Dick Hagen

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — One of 15 Middle East and African high-level government officials had a two-day tour to Minnesota Oct 16-17 to better understand the U.S. ethanol industry from farm to ethanol plant.  During his visit I was able to interview Ramy Taieb, Regional Director of U.S. Grains Council for Middle East and Africa.

Taieb lives in Tunisia. His business card reads: “Developing Markets, Enabling Trade, and Improving Lives.” Big ambitions for Taieb. I asked Taieb, “Do you yet have any ethanol plants in your part of Europe?”

“Yes,” he said “We have two. But these two ethanol plants don’t use corn. Wheat is the feedstuffs.  There is another plant off the Persian Gulf producing MTB and TPD. But quantities of U.S. ethanol are imported into Emirate where they blend it and export to neighboring countries — even into Africa.”

I’m aware Africa grows lots of corn now. Even for ethanol plants? Nope, not yet, said Taieb. The limited amount of ethanol being produced in South Africa so far comes from sugar cane.”

So why the reluctance to use corn for ethanol? Basically an economic necessity said Taieb. “Starvation continues a reality in many parts of Africa. The corn they grow is used for human foods. Plus, they raise some cattle, so people have meat. So corn gets used to feed their animals too.”

Are ethanol-blended fuels now common in the bigger cities? “Yes, there is a growing demand for these blended fuels in Africa, and also in the Persian Gulf areas,” said Taieb. “Even though these are oil producing countries, the people are hearing about ethanol fuels as a means of cleaner air; and an opportunity for extra revenue for the marketers of these blended fuels.

Taieb and his associates spent four days in Washington D.C. before their flight to Minnesota. The D.C. visit included time with their various country ambassadors, plus some sessions being briefed on world and US. energy issues. I asked Taieb if our president volunteered to he and his colleagues the United States is soon to establish 20 percent ethanol in all U.S. fuels? 

He chuckled just a bit saying, “Yes we became aware of this growing chatter about 20 percent ethanol blended fuels across your country. But we also were advised that at this stage, 20 percent ethanol is mostly just coffee shop talk. But I would wish this to happen. We’re much aware your U.S. corn farmers are having some financial struggles. But we are also knowledgeable about the tremendous agriculture of the United States. And we were reminded that your farmers produce the food, fuel and fiber for your entire population and also a good chunk of the rest of the world.”

Taieb concluded, “Our ongoing mission of the U.S. Grains Council is to build trade with more countries around the world. And if we can promote the building of ethanol plants in Europe, Africa and elsewhere, then just maybe we can be helpful in providing some of your U.S. corn crop to ethanol plants around the world. This cleaner air issue is big … and getting bigger. Some will argue that growing more and more corn reduces the globe’s carbon content. But cleaner air is what needs attention around the world.”