Fuel blended with 10 percent locally-made and eco-friendly ethanol went on sale in Zimbabwe's capital this week, at a lower cost than fuel that is fully imported. The project, which is possibly Africa’s largest eco-project to date, has created more jobs in Zimbabwe than any other in the last 20 years. It was also the brainchild of businessman Billy Rautenbach, who is the target of European Union and U.S. sanctions.
So far 7,000 hectares of sugar cane has been planted in southern and eastern Zimbabwe. The harvest is being fed into a huge new refinery nearby which produces ethanol.
The plant, run by a company called Green Fuel, is set to pump out about 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s fuel needs within the next few months.
For motorists this is a boon, as fuel blended with ethanol -- now available at some pumps in Harare -- is cheaper than fully imported traditional fuel.
Consumers were filling up this week in Harare. "We have been waiting very much for this kind of product. Because I travel a lot and at one time I was in Brazil and we have got plenty of land around here so what is important is utilizing the land, we have plenty of land. I [am] very, very happy about tha," one consumer state.
Lilian Muungani, the public relations officer for Green Fuel, said the project began two years ago when private agricultural companies signed a deal with the state land company, the Agriculture Rural Development Authority, to take over and rehabilitate its collapsed sugar cane estates. In the process, a massive reconstruction and expansion of irrigation systems was undertaken.
The refinery was partly imported from Brazil, with bits of it manufactured in Harare and a team of experts from Brazil and Mauritius overseeing the project.
Green Fuel says it plans to plant and irrigate at least 50,000 hectares of sugar cane to produce two million liters of ethanol a day.
A garage owner in Harare, Norias Chibeke, said people had quickly bought out the first delivery of the blend of unleaded fuel and 10 percent ethanol. "Most of the motorists were eager to know how it works. So they are saying we want to see how it goes. We received about 10,000 [liters] and we sold it in one-and-a-half days because the price was good for them. The unleaded we are selling at 1.42 a liter and the blend we are selling at 1.36.”
The company says Billy Rautenbach is the “brains” behind the vast project, which has provided 4,500 jobs so far in a poverty-stricken part of the country.
Rautenbach says he cannot be part of the company because he is on the E.U. and U.S. sanctions lists and any stake he might hold would put the project at risk.
No E.U. or U.S. citizen can trade with about 120 Zimbabweans, mostly top members of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, plus several banks and state mining companies. The sanctions were originally imposed because of alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by Mugabe supporters during the run-up to the 2002 presidential elections.
Criticism of ZANU-PF increased after the government displaced hundreds of thousands of urban people in Harare in 2005.
Green Fuel says no one has been displaced by this project, which is also supplying irrigation for the first time to peasant farmers working in dry areas around the sugar cane fields.