South Africa must review its biofuels policy to include maize to allow farmers to use their surplus crop for energy production, the agriculture minister said on Friday.
The government unveiled blending ratios for biofuels three years ago but said maize, South Africa’s staple food, could not be used in the production of biofuels in order to ensure food security and keep a lid on high prices.
“Agriculture is not only about food production but also concerns energy. So with the surplus maize, we as government must look again at our biofuel policy,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told a conference.
Experts say biofuels offer the biggest and most secure market for agriculture in southern Africa and could help ease the region’s electricity woes in the future.
The minister urged farmers to come forward with ideas on how to best implement the biofuels policy.
“The development of the biofuel industry needs a national plan that must not harm food security,” Joemat-Pettersson said.
Joemat-Pettersson, however, said a policy change was a lengthy process and as such the use of maize for energy production was a long-term solution to the surplus grain.
“The opportunities for us to address the surplus maize would be firstly to look at alternative market opportunities,” she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said the government was still looking for additional export markets for farmers who expected their largest crop of the grain since the record 14.42 million tonnes reaped in the 1981/82 season.
“We are busy travelling the world scouting for markets, we are working hard to find markets,” she said, adding the government was still negotiating with Russia, China and countries in the Middle East to secure alternative markets for commercial farmers other than Europe.
The government’s Crop Estimates Committee last month trimmed its final estimates for the May 2009-April 2010 maize crop to 13.034 million tonnes, citing lower-than-expected yields and deliveries to silos.
But the estimate was still far above South Africa’s annual consumption of between 8-9 million tonnes.
The department has also applied to the competition authority for an exemption to allow farmers to reserve the surplus grain for exports. The current legislation does not allow for the establishment of an export pool for the grain.
“The (competition authorities) are more positive towards our request and the finalisation of the decision to pool the maize is imminent,” she said.
The government has said South Africa has already secured foreign markets to sell a surplus of about 4 million tonnes of maize in the 2009/10 season to maintain reasonably high prices for local farmers.