The biodiesel story
In 2008 I decided to quit my transfer pricing position at Deloitte and pursue something very different– biodiesel in Mozambique and Pakistan. Working with a couple of friends, we were able to convince governments in both countries to give us large tracts of land on long term leases to create employment and green economy infrastructure using a crop that was all the hype in 2008– Jatropha.
We formed a company called Kijani Energy Limited in Mauritius (I am a tax guy after all) and Odeveza SA in Mozambique to acquire 60,000 hectares of land in Manica and Sofala provinces. We helped the government of Mozambique draft their national biofuels policy and were able to establish our biofuel expertise based on hours, and hours of Google research. Before long, we had articles in Reuters and an entry in the Economist Intelligence Unit announcing the vast investments we will be making. We had a term sheet from UK’s Principle Capital, which had recently invested in a large Jatropha project in the Manica province. And then oil prices took a tumble, dropping from highs of over USD 120 per barrel to almost USD 30 per barrel within a matter of weeks.
But we were persistent, and that is where Pakistan came in.
We became aware that the government of Pakistan was interested in biofuels, and that US AID was willing to fund job creation projects. Linking the two, I made some calls to the various ministries in Pakistan and arranged a one-man Canadian delegation to investigate investment opportunities in Pakistan.
The Ministry of Agriculture took me around a tour of their Jatropha nurseries (where I was able to provide valuable advice on the correct irrigation methods for Jatropha resulting in significant yield improvement within six months) and possible lands in Thar and Cholistan desert areas.
We even signed a memorandum of understanding with the Pakistan government, making prime time television news. However, then President Asif Zardari decided to take personal interest in the project and US AID backed off on that basis. And with that, the dreams of establishing a large business in Pakistan were as good as dead.
If given a chance, I would jump into this venture all over again even though Jatropha turned out to be a terrible fad and we didn’t raise anything beyond our seed funding. It was an absolutely phenomenal learning experience that forced me to push way out of my comfort zone and showed me that with adequate preparation and self-study, one can be more of an expert in a short period of time than someone who has been in the field for decades. (Or at the very least, that was applicable with respect to my Google research on irrigation techniques for Jatropha vs. the agricultural scientists at the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.)