In a meeting in Senegal on Thursday, they formed the African Non-Petroleum Producers Association (PANPP), aimed at developing alternative energy sources.

"Our continent should have as its vocation to become the primary world supplier of biofuels," the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, told delegates meeting in the capital, Dakar.

The project is inspired by Brazil, where three-quarters of new cars run on a mix of biofuel and petrol.

"This step to develop clean energy is all the more pertinent because it calls for immense areas of cultivable land, where Africa benefits from a clear advantage," Wade said.

Oil prices

Investment in biofuels, including ethanol derived from sugar cane and biodiesel from oils, is booming on the back of high oil prices, energy security fears, limited spare refinery capacity and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions.

Africa produces a range of crops that could be used to make biofuel, including sugar cane, sugar beet, maize, sorghum and cassava - all of which can be used to make ethanol - and peanuts, the oil of which can run diesel engines.

Alassane Niane, a technical adviser at Senegal's energy ministry, said that while biofuels were a relatively new concept in much of Africa, progress was being made.
   
Jatropha, a wild shrub from neighbouring Mali, 
is being used to make biodiesel to run generators and water pumps.

Senegal's state sugar company is working on a project to produce ethanol.
 
"It is the first time here that people are consciously saying there is a need for biofuel," Niane said.

"The raw materials exist here, the technical know-how exists here, we just need the politicians to get behind it."