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tricity generation, Africa’s bioenergy opportunity clearly stands out. The amount of electrification in sub-Saharan Africa is even lower at only 8% while Africans spend up to 70% of their household income on energy (diesel, kerosene, charcoal), showing there is a pressing need to remedy Africa’s energy insecurity.

Together with the Ghanaian Ministry of Energy, President John Atta Mills released a draft renewable energy bill in September 2009 to promote renewable sources for electricity generation. Ghana has the highest rate of electrification in the West African region, with Nigeria second.

Hosts of the Ecowas electricity regula-

“Africa as a continent, theoretically, could produce all the energy the world needs, but only 16% of the continent is electrified at the moment.”

The oil from jatropha seeds can be used for making soap, biofuel or converted to electrical power

tory agency and the Bioenergy Markets West Africa Symposium, Ghana has been pushing for electrification as a priority for the past 20 years with the eventual goal of 100% full coverage and universal access within the next 10 years. This aspiration of 100% electrification could soon be realised by generating energy and fuel from jatropha, palm oil, ethanol and sweet sorghum.

“Africa as a continent, theoretically could produce all the energy the world needs,” says Clifford Spencer, one of the UN Foundation experts who worked on a recent comprehensive report on sustainable bioenergy development in the member states of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).

However, according to Spencer, strategic agronomical practices must be put in place to battle challenges like water scarcity and historic factors such as erratic crop yields and rural-urban migration.

Biodiesel is a recent phenomenon in Ghana, with much of the focus on jatropha and palm oil. The average price of vegetable oil (jatropha, palm oil, soya, coconut etc) is high, currently at $1.20-$1.60 per litre. Transforming these oils into biodiesel requires an additional 40-50% of that cost, bringing it to $2.30 per litre.

So is jatropha profitable? At present jatropha farmers and those in the agro-oil trade are reaping small returns, but that is only because it is largely a new industry. It is expected that over the next few years raw materials and seed prices will come down, and improved agronomic methods will become available to increase yields. With oil trading at $100 a barrel, the potential to extract alternative fuel out of jatropha seed and other alternatives is very attractive.

It is still cheaper to use manual labour rather than mechanised methods in jatropha cultivation, and with much of rural Africa plagued by high unemployment, biofuels do not only bring energy security but also create local jobs and renew bleak rural economies across the continent.

While jatropha holds many advantages socially, economically, and environmentally, there are still arduous barriers to exploiting it on a large scale. For instance, vast farmable holdings are only available

December 2009 New African | 57

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