Producing biodiesel from jatropha trees, that is what Rwanda’s Institute of Scientific Research and Technology (IRST) wants. This way the government organisation hopes to limit the country's energy dependence on wood and oil. But some farmers fear that the production of biodiesel will have a bad effect on food crops and food security.
By Jean Karangwa
Since the inauguration of the biodiesel factory in 2007 in Kigali, IRST has stimulated local authorities, farmers and the private sector across the country to cultivate crops, such as soybean, moringa and jatropha, which can be used as biofuel.
"Even if our factory can produce 2000 liters of biodiesel per day, we have a long way to go so that we can end our country’s energy dependence" admits Dr Jean Baptiste Nduwayezu, Director General of IRST.
Situated in the western province of Rwanda, Ngororero district is one of the areas chosen by IRST as suitable region for Jatropha plantation. "Finding enough energy for our country is costing us an arm and leg. If we manage to find a alternative solution for energy by growing trees, that would make our lives easier", said Nyombayire Lambert who is in charge of workshops at IRST.
In Ngororero district, IRST has mobilised more than two hundred families to plant fourty thousand jatropha trees. "Every family should grow at least 100 trees on his plots, mixed with other crops," insists Cyprian Nsengimana Mayor of Ngororero district.
Although the local authorities baptised the Jatropha trees 'Kimaranzara' (a tree that put an end to hunger) some people are worried they loose arable land for other crops to the jatropha plants. “In 2003 we grew Moringa, a medicinal tree. But we didn’t receive anything. We used our land for nothing when we could have grown maize and sorghum. How can I have hope that jatropha will not be like moringa?” said Matthias Munderere.
The Institute of Scientific and Technological Research, however, reassures that in Rwanda jatropha can be grown in fields together with food crops, near roads or along anti-erosion ditches.
And IRST agents also rejected the rumour that jatropha damages the soil. Their remarks are confirmed the website jatrophabiodiesel.com which published a research that shows that the jatropha plantations improve soil structure within a short period.
“Jatropha will be cultivated on arid and semi-arid regions like the province in the South and West of the country. It does not compete with food crops. Jatropha is not here to create problems. Itis here to put an end to poverty” assures Dr Jean Baptiste Nduwayezu.