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Food security hobbles S-Afr biofuel strategy

Worried that it may be seen as insensitive to the food needs of Africa, the South African government, which is facing a general election in 2009, has chosen food security in framing a biofuel policy.

After months of dilly-dallying, a strategy for the biofuel sector was accepted by the Cabinet at the start of December. But the government excluded maize, a life-saving export during times of recurring drought in Southern Africa.
Politics, according to independent observers and the lobby pushing for maize as a source of biofuel, influenced the announcement, which preceded the Polokwane conference of the African National Congress where Jacob Zuma was elected as new party leader.

“This decision was a complete surprise,” said a shocked Andrew Makenete, president of the South African Biofuels Association (Saba). “The government not once during talks expressed the possibility that maize would be excluded. It was supposed to be the foundation of a South African biofuels project.”

Saba and Grain South Africa had lobbied for maize with government officials and Tito Mboweni, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, who a few months ago had warned that a diversion of the staple for biofuels could lead to an increase in prices and threaten food security in the region.

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