Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Uganda: Bio-Diesel Refinery Opens

Olandason Wanyama, The New Vision, Kampala, 03/12/2008

THE lives of more than 2,000 Karimojong in Nakapiripirit district who have traditionally earned their livelihood from cows could change with the opening of a bio-diesel refinery in April next year.

African Power Initiative (API), a local company currently running Jotropha plantation in the district, announced last Thursday that the refinery would be commissioned in April 2009 on the old Port Bell Road at Wankonko.

Bio diesel is an alternative to the country's escalating fuel shortages and an answer to protection of crops like maize that could be used in the production of the same.

"Currently we have managed to open up 2500 acres of Jotropha locally known as 'biroowa'.

Yields will be processed into crude fuel and transported for refining in Kampala," Marcos Bitew, Chief executive officer said. Marcos said the plan to grow Jotropha in Karamoja and to construct a bio diesel extraction in the sub region and refinery plant in Kampala would reduce Uganda's fuel shortages drastically.

Jotropha yields more than five times as much fuel per hectare than soy bean and several times than maize. An acre of jotropha produces close to 5,000 litres of fuel.

"It will also bring an alternative source of livelihoods not only to the Karimojong but also to other Ugandans," Marcos said.

This plant, if exploited, will not only relieve Uganda of dependency on fossil fuels from oil producing Arab countries but may also go a long way in becoming a major source of income.

For Uganda, bio-diesel production, especially in adequate amount, could relieve the country of estimated $230m spent on importing diesel per annum.

Uganda imports more than 400,000,000 litres of diesel per annum.

Cornelius Kodet, one of the senior directors of API, said the project would also rehabilitate the semi arid region with a new wave of a micro-climate.

Kodet said East African countries would cut down on the money spent each year on diesel if they can embrace the project.

"API's research department in partnership with an energy saving firm in Kampala is in final stages of using the residue to process biomass for electricity, fertilizers and industrial chemicals," he said.

The farm located at Namalu is on former notorious raiding route; however that has now changed as Uganda peoples defence forces have disarmed the Karimojong.

Some of the workers on this farm were former raiders and the unemployed youth and women who are now happy with bank accounts. The State Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Aston Kajara said at the tour of the farm in company of officials from Ethiopia that API had suspended cattle raids in the area by employing the youth.

"We have to thank API for employing all these youth and we need more to follow suit so that livelihoods can change," he said.

Kajara said Uganda will be the centre to distribute the product beyond regional frontiers.

API started its bio diesel project this year in April and has simultaneously constructed a refinery in Kampala respectively. The project suffered criticisms in its initial phase by politicians in the sub-region as most of them thought it was a nightmare.

Another issue was by the communities that the API had come up to grab land in Karamoja.

Kodet said he offered his land, therefore, there was no need of grabbing land from the communities.