Biofuels in Africa May Help Achieve Global Goals, Experts Say

Sugar Cane Fields
Africa has vast resources for developing biofuels from sugar cane and other crops.
Photo by Steve McNicholas

Africa can use the biofuels boom to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and fight poverty, said participants at Africa’s first high-level biofuels seminar in Ethiopia last month, the African Press Agency reported. The MDGs are a set of eight goals—ranging from stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education—agreed upon by UN member countries to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people by 2015.

“Promotion of bio-fuels industry in developing countries has the capacity to propel such countries to achieve the MDGs through poverty reduction (especially job creation and economic enhancement), health impact and climate change,” experts at the three-day forum held at the African Union Conference Hall in Addis Ababa concluded.

A report from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, presented at the conference, indicated that Africa’s biofuels potential is significantly higher than that of Europe or North America. The fuels, derived from biomass materials such as agricultural crops and plant oils, can improve farmers’ incomes, decrease dependence on foreign energy sources, and increase energy security, the experts noted. “There is a growing realization in Africa that high dependency on imported fossil fuels is having a negative impact on the continent’s economic development,” they said.

“It is true that Africa should be one of the primary locations for developing biofuels given its abundant natural-resource base,” says Worldwatch Institute biofuels expert Raya Widenoja. But while applauding the optimism of the conference, she notes that, “unfortunately, there are also very large barriers to investment in most African countries, ranging from corruption to infrastructure and security challenges that are hindering realization of this vision.”

According to the recent Worldwatch report Biofuels for Transportation, 38 of the world’s 47 poorest countries are net oil importers—the majority of them in Africa. At the Addis Ababa conference, experts from Kwame Nkrumah University noted that most oil-importing African countries can avoid high oil expenditures by developing their biofuels resources. But the abundance of Africa’s other energy resources should not be ignored, says Worldwatch senior researcher Janet Sawin. “Beyond the handful of oil-producing countries, Africa is rarely seen as having a wealth of energy resources. But the continent has enormous potential with renewable energy sources like biomass, solar, wind, and geothermal.”

Participants at “Sustainable Biofuels Development in Africa: Opportunities and Challenges” included some 250 representatives from African Union member states, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and the scientific community. The conference was co-organized by the African Union Commission, the Government of Brazil, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.