Dar sends mixed messages on biofuels By PAUL REDFERN Special Correspondent THE EAST AFRICAN Tanzania's government is sending out mixed messages on the issue of growing biofuels in the country as the debate over whether developing countries should allow them intensifies. Recently, Dar approved an 8,000 hectare area for biofuels near the village of Mtamba in the coastal region. Those in favour of the scheme argue that it will provide jobs and that as only six per cent of the country's land area is currently cultivated, will not seriously affect food production in the country. Moreover, the crop that will be grown is jatropha, whose seeds are used to make biodiesel. These can survive in relatively poor soils with little water. However, the Financial Times newspaper pointed out that for the nearby village, there was little consultation on the issue beforehand. While local people working on the jatropha production will be paid a wage of $3 a day, the company producing the biofuels crop, the UK-based firm Sun Biofuels, has a 99-year lease on the land. Moreover, critics argue, the fear is that more applications for biofuels will start streaming in. Already Sekah, a Swedish company, is bidding for 50,000 acres on the banks of a lake to grow sugarcane and build distilleries to export ethanol to Europe. Unlike jatropha, sugarcane sucks up a great deal of water and requires fertile soil. The FT says that African governments should be wary of the issue given the escalating world prices of food and the shortages across the continent. "The global boom in biofuels is causing a stampede into one of the world's biggest areas of uncultivated terrain," it says. "On paper, Tanzania is perfect for producing biofuels. As an oil importer, it is desperate for cheap fuel, jobs and export earnings [and] it has vast amounts of land suitable for agriculture." But the report says that within the government, the "early enthusiasm for growing biofuels has moderated. The global food price crisis has underlined the risks involved in signing away large tracts of fertile land for the next century." The report notes that the Tanzanian government remains divided on the issue and "a promised national biofuels strategy has not yet materialised." Sun Biofuels general manager Peter Auge says his company's plantation will not take land out of food production. But he acknowledged that the Dar government "tend to blow hot and cold" on the issue, "depending on whom they are talking to."