By Wellington Zimbowa
ZIMBABWE seeks to turn the clock on its perennial fuel challenges through considerable investment in large scale biofuel production, in a move that is set to promote rural development and investment, poverty reduction and generation of more jobs, while ensuring lasting home grown energy needs that include fuel price reduction and energy security.
The recently adopted Biofuel Policy of Zimbabwe 2019 (BPZ) a collaborative product from wide range consultations between government and key stakeholders in the biofuels value chain is guiding the Ministry of Energy and Power Development.
Launched in March 2020 by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the policy will guide the country’s refreshed approach to leverage on biofuel production for socio-economic development, while contributing to successful green-energy for the country.
“The Biofuel Policy has been developed to guide the biofuels sector and to create an enabling environment for viable biofuel projects to be implemented in the country.
“The biofuel policy assists in bridging the supply gap in the country, thereby increasing biofuel production, which in turn results in the security of supply for the nation.
“The import bill is significantly reduced and there is employment creation, and subsequently, poverty is reduced,” noted energy and power development minister Fortune Chasi in his ministerial statement.
Focusing mainly on liquid biofuels, the policy will guide national efforts to “achieve universal access to sustainable and modern energy in Zimbabwe, by 2023.”
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7 urges governments to “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy for all.”
Zimbabwe currently requires 3 300 000 and 4 300 000 litres of petrol and diesel, respectively per day, which means a strain on the forex demands with high hopes for reduction of imported petroleum demands, once the green economy model is in full throttle.
Some of the foreseen benefits include stabilisation of fuel prices, improvement of the country’s trade balance, and additional employment across the biofuel value chain.
Agriculture markets are also set to expand, representing major economic opportunities in the rural areas that are mainly targeted in the biofuel mix.
Government’s move to create an elaborate policy to guide national investments in biofuel production marks a dramatic shift from the earlier scenario where it drew widespread criticisms, such as, accusations of corruption, inconsistencies and rigidity over its ethanol blending partnership with Greenfuel Zimbabwe.
“Lack of a Biofuels policy can result in inconsistent and fragmented activities that do not deliver the desired outcomes,” notes the report.
Critics however questioned why government had ‘pin-pointed’ Greenfuel with an exclusive rights in a national mandatory E10 blending project, with the policy revealing the blunders of the decision.
“One of the reasons for the relatively high cost of ethanol in the country is the currently inefficient market structure, relying on a single ethanol producer to supply the blending market.
“This is causing cheaper ethanol, already being produced in the country, to be exported or used in other sectors, forcing the transport sector to rely on the more expensive producer,” goes on the report.
Hence, government notes that incentivizing investments in the capital-intensive sector and allowing a level playing field, addressing market inefficiencies through opening up for market competition is key.
The report notes that significant investment is required to develop a thriving domestic bio-fuel sector, since the national fiscus cannot match the financial requirements.
Investments by state owned companies, foreign private investors, bilateral development financing and development banks, loans including private equity investments and technical assistance are the financing avenues, set for exploration.
The 51 percent 9%) indigenous ownership policy has already been suspended and set for annulment in order to woe foreign investors in green energy production.
Bio-fuel production is not a new concept to Zimbabwe, having started in the early 1970’s ‘albeit with interruptions’.
In the 1980s, bio-ethanol production through the use of molasses as feedstock started at Triangle Ethanol Plant- a first of its kind in Africa- with petroleum blending done at the rate of 12% – 15% before the severe 1992 drought, forcing operations to cease.
In the year 2005, Zimbabwe launched the National Bio-Diesel Feedstock production program with the aim of using the Jatropha plant for biodiesel production.
Jatropha plantations were established across the country with the processing plant set up in Mt. Hampden, but all came to naught, due to lack of proper coordination and poor support from farmers as prices to farmers were not enticing.
In 2011, the country resuscitated a large bio-ethanol plant project in Manicaland’s Chisumbanje, in a joint venture deal with private investor, GreenFuels, leading to compulsory E10 blending.
By Wellington Zimbowa