By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK A multi-billion-dollar jatropha carcus project, which includes a plantation and factory, is planned for the Kavango region. If all goes according to plan, Kavango will lead the way with biofuel, whose popularity as an alternative fuel is increasing worldwide. Kavango Bioenergy Ltd from England has invested N$3 billion in the project, which will be executed by Prime Investment Holdings in Namibia. Three companies, namely Farming Company, Industrial Company and Tractor Company, have been established in Namibia to implement the project, which will place between 70 000 and 130 00 hectares of land under production. The company held environmental impact assessment (EIA) meetings in October in five tribal authorities in Kavango and Windhoek to give people the chance to air their environmental concerns that need to be addressed before the project starts. The proposed area spans from Katwitwi border post, to Rundu up to Divundu, where patches of land cleared prior to 1990 will be used. Kavango is suited for the perennial crop because its rainfall is about 500 mm per year and its inhabitants have already been growing the crop for the past 40 years, with most people planting it around their homesteads as fencing. The National Bio Energy Road Map says most of the Kavango and Caprivi regions are degraded with consequent loss of biodiversity, and thus the employment of bio-fuel initiatives could help to rehabilitate these areas and wholly or partially restore their biodiversity values. It also recommends that Namibia catches up and participates in bio-fuel production, which is under rapid domestication and commercialization in India and Zambia. Gustav de Waal, of Prime Investments, told an EIA meeting in Windhoek recently the region needs a shift from subsistence farming and fishing to a cash economy for people to survive. “When fully operational, this project will see N$34 million passing through the region’s economy,” he said. The company has put aside N$560 million to compensate subsistence farmers whose land will be used for planting jatropha until production starts, by giving them an income of between N$70 and N$800 per month. On average, a subsistence farmer earns less than N$600 per month. In addition to this, the company has also offered N$35 million to assist the farmers to map and register their land rights with the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement. Having received support from the Kavango regional Council and several tribal authorities, the project will in the near future begin establishing nurseries. The factory, to be erected in the vicinity of Rundu, will add value to the produce by extracting oil from the seed and produce several other products from oil, including bio-diesel. Other by-products of the jatropha include glycerine, soap, pharmaceuticals and animal feed. The waste cake is most likely to be used to produce bio-fertilizer for the European market, along with many other uses as determined by research that is currently being done in Malaysia. Johann Breytenbach said the company has also assisted community members to begin setting up a Kavango Jatropha farmers Association, in which all farmers that participate in the project will become members. To maximize benefits to the community, the association will have 40 percent shareholding in the farming and chemical company on behalf of the farmers and will also be responsible for distribution of any dividends to their members. The company also plans to apply for Carbon Credits, which will be used until 2014 to recover the money invested by the investors after which the full value of the Carbon Credits would be paid out to the farming company for distribution as determined by the shareholding agreement. After 2014, the association will take over the Farming Company and hold all the shares and increase their shareholding in the Industrial Company from 40 percent to 49 percent. The project has been running for a year now and apart from conducting the EIA, it has also developed a Project Design Document to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, and is undertaking research on growth and production rates, the impact of land use patterns on the natural vegetation, and distribution and invasiveness.