Bioethanol maize battle not over

Government’s announcement that surplus maize could be considered for biofuel is “the one opportunity black and white farmers in South Africa have to grow and survive financially,” says Motsepe Matlala, president of the National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu).
Issue Date: 11 January 2008

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Government’s announcement that surplus maize could be considered for biofuel is “the one opportunity black and white farmers in South Africa have to grow and survive financially,” says Motsepe Matlala, president of the National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu).
He added that SA’s capacity to produce as much as 20 million tons of maize per year should ensure both food security and a biofuel industry. Matlala was reacting to a meeting in December 2007 between Nafu, Grain SA and Agri SA, and the minister of agriculture, Lulama Xingwana, to discuss a Cabinet decision to ban maize as biofuel feedstock on the back of food security fears. “The question of food security was addressed in detail,” says Matlala. “It was pointed out to the minister that between eight million and nine million tons is consumed locally per year, while the potential exists for a 20-million ton national maize harvest.”

Matlala says the minister realises the development of a bioethanol industry would create a win-win situation for all parties involved. “I realise the process is at an early stage, but the inclusion of black farmers should be part of the process from scratch,” he says. Xingwana admitted in a news release issued after the meeting that government would consider not excluding maize as a feedstock if surpluses could be produced. This issue will be discussed with the minister of minerals and energy Buyelwa Sonjica and Cabinet. It’s an opinion also held by Neels Ferreira, Grain SA chairperson, who has all along maintained a biofuel industry would in fact contribute to food security by ensuring alternative markets for maize. Small-scale farmers, he maintains, will be hardest hit if maize is banned as a feedstock. Guaranteed off-takes for additional production and stable prices would go a long way toward the financial survival and growth of the so-called second economy, says Ferreira. The minister apparently agrees with both Ferreira and Matlala, and says the most important argument is that the creation of new markets for the proven surplus production capacity above current demand will contribute in a positive manner to food security. – Annelie Coleman

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.