Sometime last year, while in South Africa, I bemoaned Malawi’s over dependence on tobacco as a source of foreign exchange. I went on to suggest that Malawi must switch from tobacco to Jatropha, which is a very useful crop.

After searching the net, I discovered that, in 2005, the Biodiesel Association of Malawi led by Mr Osman Ibrahim had been encouraging farmers to abandon tobacco and switch to Jatropha as a cash crop. But as of last year, I could not find any new developments on the net about activities of this association.

After returning to Malawi in May last year, I inquired about the Biodiesel Association of Malawi. But all my efforts were to no avail. In the course of time, I got in touch with Mr Chris Dyason with whom I exchanged a few emails. He told me that Jatropha farming is still in its infancy in Malawi.He said that his company has a farm just outside Blantyre and in Namwera and that his is the only company giving forward contracts on seed. Besides his company there are three other companies growing Jatropha in Salima and Nkhata Bay. I really wanted to meet Mr Dyason in person and learn more about Jatropha. But when the news of the scholarship broke out, I became busy with travel arrangements such that I could not create time for a meeting with him. Despite that, my interest in Jatropha is still very strong.

Now that I am settling down here in Japan, I have ample time to follow the developments in renewable energy projects. A recent article by Engineering News has caught my attention because it addresses my question on Jatropha farming in Malawi. This article reports that a consortium comprising Netherlands-based TNT Group and some African investors is preparing to set up a $12-million biodisel production plant in the capital, Lilongwe. It is expected that Malawi will start producing biodiesel in 2009. The most exciting point  is that the project is in the hands of the private sector.The private sector usually sticks to what they say while governments can sometimes be so unpredictable especially when going into an election year as is the case in Malawi. Priorities within priorities do change during this time. Malawi’s plant will probably be the second one in the region because to know that struggling Zimbabwe already commissioned her first bio diesel plant last year.

In a related development, I was encouraged to learn that Air New Zealand (ANZ) will be conducting a trial later this year in which bio-fuel made from jatropha plants will power one of the four engines on a Boeing 747-400.ANZ is said to be sourcing its jatropha from Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania in Africa as well as from India. Malawi on the move!!!