Want A Hot Real Estate Tip? Buy In Africa

I'm not joking: the same thing that's happening to North American farmland because of corn and canola is happening in Ghana because of the jatropha seedpod. According to an article in the Toronto Star, Norwegian, Indian and British companies are already swooping down on the African continent to buy up African farmland. They are betting that jatropha seedpods -- the only crop that makes biodiesel and is not a food crop -- will soon be big business.

Jatropha is an interesting crop. It's poisonous. Africans use the oil from the seedpods to make soap and the organic waste for fertilizer cakes. But those seedpods will make a diesel fuel that burns cleaner than any fossil fuel.

On top of that, jatropha grows where other things don't, in some of the worst conditions on the planet. With most plants, drought would be a problem. Not for jatropha -- Africans have actually been using it to hold back the Sahara desert and the desertification process. It will continue to grow seedpods even when it's dropped its leaves to cope with lack of moisture.

It's also extremely long lived. Plant today and your grandchildren may still be harvesting: it will grow for 50 years.

The big news? Major oil distributors are paying attention to this crop. Jatropha could potentially replace crude oil, lift African populations from desperate poverty and even turn the African continent into a big player in oil.

How? Well, scientists have estimated that even if 1/4 of Africa's arable land (and jatropha doesn't really need "arable" land) was turned to the crop, output could be as much as 20 million barrels of jatropha oil a day. That could even meet America's need for fuel oil.

There could be some hitches for the would-be investor. You get a tax deduction in the US for home mortgage interest. You won't get that if you invest in African land. But you could get a good return. After all, the biodiesel and ethanol fuel push in North America has driven up the cost of farmland in Idaho by 35%.

So, want a hot tip on real estate? Buy African land.

Michael Chantrel
Posted by Michael on February 26,2007 at 7:35 PM
It's almost impossible to find a truly "benevolent" investment. Anything which is making you money is doing so because someone else is / will be paying. However, bringing more investment to the African continent, while it won't fix everything, will certainly help those who will be able to work in this new industry. Also, since jatropha is less polluting and doesn't require the soil that would be put to food crops, it may actually bring something new into the African economy, rather than take something away.
Posted by Stuart on February 26,2007 at 9:03 AM
I'm sure that any money invested Jatopha will be used to exploit Africans to the fullest.
Posted by Michael on February 24,2007 at 3:06 PM
High risk; high return. That's typical of investment. If an investment is low risk, you normally get a low return. So, depends on whether you have money you can afford to lose, and how long your investment "horizon" is. It also depends on whether you have the right connections, I expect -- it's not really small players in this from what I can tell. It's big players, with lots of money to throw around.
Posted by Tess Rousseau on February 24,2007 at 3:01 PM
I can hardly imagine "investing" in Africa, when they are still in desperate need of charity in most areas. The other problem is instability of the existing countries. I mean, even if you invest there, and let's say it actually helps the local people, aren't your chances of losing your shirt pretty high?
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