Africa has a great opportunity to overcome its food and energy challenges, improve health conditions and boost economic growth in the coming decades if the objectives of the United Nations declaration of 2012 as the Year of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4A) are achieved.
Available statistics show that the continent is the most prone to food shortages which devastate millions of people yearly. With a population of 800 million which is expected to reach 1.2 billion in 2050, lifting the African population out of poverty by achieving food security and well-being will not be fulfilled without energy security.
The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, the technical arm of the African Union Commission, has a vision to give access to energy to 35 per cent of the African population 20 years from now.
According to Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the NEPAD Agency, transformation in energy generation and services is necessary to achieve this objective. “Although Sub-Saharan Africa encompasses only 12 per cent of the world’s population, 60 per cent of Africans do not have access to electricity and clean cooking facilities,” he said in a message to participants at a workshop on linking bioenergy and food security in Africa recently in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
One point of agreement at the workshop was that bioenergy and food security are two sides of a coin. African countries have to progressively move away from the use of fossil fuels and increase the share of renewable energy sources in their total energy mix. Along with solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal, the experts also said bioenergy would play a major role in the coming decades in Africa where more than 70% of the population lives in rural and in the suburbs.
Professor Emile Van Zyl of the University of Stellenbosch said Africa has the potential to be a major player alongside Brazil in the biofuels trade if it applies modern technology.
The whole continent now produces 606 million litres of biofuels or two per cent of the global trade. South Africa alone accounts for more than half of the total output.
For example, if Zambia were to put 20 million hectares out of its 75.26 million hectares land area to producing biofuels, it could generate $100 billion annually, said Professor Thomson Sinkala, President of Biofuels Association of Zambia. The ripple effect on the economy, health and nutrition of Zambians would be substantive. Replicate this in other countries and you will transform the Continent for good.
NEPAD, through its Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme, sees this as an opportunity to mainstream bioenergy into its food security agenda. “Bioenergy is not new in Africa but we need to revamp it for both food and energy security,” Mariam Soumare, a Programme Officer in the Agency, said at the workshop. The goal of CAADP is to see African countries attain six per cent annual economic growth. As many countries are signing up to the programme, they pledge to increase their national budgets for agriculture to not less than 10 per cent.
Africa is the continent where the most should happen in bioenergy, said Dr Jeremy Woods of Imperial College, London, one of the participants at the workshop. “To do nothing is not an option.”