In late February 2012 leading figures from the fossil fuel industry met in Pretoria to forge ahead with the government’s highly controversial plans for an SA biofuels industry. The catalyst for this meeting was the publication by the government last September of draft regulations for the mandatory blending of biofuels in the nation’s fuel supply. This article, which first appeared as an Op-ed in the Cape Times on the 17th of April 2012, seeks to highlight some of the substantial concerns around agro-fuels which were not discussed at the workshop.
This paper provides a brief overview of the biofuels industry in the context of the South African government’s 2008 policy. Our key finding is that the large-scale biofuels industry has stagnated almost to the point of non-existence. There is, however, a growing impetus to address the shortcomings in government policy that has held the industry back. We provide an overview of the pilot project at the Cradock Bio-Ethanol Production Facility, which requires further monitoring. We have found that the bio-ethanol industry is waiting on the finalisation of an appropriate incentive scheme, as well as for the Minister of Energy to render it mandatory for fuel companies to purchase bio-ethanol and blend it into the fuel supply.
We also canvass the possible inclusion of maize as feedstock for bio-ethanol production. While taking cognizance of the pressure by the maize industry to include maize, we have concluded that the costs associated with such inclusion, considering food security and the environment are prohibitive.
Despite the important dangers attendant upon the establishment of a biofuels industry in South Africa, authoritative research on the matter is almost non-existent in the public domain. This paper attempts to contribute to closing this knowledge gap, and call
DEEP CONCERN: PATEL’S NEW GROWTH PATH (NGP) SUPPORTS GREEN REVOLUTION FOR SMALL HOLDER FARMERS AND BIOFUELS
Dear friends and colleagues, the ACB is deeply disturbed and disappointed that Minister Patel’s NGP has not embraced new thinking on agriculture policy which requires breaking from a wholly inequitable and ecologically unsustainable chemical-dependent system. The NGP lacks vision as it has missed an important moment to move South Africa towards systems that reconnect food producers with their local ecologies and communities. We are also gravely concerned by the support for biofuels as an employment driver in the so- called ‘Green Economy’.
The NGP cites ‘opportunities for 300,000 households in agriculture small holder schemes’, yet details as to what these schemes might entail are absent. Separate mention is made of the need to address the high cost of fertilizers and other inputs. According to the NGP, this lack of affordability is viewed as a serious impediment to small- holder agriculture. It does appear to us that the NGP is advocating in favour of the adoption of a ‘Green Revolution‘ system of agriculture for small- holder farmers in South Africa.
Funded by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the original ‘Green Revolution‘ prescribes a very particular, and alien, agricultural model on small holders across the developing world.
The focus of this paper is the emerging field of synthetic biology, in particular its implications for the African continent. Synthetic biology combines a number of scientific disciplines and is generally understood to involve the deliberate design of biological systems, using standardised components that have been created in a laboratory. It has been hailed as the key to a new post-oil global economy of abundance for all. In public, this rhetoric has been backed up by high profile research into the creation of synthetic artemisinin, a vital anti-malarial drug. However, behind the headlines the oil and military defence industries see synthetic biology as the perfect vehicle for the continuation of their power and accumulation under the guise of fighting climate change.
The potential for the technology in the global fight against Malaria is considerable, as are the potential impacts of synthetic artemisinin on the cultivation of Artemisia (the plant that contains the vital natural ingredient) in East Africa, where a fledgling industry supporting thousands of small holder farmers is developing.
South Africa was initially heavily involved in synthetic artemisinin and there are currently plans for the development of a national synthetic biology strategy in
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) is deeply concerned about the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Tina Joemat-Petersson’s statements on 8th of October 2010 that South Africa‘s biofuels strategy should be revised to include maize. The Minister’s stance has been influenced by the huge surplus of conventional and GM maize produced by South African farmers this season and the difficulty encountered by them to find markets for this maize. Nevertheless, the Minister’s position reneges on prior government commitments to exclude the use of maize for biofuels because of food security reasons.
Author: Edward Hammond
About the briefing: The interlocking problems of climate change, emissions from fossil fuels, and limited oil reserves have stimulated interest worldwide in the use of plant crops to produce fuel. Agrofuels are not a new idea. Brazil, for instance, has used them on a large scale for many years. The potential scale of production and use of agrofuels in the coming decades, however, is unprecedented.
Presently, most of the world’s agrofuels are produced from common crops including maize and sugarcane (for ethanol) and soya and rapeseed (for biodiesel). But dozens of companies and public sector plant breeding institutions, funded by private and government investment, are furiously researching other crops that could be optimized for agrofuels. This is in part due to the criticism that has been levelled at production of agrofuels from edible grains, particularly maize, and its effect on food prices.
Sorghum, native to Africa and grown world-wide, is fast emerging as a leader among the “energy crops” and may play a major role in the international agrofuels industry. Seed companies are showing new interest in African farmers’ varieties of sorghum, which may have characteristics useful for industrial agrofuel production. Companies and government plant
The impetus for the establishment of a biofuels industry in South Africa also came from industry lobbyists under the banner of the Southern African Biofuels Association (SABA). Consequently, the South African government published a feasibility report and a draft Biofuels Industrial Strategy in 2006, which proposed the establishment of a mandatory bioethanol target of8% and biodiesel blend of 2%, to be derived mainly from maize, although sugarcane also featured prominently.
The draft Strategy was formulated without any public consultation and elicited swift condemnation for this shortcoming from civil society. At the only public meeting held in the Eastern Cape, rural communities there were informed that a project was already underway to clear large tracts of communal land to make way for an oilseed rape mono-crop that would be processed into agrofuels for export tothe European Union (EU).4 In a public statement, communities and NGOs castigated the Strategy asbeing preoccupied with economic instruments designed to facilitate large corporate involvement with trickle down economic benefits to the poor. They also viewed the Strategy as heralding an intervention that would have disastrous socio-economic and environmental consequences arising from expansion of industrial agriculture into new areas.
The South African government has readily embraced the establishment of an agrofuels industry, citing job creation, the need for clean and renewable energy and the creation of markets for small-holder farmers, as key motivators. Nevertheless, it is our view that the logic of the Biofuels Strategy to introduce large-scale, mono-crop agriculture into the former homelands especially,i and other areas of the country, will perpetuate the model of production and consumption of an industrial civilisation that has led to inequality in the world, wars, poverty, and environmental destruction.
The current ecological crisis has elicited a number of market based ‘solutions’ from the corporate – northern axis and their conduits at various international development agencies. The appropriation of vast swathes of land (often labelled ‘marginal’ by its proponents), especially in the global south, for the production of agro-fuels will undermine food security and aggravate social tensions, further degrade bio-diversity and only entrench the already existing global energy hierarchy that is the root cause of so much political, economic and environmental instability in the world.