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Uganda warned on biofuels

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th January 2012 01:10 PM

Uganda has been warned against hasty large-scale production of biofuel following revelations that the sector could set off the worst food insecurity in the region.

Uganda has been warned against hasty large-scale production of biofuel following revelations that the sector could set off the worst food insecurity in the region.

By Francis Kagolo in Dar es Salaam             
                                              
Uganda has been warned against hasty large-scale production of biofuel following revelations that the sector could set off the worst food insecurity in the region.

 Experts on Tuesday said that large scale bioenergy production, unless well planned and managed, could also result into massive deforestation and worsen climate change.

Bioenergy is energy/fuel got from living or recently living biological organisms, mainly plants like jatropha, sugarcane, castor oil, coconuts, and maize among others.

According to Onesmus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of advocates coalition for development and environment (ACODE) Uganda, biofuel production will worsen food shortages, hamper poverty alleviation efforts and eventually deter economic development.

“It is very obvious that biofuel crops like jatropha compete with food crop production for the scarce land,” said Mugyenyi.

“To produce biofuel you need big chunks of land and already we have issues of high population growth rates whereby the land is not sufficient for adequate food production.” He added.

Besides food insecurity, Mugyenyi also noted that large scale biofuel production would exacerbate water shortage.

 “We have already failed to use irrigation to boost agricultural productivity and the water sources are drying up! We need to be a little cautious because biofuel crops take a lot of water.”

 Mugyenyi made the remarks at the regional conference on bioenergy and food security organized by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation at the Hilton Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 The two-day conference brought together local and international energy, environment and food security experts to discuss the viability of promoting bioenergy production in east Africa.    

Godfrey Ndawula, the assistant commissioner for renewable energy in the energy ministry, led the Ugandan team comprising of members from the civil society, media and trade unions.  

 The warning comes at a time when farmers in several parts of Uganda, including Masindi, Hoima, Mukono, Luweero and Lira districts, have started taking to jatropha growing with enthusiasm.

 For instance, by 2010, Nexus Biodiesel ltd, a private company, had planted over 400 hectares of jatropha in Isimba, Masindi on top of more than 2,000 registered out growers in three districts.

Other crops being fronted for biodiesel in Uganda include castor (nsogasoga) and candlenut (kabakanjagala) seed. By 2010, African Power Initiatives (API) had planted about 2,000 acres of castor oil and jatropha in Namalu, Karamoja.  

The Government says the goal is to increase the use of modern renewable energy from 4% in 2010 to 16% of the total energy consumed in the country by 2017.

It adds that biodiesel is needed to meet the increasing energy demand in the country which is projected to reach 1,809MWH in 2025.

However,experts noted the sector could do more harm than good given the fact that its financial benefits cannot compensate for the wide scale environmental degradation, hunger and loss of lives that could arise out of converting large chunks of arable land into biofuel production.

Opening the workshop, Tanzanian minister for regional cooperation, Samuel Sitta, warned that biofuel production could exacerbate social injustice and democracy problems in the region.

He challenged east African heads of government to defend their agreement to fight climate change by protecting the environment and food security which they signed in 2010.

“If EAC becomes food secure, even the inflation rates will go down. Our goal is to make east Africa a net exporter of food to southern Africa,” Sitta said.

  Christine Kalui, the chairperson of the east Africa biomass board, advocated for recourse to second generation bioenergy sources (waste biomass) instead of growing crops for biodiesel production which is detrimental to food security.

 

Uganda warned on biofuels

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