By Muchena Zigomo
MIDRAND, South Africa, March 31 (Reuters) – China has asked Zambia to plant 2 million hectares of jatropha in the Southern African country for production of biofuels, the Biofuels Association of Zambia (BAZ) said on Tuesday.
“China has approached the Zambian government to plant 2 million hectares of jatropha in Zambia,” BAZ director Tyson Chisambo told Reuters on the sidelines of a biofuels conference.
Jatropha is a non-food crop whose oil can be used to produce biodiesel. It can be grown on semi-arid land and poses less of a threat to food production than other biofuel feed stocks such as grains and vegetable oils, supporters argue.
Chisambo said Zambia currently had only 10,000 hectares under jatropha, though his association was lobbying for an increase in the acreage.
“We have investors in biofuels from some other countries such as Australia, and there are companies supporting outgrower schemes in the country, so it is a work in progress,” he said.
Zambia is well-endowed with both surface and underground water, and its climate is suited to a wide range of crops including wheat, soya bean, cotton, jatropha and sugar cane.
Currently only 15 percent of the 25 million hectares of arable land are being used for food crop production, a Frost & Sullivan analysis said.
Chisambo told the conference earlier that Zambia’s government had approved an energy policy which incorporates renewable energy and biofuels.
“(The government) has also issued a statutory instrument legalizing the issue of biofuels being traded as a petroleum product…and issued standards for both biodiesel and bioethanol,” he said.
“What is remaining is the incentive…and declaring the industry as a priority sector, and obviously deliverables such as blending ratios and timelines.”
He said possible incentives for the sector included putting in place duty free arrangements for machinery imports and funding incentives.
“On the funding incentives we are looking at things like interest free loans or long term payment plans to encourage investment,” he said. (Writing by Agnieszka Flak; editing by James Jukwey)
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