Cane Resources Network for Southern Africa (CARENSA)











The sugarcane plant is one of the world's most cost-effective and diversified renewable resources, offering many alternatives for production of food, feed, fibre, and energy. Owing to climatic factors, sugarcane is found predominantly in the developing world and as such represents a valuable tool in the simultaneous search for sustainable energy sources and new development alternatives. Sugarcane resources support a variety of uses and products in the energy, industrial, and agricultural sectors, based on different resource streams: sugars, molasses/juice, and crop residues (Figure 1). Cogenerated electricity and ethanol are among the most important cane co-products in commercial terms, but there are many others as well.

Figure 1: Sugarcane Resource

The sugar industry has faced increasing competitive pressures in recent years, due to factors such as saturated demand in industrialised countries, competition from other sweeteners, and low and/or fluctuating sugar prices. These difficulties have increased economic incentives for sugar producers to diversify their product portfolio by investing in renewable energy applications. Diversification of sugar companies into renewable energy has been slowed by institutional barriers and by continued price supports for sugar production around the world. New markets can emerge through public-private cooperation in modernising the cane resource base.

The current cane resource base in southern Africa countries is over 50 million tonnes of cane per year. The installation of modern cogeneration systems could translate this cane resource into over 600 GWh of electricity. If this cane were used as a direct feedstock for ethanol production, it could result in 4 billion litres of ethanol. Furthermore, a variety of other products could be developed, with production levels tailored to the different markets that emerge. Although not large by world standards, these amounts are large by African standards, and they represent a significant expansion of the domestic resource base. With additional efficiency measures at sugar factories, ethanol distilleries, and other sectors or components, the contribution could be much higher.

The Cane Resources Network for Southern Africa (CARENSA) will critically assess the role of bio-energy from sugarcane in promoting sustainable development and improving global competitiveness in the region of southern Africa. The main objective of CARENSA is a comprehensive synthesis and comparative evaluation of the utilisation of cane resources in the region, including organisational and institutional dimensions as well as technical features and socio-economic and environmental impacts. Specific objectives of the network include:

  1. Comparison of current and potential levels of sugarcane resource utilisation in southern Africa nations
  2. Development of performance benchmarks for agricultural and industrial parameters and system benchmarks for key inputs (e.g. water, labour, capital)
  3. Illustrate key linkages across the five institutional phases: agriculture, industry, markets, impacts, integration
  4. Promote diversified multi-purpose production strategies to enhance regional competitiveness
  5. Capacity-building and technology transfer for southern African nations w/r/to sugarcane resources
  6. Promote south-south co-operation with major producing countries outside the region
  7. Characterise the policy and regulatory environment and identify new incentive schemes
  8. Compare key socio-economic and environmental impacts for alternative cane co-product scenarios
  9. Identify feasible implementation strategies and sources of international financial support for cane co-products, particularly through the CDM
  10. Evaluation of alternative cane co-product strategies with respect to financial and sustainability criteria
  11. Provision of an ongoing forum for discussion and information exchange on sugarcane bio-energy resources in the region and globally

The network brings together five institutional or thematic phases that are critical to the goal of harnessing cane resources for sustainable development in southern Africa, and the project components have been designed around these five phases (Figure 2).

  1. Agriculture: agronomic and harvesting practices for cane and optimising of the biomass resource.
  2. Industry: the sugar and fibre resource streams and the agro-industrial processes and technologies that separate and exploit these resource streams.
  3. Markets: articulation of product demand and formation of markets through sound policies, regulations, and economic incentives that promote efficient implementation and market strategies.
  4. Impacts: socio-economic and environmental impacts across different strategies so as to ensure that local and regional benefits are properly incorporated into decision-making frameworks.
  5. Integration: including sustainable development, risk, competitiveness, international comparisons and industry perspectives, associated with the diverse elements and linkages of the network.

The main forms of interaction, communication, and information dissemination through the network include:

  • Project Meetings
  • Scientific Exchanges
  • Study Visits
  • Three Workshops
  • Continuously updated website
  • Electronic newsletter
  • Participation in International Conferences

The thematic network was launched in Fall 2001. Publications resulting from the project are expected to include five thematic reports, three workshop proceedings, conference papers, journal articles, and a book.

The European Commission's Directorate General for Research supports the thematic network in the amount of 500.000 EURO. The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) serves as Scientific and Administrative Coordinator for the Network. There are three other principal contractors responsible for the Network and nine members. The project team was designed to place the key issues in their proper regional and global context, while also promoting north-south and south-south cooperation on cane resource development.