Zambia's opposition condemns reported Chinese biofuels project

DPA | Thu, 02 Apr 2009

Lusaka - Zambia's main opposition leader Michael Sata has strongly opposed a reported request by China to plant 2 million hectares of the jatropha plant in the southern African country for the production of biofuels. During a discussion programme on local radio Thursday, Sata said such a move would disadvantage Zambians, who are scrambling for land to grow food.

Earlier this week, Biofuels Assocation of Zambia (BAZ) head Tyson Chisambo was quoted as saying that China had made a request for 2 million hectares of land to produce the non-food crop, whose oil is used to produce biodiesel.

The deal would be the biggest lease of land in the country, which faces food shortages following severe flooding and drought during last year's growing season.

The staple food - maize - has shot up in price, in part because of the global economic slowdown, which has weakened the local currency, the kwacha, rendering imported machinery more expensive.

Sata, a longtime critic of China's involvement in Zambia, said the project would only benefit the Chinese labourers he expected would be brought in to work on the plantation.

Government officials argue that Chinese companies are the best-placed to invest in Africa in the current economic climate.

Chinese companies already own a number of copper mines in Zambia. China is also developing economic zones in the north-central Copperbelt and the capital Lusaka, where Chinese manufacturing, technology and trading companies will operate tax-free.

The government of Africa's largest copper is looking to biodiesel, among other things, to solve the country's biting energy shortages.

Mines rely on diesel-powered generators to keep critical equipment running during frequent power outages.

The reported Chinese project follows a bid by South Korean company Daewoo to obtain a 99-year lease on 1 million hectares of land on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar to produce corn and palm oil.

That project, which had also caused controversy, has been called off by Madagascar's new leadership.
  •   DPA
  • 02 April 2009
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