Pan-African food and biomass network launched

The first pan-African expert network on food and non-food biomass has been launched by Germany’s Center for Development Research, or ZEF, and the Ghana-based Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, or FARA.

BiomassNet aims to promote the production, processing and trading in Africa of biomass, a renewable resource gained from recently living organisms. This will not only enhance food security but also support knowledge-based bio-economies by facilitating exchange and discussions among stakeholders, the developers of the scheme claim.

The new initiative is an output of BiomassWeb, a project started by ZEF and FARA in 2013 to provide concepts to increase availability of and access to food in Sub-Saharan Africa through more and higher-value biomass for food and non-food purposes.

Project Director Manfred Denich of Bonn University’s ZEF said that BiomassWeb seeks to promote a shift from value chains to value webs, which are better suited to the dual use of biomass. The scheme is supported by a wide range of partners, including research centres and universities in Germany and throughout Africa.

“BiomassNet provides an interactive platform for science, politics, decision-makers and practitioners,” explains Christine Schmitt, who is BiomassNet coordinator at ZEF. “It is also there to disseminate research results and spread ideas.” Schmitt above all stresses the potential of the new network to promote knowledge-sharing and exchange among countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. BiomassNet is sponsored by two of Germany’s Federal Ministries – Education and Research and Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The challenge is to attain food security in Africa while also developing biomass as a source of energy and other non-food products,” said Raymond Jatta of FARA, addressing the inauguration and networking meeting marking the launch of BiomassWeb in Bonn. “This requires a scientification of relevant issues such as the shift from a fossil-fuel based to a biomass-based economy.” In this context, Jatta maintained, BiomasNet could play an important role in facilitating change.

ZEF Director Joachim von Braun, who also chairs the German Bioeconomy Council, an independent advisory body to the government, stressed the huge potential that biomass and the bioeconomy bore for the future. However, von Braun also stressed the need for a clear measurement of progress in the field, including statistics on the share of biomass-related activities in gross national products and impacts on people’s wellbeing.

Adebayo Abass of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture noted that many African countries had already adopted the bioeconomy in their policies. Abass stressed the need to train more academics in the field. He reckoned that industries in Africa could already be producing from biomass with new technologies by 2020. Such industries could account for up to 20% of the continent’s GDP by 2030.

“The important points are that we produce with, rather than export, biomass, and that we do not compromise food production and the environment,” Abass told the meeting.