The Northern Bio-Fuels Association (NBSA) in Zambia has big plans for farmers who produce jatropha, a raw material for bio-fuel. It could be that the plans are too ambitious and unrealistic. Therefore Bart Hellings, consultant for Capgemini, travelled off to Zambia to advise the association on how to draft a good, realistic, business plan and produce a step-by-step scheme.
The Northern Bio-Fuels Association is active in six districts in the northern province of Zambia. NBSA’s aim is to promote the production, processing and marketing of bio-fuels, soap and organic fertilizer. It also helps establish companies that use traditional methods. It stimulates cultivation of jatropha, a poisonous bush with seeds containing jatropha oil, which can be used as fuel, as lamp oil and as a base for soap. A jatropha bush needs very little water, which saves precious water supplies. Jatropha bushes are planted together with crops, thus not threatening normal food production.
An estimated 4000 jatropha farmers are members of NBFA. A single farmer cultivates between 50 and 5000 bushes. NBFA was founded in March 2009 with support from the Dutch development organization SNV. Agriterra supports NBFA both financially and with advice on drafting a strategic and business plan. Agriterra approached Bart Hellings, bio-fuel consultant at Capgemini, for advice. Capgemini lent Bart to Agriterra at a non-commercial tariff to travel to Zambia in July to advise the NBFA on their planning, marketing and supply management and to analyse their progress. Hannan Ndiroraaho, a jatropha farmer and bio-fuel expert from Uganda joined him. A perfect combination, according to Bart, because advising the NBFA required more than just a commercial approach; practical knowledge of jatropha and of ways of working in Africa was needed too.
A hilarious scene
The advisers travelled huge distances to visit all the associations active in the six different districts. In every district, it was important to combine polite visits to local authorities and visits to cooperative bodies and NBFA trainers, while also making time for in-depth interviews with jatropha farmers. Of course, things sometimes go wrong during working visits. Unfortunately, the village chief did not receive an invitation for one visit to a traditional oil press. People rapidly set off to find him, after which there was a short ceremony. Bart was there already, seated in one of the 'decorated' guest chairs. The chair of NBFA began to apologise, telling the village chief that 'mister Bart' had never met an African village chief before. Then Bart knelt to take part in the ritual. This ended as a hilarious but not an embarrassing scene, illustrating how delicate the balance can be when combining work focused on action, diverse interests and all sorts of traditional ceremonial gatherings.
The NBFA already has carried out the training sessions and promotion meetings planned for this year, even though there are huge differences per district. Bart remarked that the training sessions use a great deal of theoretical jargon and that it is not always clear whether they and the workshops actually lead to – practically speaking – demonstrable increases in numbers of seeds and quantity of oil in warehouse storage. The relationship between theory and practice needs much more emphasis in the future.
Earlier interventions to promote jatropha cultivation in Zambia failed, often because promises to purchase the oilseeds from the farmers were not kept. The NBFA is trying to turn the tide by encouraging the farmers to dry their seeds in the sun so that they do not rot and then to store them until they can sell them. Now the farmers see that jatropha can yield profit. They are becoming entrepreneurs in addition to farmers.