DA puts maize back into the biofuel debate

The DA has asked for the ban to be lifted on the use of maize as a biofuel feedstock. This is after parliament approved the Industrial Policy Action Plan 2 (IPAP 2), of which agro-processing is one of the core investment clusters.

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If the ban is lifted, it could change the face of the South African maize industry, which currently sits with a 4 million ton oversupply after a bumper 2009/10 harvest. The DA said the ban on the use of maize for biofuel production, which was imposed when world maize stocks were dwindling, should be lifted now that there was no fear food security would be compromised. Using maize to produce ethanol could alleviate the plight of South Africa’s maize farmers.

Many small farmers face bankruptcy due to lower maize prices, and a number of commercial farmers are unable to service their current debt obligations and source new production loans.  “Allowing maize to be sold for biofuel use would contribute as much as 9% to South Africa’s demand for petroleum fuel,” said David Ross, the DA’s shadow deputy minister of energy.

“The production of ethanol would help the country reach its objectives for renewable energy. Dried distillers grain and solubles (DDGS) produced would contribute significantly to substitute the import of protein feed for livestock and 105 000 direct jobs could be created by the biofuel process.”

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On 12 October, the DA was due to lead a delegation, including Grain SA and the Portfolio Committee on Energy, to the Department of Energy, to discuss the need for a regulatory framework to ensure an enabling economic environment for ethanol production. “Applicable governmental policy documents and legislation will open huge opportunities for the biofuel industry in South Africa,” Ross said.

He said stabilising the maize industry and meeting the country’s renewable energy targets should be ofhuge importance to the departments of agriculture and energy.Farmer’s Weekly recently reported that Grain SA was in talks wit the Industrial Development Corporation about agro-processing solutions for maize and soya. Meanwhile Zingisa Mavuso, the energy department’s chief director: petroleum controller, reportedly said that five licences for biofuel production had been approved, but he could not be reached for comment. Ross believed that four of these licences were for sugar beet production in Craddock, for sugar in Hoedspruit and in Makhatini, and for canola in the Eastern Cape.

Agri SA President Johannes Möller said his union supported lifting the ban on maize as feedstock, but is pressing for a multi-faceted solution to surplus maize production. This would include starting the biofuel industry, correcting maize and wheat import tariffs, and getting other agricultural sectors to use more maize.

“We can use about 1 million tons more maize annually in the broiler industry,” he said, adding that using maize to boost the broiler industry was preferable to importing chicken from countries like Brazil. He said Grain SA supported a biofuel strategy for southern Africa,  which would help develop agriculture and in which South Africa should play a major role. “Government should use South Africa’s ability to produce a maize surplus as a starting point for a sustainable biofuel industry in southern Africa,” he said.