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Hope rises on ethanol from cassava

With the whole world clamouring for reduction in the burning of carbon in order to slow down the effects of global warming, Nigeria may soon be able to reduce its carbon emission by using ethanol fuel as substitute for kerosene.

Boma Anga, the chief executive officer of Cassava Agro Industries Service Ltd (CAISL) said in a telephone interview that Nigerians will soon be able to use ethanol across the country as an option for household cooking fuel.

"Nigerians will be able to purchase ethanol fuel for cooking by March 2010," said Mr. Anga. "The cooking fuel also known as Cassakero (cassava-kerosene) will be available to the public as an alternative to kerosene in order to reduce the money spent on fuel usage by most families," Mr. Anga added.

Ethanol as substitute

The idea of looking for a substitute for the carbonised cooking fuel (kerosene) and wood came as a result of the harmful impact on the environment and climate change.

Since carbon burning has been identified as one of the reasons for climate change, the world decided to look for alternative means in terms of biofuel, which is renewable fuel derived from biological matter, for instance biodiesel, biogas, and methane which are all believed to have less hazardous impact on the ecosystem.

Mr. Anga said the Cassakero initiative was planned as substitute for kerosene and wood for Nigerians through the production of ethanol from cassava root.

"This is to promote the use of ethanol as a substitute for kerosene in the country as this will reduce the greenhouse effect caused by the use of carbon fuel. The programme is targeted toward installing about 10,000 small-scale bio ethanol refineries in the 36 states of the federation, including the FCT, over the next four years, to produce daily ethanol cooking fuel requirement for four million families," he said.

Food security

But the project is raising concerns about food security as cassava is a major staple of most Nigerians. It is used in producing flour which is made into a paste and the popular garri, eaten in most homes across the land.

Mr. Anga, however, said the project will not have any negative effect on cassava supply in the market nor will it affect food security as the companies will be using specially cultivated, industrial cassava.

"Considering the tonnes of cassava required for the project, I want to assure you that it will not endanger food security as we will be using non-edible industrial variety of cassava which will be planted on fresh land.

"We have already established a feedstock supply that will produce eight million tonnes of cassava at an average yield of 25 tonnes per hectares from 320,000 hectares to be planted nationwide. To also ensure a steady supply of cassava for the feedstock, we have signed a contract with Nigerian Cassava Growers Association (NCGA) to supply eight million tonnes of cassava tubers," he added.

He said the contract would benefit over 250,000 cassava farmers across the country with additional 400,000 hectares to be deployed for cassava cultivation as the refinery will require 40 hectares of cassava to supply 100 per cent feedstock requirement annually.

Cassava farmers welcome the initiative

Cassava farmers see this as a welcome initiative, as it will increase the market for the produce and encourage more people to embark on farming.

Jimoh Bashir, a cassava farmer, said the initiative is a good one as this will allow more farmers to cultivate the crop more, knowing that there is a market for it as compared to when farmers had to seek for buyers to buy the commodity from them.

"This is a nice initiative that we hope will last long as it will open up the market," Mr. Bashir said.

"Most of what is produced in the country is used in the food sector. Having the product used in the industries will only enhance our financial status as this means there will be more produce with a ready market. This means most of the farmers that have abandoned farming will be lured back to it," he said.

Mr. Bashir is, however, concerned about the affect of this on food production in the country as there is a tendency for farmers to change from producing edible cassava for the industrialised ones.

"This might, however, pose a threat to the production of edible cassava by farmers. Farmers will tend to concentrate more on producing the industrial cassava root with a ready market and use, than cultivating the normal ones. This might also affect the market price of the crop," he said.

Economic implications for Nigerians

With the federal government's plan to deregulate the downstream oil sector which might lead to a sharp increase in the prices of petroleum products, especially kerosene, the domestic cooking fuel for most households, the average Nigerian will have to spend more on the purchase of the product or seek alternative means such as coal or wood which will further endanger the environment.

Mr. Anga arued that ethanol will be cheaper and available for the masses as it burns slower than the normal kerosene fuel.

"The new fuel will be locally produced; and provide Nigerians with a new household fuel for use in cooking, lighting, heating, refrigeration and electricity generation. This fuel will be cleaner, safer and cheaper than kerosene without the need for government subsidy and the introductory price will be retailed at about N75 per litre," he said.

"The production and the distribution of the ethanol based appliances will create employment and wealth to investors and the nation in general. The programme will also create sustainable employment and reduce poverty and deforestation while enhancing food and energy security in the Nation.

"The primary goal is to make ethanol as a cooking fuel available, accessible and affordable, in a commercially profitable and sustainable manner, to low income Nigerians," he added.

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Modified Cassava Varieties

The Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute will produce disease-resistant genetically modified cassava varieties.

Without specifically saying when they will be produced, researcher Joseph Ndunguru said the varieties would be resistant to cassava brown streak and mosaic diseases, which are reportedly threatening food security in Ukerewe, Mwanza.

He was speaking during a forum for agricultural science and technologies in Dar es Salaam. He said previous traditional ways to fight the diseases had little success.

It was against that background that the Dar es Salaam-based institute embarked on a project aimed at producing disease-resistant cassava clones.

According to Dr Ndunguru, after completing the study, findings will immediately be communicated to farmers. Cassava accounts for 15 per cent of the national food production basket.

According to the National Census on agriculture of 2002/03, there were more than 865,834 hectares of cassava and two million tonnes of the crop were produced a season.

However, up to 20 per cent of fresh tuberous root weight was lost due to the diseases. Subsequently, the losses due to the diseases amounted to Sh45-91 billion last year.

Agriculturalists say technologies such as genetic engineering can raise crop production.

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Cassava study ....

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the staple crop cassava, and say this should lead to the development of more virus-resistant and nutritious varieties.

The draft genome, of a single cassava variety, has pinpointed about 95 per cent of the genes and could accelerate breeding programmes.

The large roots of the cassava plant provide daily sustenance for more than 750 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But the crop is susceptible to many viruses and is not very nutritious.

Steve Rounsley, associate professor at the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona, who coordinated the project, says the sequence will make goals such as developing virus resistance and increasing shelf life more attainable.

A US$1.3-million follow-up project, funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will sequence other cassava varieties and develop a freely available database comparing the sequences. The University of Arizona will lead the project which will involve international collaboration, including some African partners.

Scientists will use the database to identify genes involved in traits such as resistance to cassava brown streak virus, a threat to food security in Eastern Africa.

"With the first cassava genome in hand we can cheaply and quickly sequence other varieties that will give us thousands of little signposts — mile markers if you like — that will help us identify key genes for increasing the plant's resistance to the virus," said Rounsley.

These signposts will make breeding easier because traits that are normally not observed until the plant is mature can be identified earlier with a simple DNA test.

Andrew Ward, senior adviser for the UK Department for International Development's Research into Use programme, said: "Access to cassava's genetic code will enable researchers to target specific traits valued by farmers so that more people will benefit".

But "this is a tool that needs to be used in conjunction with others to develop farmer-desired varieties," he said.

The sequence was created by the Community Sequencing Program of the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and 454 Life Sciences, part of the Roche group, after a proposal by the Global Cassava Partnership.

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