Global consultations on cassava as bio-fuel open

Mr Kwesi Ahwoi, Minister of Food and Agriculture, on Monday noted that the commercial cultivation of cassava as an alternative source of bio-energy, would not compromise Ghana’s agricultural lands or threaten its food security.

The Minister argued that Ghana has a vast land area of about 23.8 million hectares out of which 13 million hectares are for agricultural purposes. However, only seven million hectares are currently under cultivation.

There is, therefore, more land for the cultivation of food crops as well as alternative crops for bio-fuel production.

Mr Ahwoi, who was addressing the opening session of a two-day Global Consultation to assess the impact of cassava as a potential crop for bio-energy production, explained that the Ministry of Energy is at the fore-front of carrying out studies on various forms of renewable energy to supplement hydro- power.

He said the Energy Ministry is also pushing for the passage of a Renewable Energy Law and also working on a draft Policy and Regulatory Regimes for bio-fuel production and use in the country.

Mr Ahwoi said even though Ghana would soon join the league of oil producing countries, government is eager to identify and promote the development of cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative fuel sources that could guarantee sustainable economic development in rural communities.

He said the high global demand for cassava in the bio-energy sector, therefore, presents a golden opportunity for farmers in many vulnerable countries including Ghana to improve upon their financial as well as foreign exchange earnings.

The consultation is being supported by Italian and Finnish governments, together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

It would identify issues including the breeding, production through to processing and the treatment of wastes of cassava and also develop the potential of the crop to meet both food and fuel needs of the rural poor without compromising food security and environmental considerations.

Mr Ahwoi noted that with large populations and limited production of cassava, many Asian countries are looking to Africa for agreements to supply their ethanol industries with feedstock to develop their mandatory gasoline lends.

He, however, stressed that while welcoming these developments for their potential to provide rural African farmers additional incomes, all necessary precautions must be taken to ensure that cassava did not become a major source of bio-fuel for foreign countries at the expense of food security in Africa.

The Minister suggested an initiation of special programmes to at least double cassava yields in Africa, increase funding of research to study cassava genome of selected varieties with the view to sequencing of cassava genes to make the variety highly responsive to bio-fuel development.

He also recommended the use of biotechnology and nuclear research methods to develop new varieties of bamboos capable of producing biomass of 100 tonnes per hectare or more for the production of bio-fuels and charcoal.

Mr Rodney Cooke, Director, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), explained that the Consultation which was the third in the series, is expected to guide future research that IFAD and its partners in the Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops, may finance to develop appropriate technologies to intensify bio-fuel feedstock production.

It was also meant to study the economics of rural energy provision and assess its impact on poverty.

He said cassava was selected because the crop had been accepted globally as one of the most important food crops for most underprivileged communities and had remained beneficial to tropical regions as its roots and leaves provided essential calories and incomes to the people.

Mr Cooke said the IFAD’s new Strategic Framework recognised bio-fuel as an emerging market opportunity for the poor, especially those living in remote areas, where almost 70 per cent of IFAD’s projects are located.

0 Comment: