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Kenya taps into Brazil's ethanol expertise

Last month, a team of four ethanol experts from Brazil visited the East African country as part of a program to share advice.

Advisee: Israel Agina is the director of an ethanol plant in Kisumu, Kenya, for the Spectre International sugar firm. Brazilian experts offered advice during a visit last month.

Rob Crilly

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When Spectre International took over an ethanol plant in the far west of Kenya four years ago, the company inherited a run-down site that had been abandoned – unfinished – two decades earlier. The buildings were shells and the distillation columns had never been used.

Today, the Kisumu Ethanol Plant employs 450 people, and tankers load up with 75,000 liters of ethanol every day, destined for pharmaceutical companies and producers of alcoholic drinks.

But as he sits in his office, one of the plant's directors, Israel Agina, says the industry is still in its infancy.

"We have the potential of three times the production because we have fermenters that are idle and have not been activated because of a lack of market," he explains, as the sweet, slightly sickly scent of fermenting molasses wafts through his open window close to the shores of Lake Victoria.

Last month, a team of four ethanol experts from Brazil visited his plant and other key players in Kenya's sugar sector as part of a program to share their expertise.

The aim is to kick-start the East African country's moribund sugar industry by learning lessons from Brazil's 30-year ethanol program.

"For us, the beverage industry is not very large," says Mr. Agina, whose plant uses molasses – a waste product from sugar mills – to produce alcohol that is pure enough to drink by the time is has passed through six distillation columns. "So the answer is ethanol as fuel, which is used extensively in Brazil.

"Brazil has done wonderful work with up to 3 million vehicles running on ethanol alone – a much cleaner fuel," says Agina. "So we feel their expertise will speed our development."

The program is in its early days. Last month's Brazilian delegation came as an assessment mission, working out what sort of help Kenya would need before flying on to Rwanda and Uganda.

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