ALVIN CHIINGA,Lusaka & CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Kawambwa
PRESIDENT Lungu yesterday graced the ground-breaking ceremony to commence the US$190 million first-ever cassava ethanol project in Kawambwa aimed at substituting imported fuel with bio-fuel.
Mr Lungu said the project, whose construction will start in 2016, is poised to create a market for cassava for over 20,000 local farmers in line with Government policy to diversify away from the mining sector.
The head of State said this is besides the direct job opportunities for people in the surrounding areas.
He said the project, whose production is scheduled to start in 2017, will enable Government to substitute imported fuel with biofuel to serve on the huge outlay on imported petroleum products.
The President said this here yesterday during the ground-breaking ceremony of the project being undertaken by Sunbird Bioenergy Africa.
â€œI am delighted to note that Sunbird Bioenergy Africa have committed themselves to establish this important processing plant which at its full capacity will be able to produce 120 million litres of bio-ethanol equivalent to 20 percent of Zambiaâ€™s petrol requirements.
â€œI am reliably informed that Sunbird Bioenergy Africa and its partners China New Energy and China State Construction have an impressive track record of developing projects such as this. This is evidenced by more than 100 projects that the companies have successfully constructed across Asia,â€ President Lungu said.
He disclosed that a government team was earlier sent to appreciate the success story of a similar project in Thailand for replication in Kawambwa.
Mr Lungu said among the successes recorded on this project in Thailand are the creation of thousands of jobs for rural farmers with production levels in excess of 600,000 tonnes of cassava each year.
Other benefits are the production of over 120 million litres of bioethanol each year and creation of more than 500 direct employment opportunities in management, engineering, accounts and other fields.
The President said Government is grateful that management of Sunbird Bioenergy Africa chose Kawambwa district for the key project.
â€œTo this effect, Government has allocated 20,000 hectares of land on the Luena farm block for the development of a nucleus farm and out-grower programme which will produce more than 600,000 tonnes of cassava each year for the plant,â€ said Mr Lungu.
President Lungu said there is need for the Ministry of Agriculture to work with Sunbird Bioenergy Africa to design an out-grower programme in view of the new project.
He said this is aimed at maximising participation for as many rural farmers as possible.
Mr Lungu urged management to ensure that the implementation programme is expedited and adhered to for people to appreciate its benefits.
President Lungu is hopeful that more similar investments will be attracted in Luapula in view of the increased power supply in the northern circuit.
He commended Sunbird and its partners for taking economic development to rural Zambia as this will help improve livelihoods.
â€œMay I also take this opportunity to thank your royal highness for embracing this project in your area. My sincere hope is that your counterparts in other parts of the country will emulate your resolve to open up your area to development,â€ President Lungu said.
And Luapula Province permanent secretary Boniface Chimbwali said the Bio-refinery that President Lungu has launched will create employment through out-grower programmes.
Sun Bird Africa chief executive officer Richard Bennett said the bio-refinery will create about over 600 jobs when it is fully fledged.
Mr Bennett said his company will also invest in power generation worth US$50 million, totalling 36 megawatts to help in the implementing the project.
Meanwhile, the President has said Government will pay all salary arrears and debts which the Kawambwa Tea Company (KTC) owes the workers. Government will also pay their December salaries.
President Lungu said he will work with the Ministry of Finance to find funds that will be injected into KTC through ZAFFICO so that the operational capital challenge the company is experiencing is reduced.
He was speaking in Kawambwa when he toured the KTC which was in 2011 abandoned by Khumul Holdings of Zimbabwe, leaving hundreds of workers stranded.
President Lungu said he will ensure the over 350 KTC workers do not get stranded further.
â€œI want to assure you that Government will help you and we will ensure that by January next year, your problems are resolved,â€ he said amid ululations from the workers.
He said it is embarrassing that Zambians do not consume their own tea despite having a plantation such as the KTC.
He said once KTC is operational, the company will earn the country foreign exchange which is needed to develop the country.
And KTC has commended Government for coming to the aid of the company at a time when it could have collapsed.
KTC general manager John Banda said the company has capacity to employ over 1,000 people if well-managed.
The President returned to Lusaka happy that all the projects he has initiated are bearing fruit â€œbecause of Godâ€™s graceâ€.
ALVIN CHIINGA,Lusaka & CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Kawambwa