As fuel prices climb in Malawi, amid fuel shortages and a soaring inflation rate – prompted by a 50 percent devaluation of the currency – a new paper suggests a way to decrease the country’s reliance on imported fuel: biofuels.Malawi is “the only African country that has consistently used liquid biofuels for transport for an extended period – since 1982”, points out the paper, which was jointly authored by economist Charles Jumbe, of the Centre for Agricultural Research and Development in Malawi, and Francis Johnson, a senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute.
Fuel shortages and rising prices recently led to protests in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries. Malawi spends $33 million a month importing fuel, according to a December 2012 report in Engineering News, which said the government had approved the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel for motor vehicles.
Motorists in Malawi already use a blend of the conventional fossil fuel and ethanol produced from molasses – the by-product of producing sugar from sugarcane. The strategy was adopted in the 1980s to save foreign exchange.
The country launched a five -year project to consider the option of running vehicles exclusively on ethanol in 2007.
But Malawi has not been producing sufficient quantities of ethanol.
The amount of ethanol being produced has dropped over the years, as it relies on a poor-quality molasses that is produced seasonally, Jumbe explained via email. The ethanol production plants are currently operating at half their capacity. This has affected the amount of ethanol being blended with the fossil fuel, forcing a greater dependency on the imported fuel.
If the production of sugar is expanded, ethanol production could ease some of the country’s foreign exchange burden, he said.
“The high commercial value of sugar and ethanol has brought considerable socioeconomic benefits to both small farmers and estate workers [in Malawi],” notes the paper.
Read more of the story here at the IRIN news service:
More ethanol could lighten Malawi’s fuel bill