by Dante Piras

Biofuels and food security

Africa is the key to unlocking the potential of both food and energy for the world

Dr Sergio Trindade, president of SE²T International
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While the bioenergy policy of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) is geared toward the increased use of renewable energy and the development of mega energy infrastructure for the African continent, Africa cannot afford development models where growth is not synonymous with economic inclusivity.

This was the message from Nepad’s chief executive officer Dr Ibrahim Mayaki on day one of the International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels taking place at the Spier Wine Estate outside Stellenbosch. Over the next two days, some of the world’s top experts in the biofuels industry will discuss the role that alcohol fuels can play in enhancing sustainable rural development and agricultural production.

In his welcome address, conference organiser Professor Emile van Zyl said the energy crisis requires interaction from all levels of society, with the different role-players surrendering their agendas to the higher task of a more energy-efficient society built upon renewable energy. Prof. Van Zyl holds the senior chair of Energy Research in Biofuels – funded by the South African National Energy Research Institute – at Stellenbosch University.

In his opening address, Dr Mayaki said Africa is regarded as key to global food security by 2050 because of its vast areas of arable land. Yet, it is the most food-insecure region in the world.

“Nepad’s path and mission is geared toward the increased use of renewable energy, energy efficiency and mega energy infrastructure for the African continent. But this cannot be done without taking into account critical factors such as food security and poverty reduction, rural transformation, and an increase in agricultural productivity, as well as special focus on women and children,” he said.

The question is therefore not whether or not Africa should embrace bioenergy, but rather about transforming our ways of developing and using that energy. “Without taking those critical factors into account, we are doomed to failure,” Dr Mayaki warned.

One of the world’s foremost experts in sustainable development and biofuels, Dr Sergio Trindade of SE²T International, said poor nations and communities are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change. “We humans are not wired to respond to long-term crisis. So how, then, do we face this long-term threat and how do we respond?

"Technology alone won’t do it. Each one of us needs to change our mindset and wire our brains differently and think long-term to face a brave new world. This could mean different ways of organising the way we live and work, driverless driving, and a mosaic of fuels generated from a broad array of sources," he added.

Today, Prof. Carlos Cruz, scientific director at the São Paulo Research Foundation, discussed some of the research and development challenges related to productivity and sustainability of bioenergy in Brazil; while Dr James McMillan from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the United States reported on the status of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels development in the US.

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