This study of southern African biotrade has identified viable agriculture businesses and examined current energy practice across the biotrade value chain. The project has substantially increased the understanding of renewable energy potential by participants in biotrade.
The project has identified a number of future potential technical and funding collaborators in renewable energy pilot projects.
Across many parts of the biotrade sector, a deficit in energy availability and reliability has become familiar, so there is in some cases a relatively limited understanding of what could be achieved with more energy.
All participants expressed an interest in learning more about renewable energy and getting into a position to adopt renewable technologies.
Renewable energy potential
Solar energy has been identified as having high potential as a power source across the project area, which is for the most part in a region of high solar irradiation. It is also the renewable energy source which is most widely recognised by project participants.
In a few cases, there is an opportunity for small scale wind power and micro hydro power generation.
There is already a strong appetite for renewable energy, particularly solar, and in some instances the project participants have done some of their own research or sought quotations for a solar installation.
The primary obstacles to adoption have been identified as a lack of technical knowledge, and the high capital costs of installation.
In addition to enabling greater volume of production, there is evidence that greater availability of energy in rural areas could improve the quality of biotrade products. The availability of drying facilities, for example, would reduce the incidence of mould on biotrade crops like Baobab and Mafurra, and steam sterilisation of Devil’s Claw will immediately add 50% value in key export markets.
There is a significant opportunity for the biotrade’s early adopters of renewable energy, particularly solar, to become demonstration and training hubs, with additional potential support from government.
Several of the participants have expressed an interest in their facility stimulating more widespread adoption of renewables by other agriculture projects and the local community.
Growing customer requirement for renewable
Several project participants indicated that their end customers, particularly large customers in Europe and other international markets, increasingly required suppliers to do carbon, energy and water audits. This will likely increase demand for adoption of renewable energy.
For project participants seeking to add value to natural products and move up the value chain, there is a distinct requirement for new technologies which require additional energy.
A summary of the project’s primary findings
The southern African and international biotrade in indigenous plants is healthy, entrepreneur-led, consistent with national development policies, and primed for growth. It is modest in scale and consumes relatively low amounts of energy. All small businesses consulted intend to grow, add more volumes, and to do more processing and manufacturing. This will require significantly more energy, often from new sources.
Energy constraints have to some extent held back the full potential of the industry’s development, and if not overcome will continue to retard its growth. Where there is sufficient energy it is the result of a connection to a municipal or national grid, to which energy is supplied mostly by burning coal in distant power stations. There is growing awareness of local and renewable energy generation and storage, an appetite to know more, and an enthusiasm for adoption. This should be encouraged through technical support, sensible and accessible standards, training, and capital investment.
The conditions are right for the Powering Agriculture project to partner with the biotrade sector and energy development organisations in southern Africa and to stimulate an ambitious conversion to renewables on farms, in new and planned processing facilities, and in communities.