Bioenergy investment is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa. Global production of liquid biofuels has more than quadrupled in the past decade, driven by renewable energy targets and biofuel blending requirements in the EU, the US and other markets. Sugarcane has drawn particular attention, as it is a commercially proven, tropical bioenergy crop with significant potential in much of the region.

Welcoming governments add to the appeal; foreign direct investment – a record 80 billion USD in 2014 – is crucial to African economies, and bioenergy is seen as a way to attract FDI, boost exports and drive rural development. From 2006 to 2011, bioethanol production in Africa nearly doubled, to 135 million litres – about 60% of it for export.

Agricultural-based bioenergy investments can bring large infusions of capital, infrastructure and technology into rural areas. In most of rural Africa, small-scale farming still predominates, and these projects are often the communities’ first encounter with large-scale agro-industry. They can thus bring rapid changes, including new jobs, economic growth and development, but also put pressure on key livelihood resources.

This study examines the Makeni Project, developed by Addax Bioenergy Sierra Leone (ABSL), as a window into the complex dynamics of bioenergy and agricultural investment in sub-Saharan Africa. ABSL has said it wants the Makeni Project to be “a benchmark for sustainable investment in Africa”, and it has secured funding from eight development finance institutions (DFIs). In 2013, the project was the first in Africa to be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.

This report places the Makeni Project in the context of Sierra Leone’s development challenges and strategies to address them. It looks at the project through the lens of “rural transformation” – the notion that eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development requires a transformation of rural spaces, economies and societies that empowers rural people.

Download the report (PDF, 4.28MB)

Download in low-res (for slow connections; PDF, 1.56MB)

Download front matter & summary only (PDF, 884kb)

See a policy brief summarizing the findings »

Note: The full-document PDFs were updated on 10 August 2015 to reflect corrections to Annex 1.