Nigeria has a very high import dependency for some food crops. Even with high import duty on rice, for example, imports continued to rise because supply was simply inadequate; the duties only served to breed a thriving smuggling business. According to the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2006 Nigeria imported only 1.4% of her consumption of sorghum, a common food staple and became the number one market for US wheat exports. In 2006, South Africa produced about ten times more electricity than Nigeria, and that with about a third of Nigeria’s population. In 2006 also, only 40% of Nigerians had access to electricity and industrial capacity utilization was 53.3%. Due to the inadequate power supply and the crippling cost of private power generation, many manufacturing companies have had to close down. A major oil-producing nation, Nigeria depends on imports for a considerable proportion of her refined petroleum products. In 2007 for example, her refineries operated at about an aggregate 12% of installed capacity which meant that about 65% of the nation’s gasoline consumption was imported; and even if all the refineries operated at near full capacity, they would be able to meet only a fraction of the nation’s product requirement. The inability of these refineries to function adequately even after cycles of Turn-Around-Maintenance remains a conundrum.
Three basic considerations which must be made before others for a viable biofuels program are Feedstock, Land and Production (process).
Nigeria consumed 8,414.54 million liters of gasoline in 2007 or about 23.05 million liters per day. The basic E10 ethanol blend for gasoline would then require 2.3 million liters of ethanol per day; this translates to an additional 23% of total cassava production and 77% for sorghum. (View data in original document).
Nigeria’s total landmass is 93 million hectares of which about 64% are non-arable and non-permanent. When current crop acreage data are compared with the balance of arable and permanent landmass, the degree of land constraint becomes obvious. Creeping desertification from the northern fringes as well as environmental problems in the southern reaches only add to the constraint; and when land requirements for food production are added to those for biofuels, the land constraints become even more asphyxiating. The Food and Agricultural Organization, while conceding the doubling of cassava yield from improved varieties, adds that the necessary land increment would come at the expense of a competing crop.
Second generation biofuels production involves the use of lignocellulosic biomass such as miscanthus for feedstock. These tall, woody grasses hold comparative advantages for Nigeria: they have very high ethanol productivity (up to 4 times that of cassava), grow on marginal soils (so would use less resources and not compete with food crops for acreage), are not food crops (so would not impact food inventories) and can add considerable power to the power-starved national grid from the milling residue. For biodiesel blends, the oil palm is a great source of vegetable oil. It yields at least 4 times more oil than any other common African oil crop. Nigeria has many large-scale, state-owned oil palm plantations in various conditions of mismanagement which can be resuscitated or privatized.
A strong institutional support would be necessary and this must include establishment and enforcement of technical standards, initial incentives (such as loan guarantees, assistance with acreage acquisition, power purchase agreements, etc) and commitment.
Adapted from my October 2008 presentation, THE BIOFUELS-FOOD QUAGMIRE:LESSONS FOR NIGERIA.