Engineer neck-deep in Zimbabwean jatropha project

The multi-million dollar project, which is still in its infancy, shows great potential and is expected to improve solve Zimbabwe’s fuel woes. Zimbabwe is currently facing fuel shortages owing to the unavailability of foreign currency to import the commodity and as a result the Government is supporting farmers to venture into Jatropha farming a good source for bio-diesel. A field day held at Chimusoro’s 480 hectare farm in the prime farming area Beatrice South of Harare recently to assess the progress of the more than 1 000 Jatropha plants. Addressing officials from the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Agricultural Research Extension Services (Arex) and Environment Africa, Chimusoro said he embarked on the project following the Government’s calls for farmers to venture into Jatropha farming. “I started this project sometime last year and we will be expecting the first benefits around 2008 and 2009,” an ecstatic Chimusoro said. Chimusoro, an automotive engineer, said the Jatropha would act as a paddock fence. “We have discovered that livestock especially cattle, are annoyed by the smell of the Jatropha and cannot browse the tree. “So we decided to plant it as alternative fencing rather than as a plantation,” he said. He has already planted Jatropha trees in rows of two around eight paddocks on the farm. He said Jatropha trees fencing one paddock, which is between nine to 10 hectares, was expected to produce over 1 000 litres of bio-diesel on the first harvest. Chimusoro is also venturing into poultry, fish and bee keeping. Environment Africa research manager Barney Mawire also urged the Government to support farmers like Chimusoro. He said one way of encouraging farmers was introducing tax rebates. He also encouraged other farmers engaging in Jatropha farming to follow the steps taken by Chimusoro who has not disrupted other farming activities but has planted Jatropha trees as a boundary fence. “Sustainable agriculture is what is required for the country to develop. If we could have 10 farmers like this the country could be somewhere,” Mawire said. He also urged farmers to always keep record of their activities saying this was beneficial to the nation, as the data can be stored and utilised in the future. Jatropha is a drought tolerant plant, which produces seeds that can be used in the development of bio-diesel ‘ a clean alternative fuel made from plant oils. The seed, which contains 30 to 35 percent oil, can also be used to make insecticides, for soap production and numerous other purposes such as organic manure and animal feed. Meanwhile, the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (Noczim) has received overwhelming responses from farmers who have expressed interest in Jatropha farming projects. Noczim was tasked by the Government to run the project that is envisaged to go a long way in bringing relief to the country, which is grappling with erratic fuel and chemical fertilizer supplies. At least 170 hectares are expected to be put under Jatropha plants this year. Many countries including Namibia, Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa, Philippines, India and Egypt have also launched pilot projects for bio-diesel production in a move that could deliver significant cost advantages to the countries. The target yield per hectare expected would not be less than 2,7 tonnes of oil over the next two-three years if projects become successful.

March 2006
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