technical assistance has seen a few farmers opting to increase the crop.
“What we need is a proper financing mechanism that will see villagers getting value for their labour. We need fencing material to protect the shrubs from animals.
“Our people are willing to increase production but can only do so when a better price is offered. It is better to concentrate on our gardens and other small projects than producing the jatropha seeds,” Headman Rongani said.
He said given the lack of technical support, no one was taking jatropha farming seriously.
The withdrawal of the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe from the programme meant a reduction in availability of seedlings for farmers to plant and increase existing hectarage.
Analysts say although Cabinet indicated Government interests to involve rural communities in biofuels production, a poor distribution and marketing policy has retarded growth in the sector and affecting production at the multimillion-dollar Zimbabwe Bio-diesel Plant in Harare and Finealt in Mutoko.
The bio-diesel plant, constructed four years ago, has thus become a white elephant due to limited supply of raw materials. It was hoped that after five years the bio-diesel plant would be fully functional with a constant supply of feedstock. The plant processes oils from seeds such as sunflower, jatropha, cotton, soyabeans as well as vegetables to produce bio-diesel and has a capacity of producing up to 100 million litres.
A poor implementation of the national bio-diesel feedstock strategy and the illegal sanctions has meant the bio-diesel plants in Harare and Mutoko have never operated on a commercial basis.
The advent of the inclusive Government has not helped matters as it has also seen little effort being put to capacitate farmers.
Policy inconsistencies in the inclusive Government saw Noczim, which was mandated to spearhead growing of jatropha, being forced to stop and concentrate on its “core business”.
Analysts say Government should move to resuscitate the bio-diesel project so as to save national investments like the Mt Hampden and Mutoko plants and if the country is to promote meaningful development in marginalised areas like Mudzi.
They argue that a deliberate policy to promote the use of bio-fuels in Zimbabwe should take precedence as this would reduce the country’s fuel importation bill.
Only such a policy will make it easy for Zimbabweans to accommodate national programmes like the ethanol project in Chisumbanje and bio-diesel in Mt Hampden.
It would also ensure that Zimbabwe moves in line with developments elsewhere on that globe that has seen increases in the use of bio-fuels.
It is unfortunate that while Government and Parliament are still bickering and destroying the bio-fuels sector, other countries like neighbouring South Africa have actually introduced mandatory blending of bio-ethanol or bio-diesel with petroleum petrol or petroleum diesel.
South Africa joins Brazil, China, Canada and India, among others that have already introduced that law.
In December 2009, at the Copenhagen Summit on Climate, African leaders pledged to shift to cleaner production methods that include the adoption of bio-fuels as energy source in continent.

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