Bunda College of Agriculture has conducted feasibility studies on bio-diesel extraction and quality issues, a lecturer in soil chemistry and soil fertility Patson Nalivata has said.
Small-scale bio-fuel project is one of the 19 funded projects under the Agricultural Research and Development Programme (Ardep), a national programme funded by the governments of Malawi and Norway and is being coordinated by Bunda College.
Â â€œThere is Shemen Industries in Nkhotakota which built a plant to extract bio-diesel from Jatropha, but they cannot secure enough seed to achieve this objective. All they are doing is proof of content and use used oil to produce the bio-diesel,â€ said Nalivata in an e-mailed response to a Business News questionnaire.
He said despite the hype, Jatropha research has big gaps in that quantification of yield is inconsistent,
Nalivata said the range is too wide and it is difficult for some organisations to trust the available data and establish a big commercial farm.
On its part, Bio Energy Resource Limited (Berl), a company that is processing Jatropha seed into bio-diesel, launched a $2 million (K5 billion) factory in Lilongwe yesterday, which will be producing bio-fuel from Jatropha seeds.
Berl public relations and sustainability manager AbbieChittock, in an interview on Monday said the new plant is expected to produce 20 million litres of Jatropha oil per year which will be blended with diesel and paraffin.
â€œIn the first year of production, the volumes will be smaller, but by 2015, we will be producing two million litres,â€ she said.
Nalivata, however, said bio-diesel cannot be produced on a large-scale in the country.
â€œWe need hard research facts to back the investments. With the kind of scales we have at present, production costs cannot compete with the fossil fuels unless the government puts in place exemptions to make it competitive,â€ he explained, adding that currently, there is no specific policy on bio-diesel production; hence, it falls within the normal energy policy.
So far, he said, there is no benefit for Jatropha contract farming because there is no established market on which this process can be based.
Nalivata said until such time that there is an established reliable market, contract farming will not guarantee income to the farmers from this venture.
Jatropha does better in warm areas such as the Lakeshore and Lower Shire.
Currently, Jatropha Carcus is grown in Balaka, Salima, Mangochi, Kasungu, Nkhotakota, Chikhwawa and many other places.
Smallholder farmers in most of the places in the country have been growing Jatropha not as a commercial plant, but from history as a live fence around their homestead and gardens.
In Malawi, due to potential conflict with food security, Jatropha is not permissible to be grown full scale on smallholder farms. The ministry of agriculture has only allowed it to be grown as a boundary plant around the gardens.