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Tunis, Tunisia, 20 April 2011 – The African Development Bank (AfDB) hosted a one-day seminar on “Biomass and Bio-energy Development in Africa” on Tuesday in Tunis, to seek inputs on the subject to feed into its Energy strategy, currently under preparation.
Opening the seminar, AfDB Energy, Environment and Climate Change Department (ONEC) Director, Hela Cheikhrouhou, underscored the importance of the meeting in crafting the Bank’s energy strategy and five-year work plan, noting that bio-energy was a new and controversial idea in Africa.
“I encourage all participants to explore the question at hand: how can the African Development Bank support bio energy investments that are socially and environmentally sound?” Ms. Cheikhrouhou said. She further emphasized that the Bank could work on high-level principles and guidelines to make bio-energy part of the solution to the global climate and energy challenge.
Geoffrey Manley of the private sector department outlined the Bank’s experience in bio-energy projects giving specific examples including the Markala and Addax projects in Mali and Sierra Leone, respectively. These projects are based on sugarcane, which has comparative advantages relative to other bioenergy feedstocks. He emphasized the need for strong sponsorship, project structuring and environmental, social and economic sustainability in the Bank’s future bioenergy projects. According to Mr. Manley, “Bioenergy in Africa is still in its infancy. But if developed in a sustainable manner, it could be part of the solution to global climate change, while delivering significant development benefits for Africa.”
In his intervention, Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)’s Expert, Medhat El-Helepi, further explained that fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas which are not renewable currently provide most of the continent’s energy supply with continually rising prices. “The need for alternative energy is clear. Bio energy is a vital tool that can help Africa face the twin challenge of rural poverty and energy insecurity and should be approached holistically at all levels in Africa,” he added.
Other participants including experts from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, GIZ, and representatives of Mozambique, urged the Bank to deepen its knowledge in the field of biomass and bio-energy. The discussions centered on the nature and scope of bio-energy projects, their cost-benefit analysis, possible technologies and strategies, their sustainability, selectivity and environmental safeguards. Most of the participants agreed that bio-energy as a natural resource can help generate employment and higher incomes especially in the developing countries rural areas. Several issues and best practices were raised with regards to the Bank’s approach to bio-energy financing. These include how best AfDB could mainstream bio-energy into its operations and possible instruments to assist African countries in the domain.
Guided by the meetings theme “AfDB Bio Energy – Fueling our Strategy right”, the seminar concluded on next steps. According to Mr. Sebastian Veit, task manager for this event from the Energy, Environment and Climate change department, the way forward is clearly mapped out towards a coherent and selective approach for the bank. The vision is, to become a knowledge center in Africa with the capacity for advisory services on sustainable bio energy finance. This will hold true for utility-sized projects as well as a systematic incorporation of the millions of small scale farmers that represent Africa’s greatest potential.
New and innovative finance mechanisms will have to be developed to harness yet another of Africa’s great natural resources. The Bio Energy concept will take into consideration the seminar’s recommendations on technical issues ranging from food security to bankability. Based on the aforementioned seminar results, the strategy drafting team is going to generate a technical note, which will feed into the new energy strategy for the Bank. Finally, participants expressed their satisfaction on the positive discussions as well as on the way forward for the Bank and the continent.