CHISUMBANJE – The Zimbabwe government bowed to women pressure to okay the $600 million Green Fuel ethanol plant in Chisumbanje, with imported petrol now blended with 10 percent of locally-produced ethanol from the Lowveld.
The project has lowered Zimbabwe’s fuel import bill by $3 million every month, the energy regulator has said.
It is women who won the Green Fuel deal that would allow it to work at full capacity, a Green Fuel official told the Daily News on Sunday.
The 200 000 litres per day plant is currently being operated by Macdom Investments, owned by Zimbabwean businessman Billy Rautenbach, in cooperation with the state-run Agricultural and Rural Development Authority.
With inclusive government politics stalling production for over two years, pressure from local women finally broke the deadlock, Lillian Muungani, Green Fuel’s public relations manager told the Daily News on Sunday.
Vice President Joice Mujuru’s visit at the invitation of local women was the turning point for the project as her buy-in turned the tide.
Chipo Joice Porusingazi, Zanu PF Manicaland Women’s League provincial chairperson, said: “We focused on leaders who could hear us so we organised ourselves into a pressure group and targeted Vice President Mujuru with the hope that she would hear us and she did.”
Woman-to-woman, Chisumbanje and Checheche women were able to pour their hearts out for the integrity of their families.
“This plant presented us with an opportunity to stay together as families … some would go and never come back or only come back in coffins,” Porusingazi said.
“With xenophobia, it was unsafe for our people to continue migrating there (to South Africa). This is an opportunity for families to stay together and for parents to raise their children together.”
Green Fuel has been sensitive to local women’s needs by allocating every woman in a polygamous marriage a plot in its irrigation schemes while allowing for females to be trained to operate heavy machinery for those under its employ.
“We were advised that because polygamy is prevalent here, we needed to target women in allocating plots,” Muungani said. “In the workplace, we deliberately targeted a number of women to be trained to operate machinery that are traditionally used by men and the results are outstanding.”
When the Daily News on Sunday visited one of its plantations, there were three jovial ladies driving tractors.
“Mechanics are even saying equipment being operated by women is generally presenting with fewer faults,” Muungani said.
Tendai Chidhakwa, a local villager, said women are organising themselves into groups which are producing horticultural produce for Green Fuel.
Porusingazi said the irrigation was boosting food security.
“With irrigation, we will never fail,” Porusingazi said.
“Previously we didn’t have anything to base on. Now we can read success. Some women have two to three tonnes of sugar beans in their houses as we speak while some are selling green mealies from the irrigation.”
He said Green Fuel’s project was worth supporting because it was slashing the fuel import bill.
“We are actually in support of them constructing another plant,” Porusingazi said.
Muungani said the country’s huge fuel import bill was technically akin to exporting jobs.
Green Fuels is working with the local community to empower it. It has unveiled its Vimbo-Hope for a better future community project portfolio which saw the commissioning of a borehole at Mutikwa Village in Chipinge South’s Ward 26 last Tuesday.
The portfolio is the agency through which Green Fuel will roll-out its social responsibility projects, Muungani said.
Six boreholes have been constructed outside the irrigation schemes in response to acute water shortages in this Save Valley flood plain.
“The flagship of the social responsibility programme is a 4 000-hectare community irrigation scheme being developed at an envisaged annual rate of 500 hectares to give local rural farmers irrigable plots for mainly food and cash crops,” Muungani said.
To date, over 1 000 households have been put into irrigation plots on two irrigation sites developed for Chinyamukwakwa and Chisumbanje villages which were affected by Green Fuel’s operations.
“At the completion of the community irrigation development, over 8 000 rural farmers would have been put under irrigation farming with access to water and agricultural training services to equip them with skills for horticultural production,” Muungani told the Daily News on Sunday.
Chipinge South MP, Enoch Porusingazi said, “My best partner in development is Green Fuel.”
Marking his 105th day in office with a borehole commissioning event and the rehabilitation of a 26-kilometre gravel road from Chinyamukwakwa to Checheche road, Porusingazi said irrigation was the only viable option to good harvests for his region five constituency.
“The best way to go is to irrigate,” Porusingazi said, adding that Green Fuel have been very responsive to community requests. Whether it rains or doesn’t those who have been allocated irrigation plots are assured of bumper harvests.”
Leticia Morta, Green Fuel community projects coordinator, said community projects had taken a knock during her organisation’s protracted battle for a mandatory blending licence.
Already the newly-opened irrigation schemes are now a hive of commerce as merchants from as far afield as Harare are swarming the area for horticultural produce, Muungani said.
“Vimbo has committed to construct a huge flea market complete with relevant support structures named Budiriro Community Market,” Muungani said.
Tendai Chidhakwa, a local middle-aged woman benefitting from the irrigation schemes, said she was also benefitting from selling her horticultural produce to Green Fuel.
“Our projects are being supported by Green Fuel which is buying from us,” Chidhakwa said.
Under the project, Green Fuel is helping over 2 500 households, allowing farmers to resume production.
Green Fuel is also undertaking maintenance and mechanical repairs on water conveyance systems.
Vimbo-Hope project has also assisted Chisumbanje Primary School with materials after its roof was blown away in a recent storm. Green Fuel was also planning to run a vocational training centre to empower locals with skills.
Motorists, while suspicious of E10, have no choice but use the blend.
“The government has increased the mandatory blending of anhydrous ethanol with unleaded petrol from five percent to 10 percent,” Gloria Magombo, chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) announced in a statement last month, and it has been all-systems go since.
The new rules took effect in October. Magombo says the “country is set to save about $3 million every month in imports through mandatory blending,” or about 10 percent of funds the landlocked southern African spends on fuel imports.
Zimbabwe spends between $40 million and $45 million on importing fuel.
The Chisumbanje-based renewable biofuel giant was issued with a 20 percent mandatory ethanol blend ratio (E20) licence under four months ago but is providing the option for the higher blend at 15 service stations in the capital and hosting growth point, Muungani said.
Coming out of a two-year politically inspired stalemate, the plant is currently producing 200 000 litres of the water free motor spirit daily and pushing for 250 000 litres by year end. Muungani said they were now fighting to dispel “pretty unsubstantiated beer hall arguments” that ethanol was unsafe for ex-Japanese cars.
“Blend ratios of 20 percent ethanol and below can be used in any petrol engines without any modifications so to allow for E85 we are fitting fuel upgrade kits for free from the 15 service stations,” Muungani said.
In fact, Muungani said, Zimbabwe was a blending country having only stopped blending fuel in 1992 due to a crippling drought.
She said even the US has 10 percent mandatory blending and over 189 ethanol plants, while Brazil has over 400 such plants blending mandatorily to 25 percent.
Zimbabwe’s daily petrol consumption, according to figures from the Petroleum Department within the ministry of Energy and Power Development, stands at 1,5 million litres and from the current statutory provision, Green Fuels can substitute 20 percent of this daily consumption through its E20 blend.