Biofuels: A Solution To Tanzania’S Energy Crisis?

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As the world faces an energy crisis due to limited oil reserves and a problem of climate change due to greenhouse emissions, increasingly, biofuels (fuel consisting of, or derived from biomass) are seen as the panaecea to these two predicaments by providing an alternative to fossil fuels. Countries of the developed North and the corporate world has been at the forefront of pushing for this alternative which is seen as a win-win solution (i.e. energy security is enhanced whilst the environment is protected).

Policy Forum was recently invited to a meeting organized by its member organization, HAKIARDHI, to discuss this option that Tanzania could adopt as a solution to its energy crisis and as a way to do its bit to protect the global environment. However, there were interesting points brought forward by participants non more so than the issue of how food security could be affected by using arable land for growing biomass and the land rights of those who live in and around areas that potentially could be earmarked for biomass cultivation. Moreover, it was felt depending on the crop, development of such an alternative could create deforestation in areas where forests have to be cleared for biomass farming and livelihoods could be affected.

Energy security v. food security: As demand for biofuels increases, it is likely that there will be more incentive to grow crops to satisfy the biofuel industry instead of the food market. Without proper regulation, a country like Tanzania which already has volatile food security, could see itself in a situation whereby there is less food being produced resulting in increased food prices and even facing famine. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on food, labels biomass cultivation on arable land a ‘crime against humanity.’

Land rights: Land used to cultivate biomass is usually hundreds of thousands of hectares and at times this involves the resettlement of entire villages like is due to happen in Bagamoyo and Kilwa districts. The Tanzania government has identified millions more hectares in at least 10 other districts.

Market unlikely to be Tanzanian: There is also the fear that even when Tanzania cultivates biomass, it is unlikely that the export product will be processed biofuel, hence not value added. This is already happening in Mozambique whereby the raw material is being sent to refineries in Portugal for processing. Even if Tanzania insists on refining the raw material, critics still maintain that the market will be Europe where the demand is high and not Tanzania.

Effects on the environment: Although the dominant idea is that biofuels are good for the environment in that they help to reduce global climate change, there is increasing concern that its production can have adverse effects. Forests and biodiversity are threatened through the clearing of forests and there is argument that the process of extracting biofuels itself is a source of greenhouse gas emissions and hence detrimental to the environment.

Where do you stand on the issue of biofuels production in Tanzania? Please let us know by writing to us via email: maoni@policyforum.or.tz

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