Using biofuels to combat the energy crisis

Project completed
Farmer Fernando in front of a fermenter tank for making biogas from slurry (district of Calimete, province of Matanzas)
Farmer Fernando in front of a fermenter tank for making biogas from slurry (district of Calimete, province of Matanzas). Photo: Alejandro Gonzalez [© FDFA] FDFA

The use of biofuels does not necessarily have a negative impact on food production and thus on food security. The two goals can be combined, as is shown in an SDC project in Cuba. In July 2012 in Guantánamo a plant started work which transforms jatropha seeds into biofuel. Thanks to the Swiss biomass project, six Cuban communes now benefit from cheaper, renewable and reliable energy.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Climate change and environment
Agriculture & food security
Biosphere protection
Renewable energy generation
Agricultural development
Agriculture value-chain development (til 2016)
01.04.2012 - 30.09.2017
CHF  5’715’000

Cuba wishes to reduce its dependence on expensive fossil fuels. The country now obtains 28% of its energy from biomass. Sugar cane is an important energy source but depending on soil quality and local needs other plants are also used. The jatropha plant, which originally comes from India, is gaining in importance. It grows even on poor soil that is not suitable for agriculture and can be ideally combined with cattle raising. If there is enough unused land available, the jatropha plant does not pose a danger to other food crops. Its cultivation makes sense for ecological as well as for economic reasons.

First processing plant

The first processing plant for the production of bio diesel from jatropha seeds in Cuba was opened in July 2012. It processes the crops harvested in an area of 130 hectares. The bio diesel is used mainly to power agricultural machines in rural districts of the province of Guantanamo. The plant creates jobs and reduces dependence on state energy supplies, which are scarce and not always reliable. The project promotes simple forms of energy production from biomass that can be operated by the small farmers themselves rather than focusing on technologically complex larger production units.

The success of the pilot project and next steps

The project is the result of several years of cooperation between the SDC and the agricultural research institute Indio Hatuey, which is run by the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. The success of the pilot project has been widely acknowledged. The aim of the new phase is to ensure the long-term continuation of these good results. Plans are now being developed with six Cuban districts to sustainably increase and optimiseagricultural production for energy and food in the medium term.

The project partly satisfies energy requirements in rural areas and strengthens the food security of the agricultural population. It also fills tanks and puts food on the table. The dialogue with the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment is centrally important. If the results of the pilot project flow into national legislation for the promotion of renewable energy, there is a good chance that other districts will also benefit.