First walk before you think of flying

It was with a great sense of bemusement that I read an article in The New Times (issue No 1550) titled “IRST drafting a bio-diesel policy by Paul Karangwa and Eddie Mukaaya”.

It was with a great sense of bemusement that I read an article in The New Times (issue No 1550) titled “IRST drafting a bio-diesel policy by Paul Karangwa and Eddie Mukaaya”.

The Institute of Scientific and Technological Research (IRST) was reported to be drafting a policy that would, according to the article; ‘promote bio-diesel exploration, production and use in Rwanda’.

As an armchair environmentalist I’m all for bio-diesel, which I know is less harmful to the environment as fossil fuel based energy sources, but as a person of reasonable intelligence I find the IRST bio-diesel policy curious.

Bio-diesel by its very nature is produced from biological matter, both animal and plant but predominantly plant material.

That is the gist of the problem; we don’t produce enough of any of the two sources of bio-diesel raw materials.

We don’t produce enough cereals like maize, wheat, barley or oats; in fact, and I won’t hide this simple fact, our agricultural sector cannot produce enough to satisfy the demands of our growing population therein lies my question; “how in the world shall we be able to produce bio-diesel”?

I think that is a question the fellows at IRST haven’t adequately answered. I think that, instead of looking at this kind of scientific innovation, it would serve better the Rwandan populace if the institute had a more relevant area of research.

It’s not that I believe that this kind of innovative research isn’t needed because I believe that research is important. I’m only a bit sceptical on the practical use of this kind of technology; I believe that technology is only as useful as its uses. It’s like Rwanda having a space program; it’s glamorous but not really practical bearing in mind the kinds of challenges that the country faces.

Rwanda has a large section of its people underfed making it criminal to take food out of their mouths and use it to produce fuel.

The fuel versus food argument is a global issue and, as is obvious, I’m firmly in the food camp. I believe that as long as there is starvation, bio-diesel should be kept as a ‘scientific possibility’ and not ‘scientific fact’.

But if there is a concerted effort to produce bio-diesel then there might be hidden silver lining. Bio-fuels can, by their very nature, only be produced by a mature agricultural sector.

What I mean is that with a puny agricultural sector like ours, where professional crop production is a rarity, the incentive to produce more and therefore supply the bio-diesel would be a good thing.

Just as long, of course, as every single Rwandan went to bed on a full belly.

Sometimes I think that we Rwandans have an affliction I’ve called the ‘Icarius Syndrome’. He tried to fly with wings of wax and feathers…in fact, he actually did and then getting a bit too excited for his own good he went too close to the sun; the wax melted, the feathers blew away and he feel to the ground and died.

I say that we have the Icarius Syndrome because we sometimes get ahead of ourselves in the rush for modernity without fully thinking about the results; which might carry negative consequences.

I truly believe that instead of ‘trying to fly to the sun’ it would serve us better if we kept our feet on the ground and got down to the practicalities of poverty eradication.

Instead of looking at bio-diesel, which wouldn’t really be of much assistance to a peasant in the Western Province I think that our premier research institute would much better serve him if they gave that peasant technology that he could actually use to improve his life.


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