LOCAL tycoon Billy Rautenbach's Green Fuel company is setting up an ethanol project in Zambia after being frustrated by government in his plans to set up a second plant in the province's Nuanetsi Ranch in Mwenezi district.
Rautenbach, who already owns the Chisumbanje Ethanol plant in Manicaland province which is being sabotaged by politics, entered into a partnership with the Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ) resulting in the formation of a company called Zimbabwe Bio-Energy in 2008 as the vehicle for the implementation of the ethanol project.
The project failed to take off with Zimbabwe Bio-Energy accusing Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti of frustrating their plans by re-settling victims of the Tokwe-Murkosi dam flooding on land earmarked for the sugarcane production.
Company sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Green Fuel has been granted a licence to establish a US$500-million ethanol project which is expected to create 5 000 jobs on a 110 000-hectare farm.
Rumours of Rautenbach's intentions to open shop in Zambia started in May after the Zambian Daily Mail quoted Chanda Kasolo, the country's permanent secretary for Luapula province, saying that an unnamed Zimbabwean investor was on the verge of sealing a US$500-million deal for an ethanol production plant in Zambia.
"The sugar plantation at the 110 000 hectare Luena Farm Block has the potential to create 5 000 jobs once it starts operating," said Kasolo.
"I am very interested in the jobs that this project will create, but I am looking beyond the sugar plantation. There is a Zimbabwean investor who would like to invest in the sugar plantation and venture into the production of ethanol, which is a biofuel," he was quoted saying.
"The Zimbabwean investor is waiting for the SI [statutory instrument to allow the blending of ethanol with petrol] and to install blending equipment at filling stations."
The Zimbabwe Independent subsequently established that it was Rautenbach who was eyeing the Zambian investment.
"During the meetings Rautenbach's spokesperson Lilian Muungani allegedly warned villagers the company could be forced to take the Zambian offer if provincial government officials drag their feet in granting them permission to resume operations and evacuating the thousands of families re-settled in the Chingwizi section of the Nuanetsi Ranch," said one traditional chief who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity.
Muungani had by the time of writing not responded to questions despite promising to do so. However she appeared to confirm the Zambian move by posting on her Facebook page a story stating that "Zimbabwean millionaire Billy Rautenbach has invested $500 million into a Zambia ethanol project".