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OPINION | Growing our own biofuel might make ocean exploration unnecessary

Kerry Hiles, singer, actress, natural farmer makes the link between oil and plastic at the Nahoon beach protest on December 5.
Kerry Hiles, singer, actress, natural farmer makes the link between oil and plastic at the Nahoon beach protest on December 5.

I am an East Londoner, an entertainer, and a very small-scale farmer.

Much has been said about Shell’s quest for oil under our sea bed. But not much has been said about why we even need to find oil, nor have there been too many discussions about seeking alternatives to oil.

Oil is not just about fuel for vehicles. Oil is also vital for the manufacture of plastics — and I urge you to think of how many times in a day you touch and use things made of plastic: food packaging, parts of your vehicle, chairs and tables at work and schools, pens to write speeches, digital equipment to share social media posts about protests, credit cards, dentures, hearing aids, clothing, toiletries, makeup, candles ... 

This is a big industry and a big part of modern life. We humans cannot just switch that off overnight.

The quest for oil starts with every person’s quest for stuff. We can’t do without it.

So, while none of us agrees with what is going on off our shores, we haven’t committed to reducing the need for oil, nor have we offered alternative sources for this unfortunately very vital poison.

I spoke with a community leader who represents farmers in the former Transkei and also with a commercial farmer in the Komgha district, both of whom were interested in engaging in conversations about growing biofuels in this area.

The community leader had concerns over food security, biodiversity, and environmental effects; the commercial farmer expressed frustration over the lack of infrastructure and legislation to enable the viability of the processing of biofuel crops.

These are good starting points for good conversations.

Our climate here along this stretch of coastline is perfect for hemp, cannabis, sunflowers, maize, canola, soya beans. Further up the coast, sugar cane and sugar beet. These are all biofuel crops.

The SA government released a biofuels industrial strategy document in December 2007 which acknowledged that 14% of arable land in this country is underutilised.

In other studies, biofuel crops are grown on marginal lands not easily used for food production, thus reducing the conflict with food crops and offering a new source of income to struggling farmers.

The growing of biofuel crops in such cases can lead to the restoration of degraded vegetation and also carbon sequestration.

According to the government report, farmers located in underdeveloped land will be encouraged through co-operatives, where possible, to participate in the running of biofuel refineries.

Biofuels can be produced locally, creating jobs in the same region where they will be consumed and reducing the transportation costs and emissions associated with shipping those to the point of sale.

Producing bioethanol is cheaper than producing petrol.

In comparison with fossil fuels, bioethanol and biodiesel contain smaller concentrations of chemicals and so produce cleaner emissions.

Fossil fuels are a finite source of energy which will eventually run out.

Biofuels can be grown every year.

It’s a no-brainer: we do not need to be siphoning oil out of the sea bed.

It must be said that the growing of biofuels is not necessarily a lesser evil, but with the minds, hearts and passion gathered here today and along the country’s coastlines, I trust we can find ways to manage the effect of our actions when it comes to growing our oil.

So, I ask Shell and our government to come and have that long-overdue conversation with us, the communities being affected by this particular quest for oil, the communities who will be heavily affected should a viable oil source be found beneath our waves.

I, for one, am not excited about the possibility of an oil rig off the coast, not in our waters, not in our weather.


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