By Ashwani Kumar
| December 19th 2009 03:48 AM | Print
Biofuels and Development
The potential for biofuels is particularly large in tropical countries, where crop yields are higher than in temperate regions; also land and labour costs are generally lower. With crude oil prices above US$ 0.40 per litre, biofuels are increasingly competitive with fossil-based fuels. Cost reduction, improved conversion efficiencies and upscaling can assist developing countries in supplying the commodity markets with biofuels at competitive prices. International agribusinesses look at biofuel production as an opportunity for market diversification alongside food-oriented commodities. Such investments can generate significant income for developing countries, but do not necessarily promote local income and development.
Sustainability aspects are very important to maintain the positive appreciation of biofuels by the general public. In the European Union for example, imported biofuels must meet certain sustainability criteria in order to qualify for financial incentives. Certified production, equitable land use and local employment are important issues for the emerging global market for biofuels to avoid disruption of the local economies in developing countries. In remote areas in developing countries, where the supply of fossil fuel is often unreliable and costly, locally grown biofuels can be an important asset for development.
Why Jatropha?Jatropha has a number of characteristics that make its use for local development particularly promising. It is a wild plant that is not demanding with respect to soil quality and water, and it is known already by farmers in Africa, India and Central America. Among a variety of oil-producing crops, FACT will initially focus on the cultivation of Jatropha by small farmers, as a means for local development. Locally produced Jatropha oil can be used to operate a diesel engine to produce electricity for lighting, work shops, education and medical facilities.
Jatropha oil can also be used directly for lighting and cooking and it can be processed for making soap. This requires technical input, training and investment in equipment. On the other hand, it provides local labour and -contrary to electrification schemes dependent on diesel fuel- the community is not exposed to international oil prices. FACT will implement and monitor the application of locally-produced biofuel for human and economic development, through pilot projects in several countries.