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[ABIDJAN] Senegal's government has called on the expertise of the country's researchers in drafting a new national law to regulate the production and environmental impact of biofuels.

The law was developed in collaboration with scientists from the country's Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), who had recommended that the government introduce new legislation to govern the supervision of jatropha-based biofuel production and to improve the industry's environmental standards.

Jatropha cultivation is an integral part of government policy to achieve biodiesel self-sufficiency and to boost jobs and reduce poverty. But concerns have emerged among scientists in recent years over the environmental impact of the crop, especially when planted as a monoculture, and its potential to affect food security.

The Senegalese government has chosen jatropha for biofuel production because it is well suited to the Sahelian environment, according to N'deye Yacine Ndour, head of the country's national laboratory for crop production, who is leading the program on jatropha.

She told SciDev.Net that IAR scientists had approached the government to urge the adoption of new legislation governing the industry based on research into biofuel production and biosafety.  

Consultations were held with government ministers and farmers, and an initial draft was submitted to parliament and voted on at the end of 2010. The draft legislation was finalised after an extensive revision process, which concluded in January of this year.

According to Ndour, it is the first time in Senegal that scientists have been involved at all stages of the developing and drafting legislation.  

"At present, the document has been submitted to the ministries concerned so that they can give their opinions before the presentation of the final draft to the president for his signature," said Ndour. "[But], technically speaking, the document is ready."

She said it is hoped that the presidential decree required to sign the draft legislation into law will be issued next month.

The Senegalese coalition of civil society groups on agrofuels warned that the law may not be sufficient to properly regulate the jatropha industry, unless it is accompanied by enforcement measures to ensure it is observed in the field, according to Fatou Mbaye, co-ordinator of the coalition and head of the biofuel program at Action Aid Senegal.

"[Otherwise] there is a risk of turning agricultural lands, forests and cultivable lands into farming lands for biofuels, with the potential risk of negative consequences for food security, environment and water reserves," she said.