Malawian firm Bio Energy Resources Limited (Berl) has launched a $8-million jatropha-based biodiesel production plant in Lilongwe district.
Smallholder Farmers Berl, which is a consortium led by Dutch investors, says the plant will process 250 t of jatropha seeds a day to produce 5 000 ℓ of biodiesel.
Berl CEO Laurie Webb says the company will source jatropha carcus seeds from local smallholder farmers.
“Thousands of farmers are already benefiting from the investment, having been contracted to plant ten-million jatropha trees that are providing raw materials for the production plant,” he says.
Webb says the by-product seedcake will be sold on the local market for use as a biofertiliser.
He says the project will help Malawi save foreign exchange and reduce its heavy import bill for fertiliser and petroleum products.
“Our mission is to become a leading supplier of biofuels in Malawi, which will be blended with diesel and paraffin as the latter is among the major sources of energy for the rural population,” he says.
Berl board chairperson Ludo Oelrich comments that the company plans to increase its biofuel production to four times the current capacity.
Energy and Mining Minister Cassim Chilumpha (now former minister) says the project is in line with the Malawi government’s aim to empower rural communities through the creation of jobs and the provision of a market for agricultural produce.
“The investment is also in line with government’s efforts to diversify the economy [in order to reduce] dependence on tobacco as the main cash crop [in view of] poor sales as a result of the global anti-smoking lobby,” he says.
Work on the factory, the first of its kind in Malawi, started in 2003.
To ensure that jatropha does not take up land meant for food crop production, Berl encourages farmers to grow the crop along the boundaries of maize fields. Maize is the staple food crop.