by Tracee Harvard

Energy for Africa

The answer lies in the use of biofuels

South Africa could learn a thing or two from Brazil's green energy practices
biofuels.jpg

Professor Marcos Fava Neves from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and chief executive officer at Inova Biofuels, who is an expert in international agriculture, said the long-term view on the agriculture sector appears to be positive worldwide.

He was speaking at the opening of the discussions at this year’s Grain SA Conference, which was held in Bloemfontein, Free State in March. Prof. Fava Neves is also heavily involved in biofuels research and production processes.

Brazil is a bigger country in relation to South Africa, geographically speaking, therefore has more soil, more land and greater rainfall – although it is not distributed properly.

Agriculture, if understood as an integrated business – right from buying seeds all the way to the final product, which is distributed and sold in supermarkets or restaurants to the final consumer – has many value chain similarities.

However, because Brazil has far more resources than South Africa does, it gives way to a greater competitive edge in terms of exporting produce to countries such as China and India, both of which are highly consumer-driven markets.

“If you look at the exports from Brazil, China went from almost zero 10 years to 12 years ago to the largest buyer of Brazilian products today. It is by far bigger than Europe and the United States, which are moving mostly soya beans, other grains and meat."

The South African government and farming communities have struggled to work together to secure food for the country.

Though apartheid fell away nearly 20 years ago, there is still a great deal of mistrust between the white Afrikaans farmer and the government, with land reform issues and farmers’ versus workers’ rights.

In Brazil, there is far less conflict than in the past because the agri-business community has been given cause to believe that its government understands it has a role to play in developing the country, that the goals of both the agri-business community and the government are the same.

With climate change, high food and fuel prices and a lack of skills currently afflicting each country’s agricultural sector, Fava Neves believes that in the future, securing food is going to be much like a ‘food jungle’.

The rising cost of fuel as well as electricity is a difficult area for both the South African and Brazilian government to address, as neither has control over world prices. A solution to this problem is the use of biofuels, which is a big market in Brazil.

According to Fava Neves, the rest of the world has taken too long to make use of this source of energy. “It is already too late – but it is better today than five years from now, or never.

"I only see benefits when I see biofuels being used as a source of energy in a country. The use of this energy resource spreads money to farmers, other people are included in the value chain: business is generated, imports are reduced andexports are improved,” he explains.

If there is a surplus of grain after the farmer has cultivated his crop, there is another business to be established in the biofuels industry. The Brazilian government has settled on a biofuels policy to curb farmers from selling all their grain to get a better price.

“This includes a maximum quantity – that is the percentage of the gasoline that will be added with ethanol. The mandate is controlled by the government and it creates a market for it. However, if farmers want to only create biofuels and forget about the food, the government controls where the grain is going,” he says.

Fava Neves says biofuel usage used to be at 50% in Brazil, but due to climate change and financial capacities, biofuel usage has gone down to between 30% and 35% – where half the fuel of a country is supplied by a relatively small area of sugar cane in the country.

He implored the South African government to start planning to add ethanol to its gasoline reserves.

“Start by adding ethanol to the gasoline: add 5% then 10%, then carry on increasing this – if not in South Africa, then in neighbouring countries; create a market. Then move on to biodiesel. Eventually the government will benefit from it, the private sector will benefit, the poor communities will also benefit through this,” Fava Neves says.

With South Africa’s temperate climates, it has enough resources to contribute to renewable energy sources, adding biofuels to the energy mix. South Africa could learn much from Brazil with regard to this energy resource as an option.

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