It hasn’t really taken all that long for the Jatropha backlash to begin. It is still often…
…claimed to produce biofuel and enhance socioeconomic development while reclaiming marginal and degraded lands in (semi-)arid regions (Francis et al., 2005), without competing with food production or depleting natural carbon stocks and ecosystem services.
But doubts are arising.
…the current knowledge gaps and uncertain economic perspectives, together with competition on the global biofuel market, might drive Jatropha investors away from marginal or degraded lands towards agricultural or lands that are valuable for biodiversity, in order to reduce financial risk.
That’s all according to a paper in Journal of Arid Environments. There’s certainly evidence to that effect from India, according to “ATREE, an Indian environmental research group promoting sustainable development.”
…new research shows jatropha, which has received huge government backing in recent years, yields less than experts had first predicted and is now being grown on fertile farmland — undermining two of its best selling points.
There have also been marketing problems. Listen, from Kenya, to “Mr Joseph Odembo of the Nam Lolwe [Jatropha Caucus] … and a member of the lobby, Action Resort for Change (ARC), the local NGO that invited the international [bio-diesel] agents:”
We have not been able to find a market for the trees which have been ready for the last two years but farmers are still optimistic that one day a good deal will come and they will be able to see the fruits of their labour.
What’s the answer? Is there one, indeed? Well, according to the Arid Environments paper, the problem is one of scale.
…the global hype could be harnessed to increase rural development by considering small-scale, community-based Jatropha initiatives for local use, like small Jatropha plantations, agroforestry systems with Jatropha intercropping, and agro-silvo-pastoral systems.
It wont come easy, though.
Implementation of this model needs important extension efforts through cooperatives and local networks having good insight in local environmental, economic, cultural and social processes. Their assistance in the introduction of Jatropha should start with the communication of correct information on land suitability including potential yield range, risk of yield loss, management practices and possible water competition (Maes et al., 2009), as Jatropha will not yield well on all sites for which its suitability has been claimed (Trabucco et al., 2008). Furthermore, these extension efforts should assist in acquiring plant material at low cost and in the post-harvest processing and product use as well (e.g., multifunctional platforms, see Havet, 2003).