Bioenergy in Africa (BIA)

Bio Energy Africa
In Bati, Ethiopia, jatropha is used as a fence around plots and as a soil and water conservation structure to rehabilitate erosion gullies. Photo: Brigitte Portner, CDE

Biofuel production and its implications are the focus of two research projects: 

The first, an SNSF​-funded research project on “Biofuel production: spatial impacts and normative powers”, addresses the gap between global discourses and local realities regarding biofuels. Indeed, the relevant global-level environmental and development discourses generally neglect local, place- and power-specific realities in the global South. This failure to reflect local realities bears great potential for conflict. This project seeks to improve understanding of the relationship between facts and values in sustainable development, by linking analysis of environmental discourses with analysis of local realities in biofuel production.
Bio Energy Africa
Plot-based jatropha production is a high-risk investment for smallholders. Hedge-based production, although more advisable, may be insufficient to substitute traditional and/or fossil fuels. Photo: Reginald Lyimo

The second project, on Bioenergy in Africa and Central America (BIA), is coordinated by CDE and implemented within the European ERA-ARD​ research framework. Its main aim is to provide better knowledge for decision-making on biofuel production, leading to pro-poor development strategies and policies designed and implemented by development partners and governments in the North and the South. The project consortium includes 15 institutions from Europe, Central America, and Eastern Africa (see “More information” below for links to consortium partners' websites).

Jatropha Biofuel
While considerable barriers and challenges exist, jatropha can potentially contribute to rural energy supply, particularly in areas without access to electricity. Photo: Simon Bach
The BIA Project implementers have chosen to focus on Jatropha curcas L., a feedstock considered to have great potential in marginal areas and likely to see production increases in Eastern Africa. They seek to assess the opportunities and threats of increasing Jatropha production, appraise its social and environmental impacts, and develop decision support tools for sustainable bioenergy production in Eastern Africa. The results show that large-scale commercial Jatrophaproduction is highly problematic in Eastern Africa. Not only does it fail the test of economic sustainability, it also increases pressure on land resources in some areas. Nevertheless, there are possibilities for Jatropha-niche production that improve energy supplies in remote rural areas.

To achieve project aims, consortium partners were implementing four complementary modules:

  1. Crop growth and processing: Assessment of sustainable bioenergy production potentials and processing of Jatropha biomass in different production systems and different environmental and cultural settings. 
  2. Impacts of biofuel production: Case-study research on the local socio-economic and environmental impacts of biofuel production and assessment of the life-cycle costs of different Jatropha value chains. 
  3. Global policy, trade, and certification: Analysis of the influence of external socio-political and economic decision-making processes on regional and local biofuel production processes in Eastern Africa and Central America. 
  4. Potentials of biofuel in Eastern Africa: Up-scaling of findings from the three other modules in order to provide spatially referenced decision-making and planning tools for use at national and regional scale in Eastern Africa. 

In year one, 15 students from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania conducted MSc researched on Jatropha production’s impacts on livelihoods and the environment. In Belize and Mexico, research was done on Jatropha plant growth characteristics. Oil samples from different Central American Jatropha accessions were analysed and tested for their quality in Austria. Research was also done on biofuel-supply potential, the economics of various feedstock, as well as national strategies, policies, and regulations in Eastern Africa.

For 2011–2012, the focus was on synthesising case-study findings and working towards national and regional overviews and models. Planned research activities include: 

  • elaboration of a Jatropha-suitability map based on fuzzy modelling 
  • assessment of Jatropha’s soil-conservation potential
  • analysis of possible linkages between biofuel development and food security 
  • spatial modelling of pressure on biodiversity to inform biofuel investments 
  • modelling of various Jatropha-based value chains depending on accessibility aspects

Start date: 1 June 2009
Duration: 3 years

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