By early 2011, the Green Fuel ethanol factory in Chisumbanje had halted production after reaching its maximum storage capacity of close to 10 million litres. For the next two-and-a-half years, the factory remained idle, although politics around it did not.
Located on the eastern bank of the Save River, about 100 km south of Birchenough Bridge in the Chisumbanje area Manicaland province, the USD 600 million-project is deemed to be one of Africa’s largest such investments. In operation, it provided some 4,500 jobs, and, it is estimated, it can enlarge the number to some 8,000. Indirect jobs would also be significant, amidst the economic and social crisis that the country experiences.
Even though the project was run by a figure close to ZANU PF and by the governmental Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (Arda), it was, as everything else in the country, a subject of a heavy politicized agenda. Among arguments made in the debate were the company’s failure to comply with the government’s indigenization program which requires a majority of national ownership, a discussion about the potential negative impact of the gasoline/ethanol mixture on car engines to fuel prices, the Green Fuel’s monopoly on ethanol (being the country’s sole ethanol producer) along with the introduction of national legislation mandating the gasoline/ethanol mixture, which not only underlines policies to save on oil imports but also the amount of revenues the company would see when such legislation was mandated.
Last August, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) introduced an E5 blending, that is 95 percent gasoline and 5 percent ethanol , which in October, it increased to E10. In November, ZERA said that the blending should be raised to E85, and that plans are under consideration to go to E20 by April 2014. The company, on its side, says that some drivers in the Chisumbanje are already using E85, although their vehicle engines require to have installed an “flexfuel upgrade kit”.
For a project that experienced very recent and enormous difficulties, the current situation is a 180-degree change of direction in the country’s energy policy. Not strangely then, the company’s future plans include the establishing of four more ethanol plants to be supplied by 46,000 hectares of sugarcane (from the current 10,000 h), with a combined annual capacity of 1.5 billion litres of ethanol, and the co-generation of 120 MW of electricity (up from 18 MW). Ethanol production would cover domestic consumption, and the balance will be exported to regional markets. Such project includes the construction of the Kondo Dam, that would be the biggest inland dam in Manicaland.
Green Fuel is a joint venture of the Zimbabwe government’s Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and Macdom and Ratings Investments owned by Billy Rautenbach.
Now, the other side of the story.
On the sidelines of the political discussion, community issues ranged from allegations of forced relocation of families to the failure of providing fair compensation for the land taken by the project – including those under the state agency ARDA.
At the height of the crisis between the company and the communities in Chisumbanje and Chinyamukwakwa, Cabinet set up the District Ethanol Project Implementation Committee (Depic) comprising traditional chiefs, area legislators, the district administrator, councillors, police, members of the President’s office, and community representatives, including NGOs. The Depic was working towards resolving problems between the company and the communities.
It now seems that a resolution is possible. For instance, a meeting on Africa land issues on 15 November in Switzerland passed a resolution, proposed by Zimbabwean NGOs, calling the government to ensure that Green Fuel compensates the villagers in the two areas for their loss of land, crops and livestock. The villagers could be allocated two hectares for food production (although initial and provisional plans called for half an hectare only) and by also integrating them in sugarcane outgrowers schemes. The resolution also calls for the government to ensure the land-user rights of 116 contracted settlers, who had title deeds under the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA).
 A local newspaper said that legislation mandating the E-5 was introduced after Green Fuel had offered to finance the 2013-2014 agriculture season. It is said that Zimbabwe requires as much as USD 1 billion for agriculture and infrastructure rehabilitation projects. See “Mugabe gives in on ethanol blending” at http://www.theindependent.co.zw/2013/10/11/mugabe-gives-ethanol-blending/