News / 12 June 2014

Jatropha: Boom and Bust of a Miracle Crop

At the beginning of this century, Jatropha Curcas made its name as the miracle tree. Jatropha was easy to grow in dry areas, the seeds could be used for biofuel and since Jatropha trees - like all trees and plants - absorb CO2, growing the tree would contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In one stroke the solution to climate change, energy scarcity and underdevelopment would be within reach. Investors lined up to invest in large-scale Jatropha cultivation, especially in Africa. Ten years later, the miracle turned out to be a mirage.


Fata Morgana
Jatropha has not delivered on its promise. Land that was originally used by local communities for growing crops and raising cattle was sold for a pittance to domestic and foreign investors. Local farmers were encouraged to make a transition from food crops and livestock to the production of biomass. This led to conflicts between local communities, local authorities and national governments over land rights and land use. Furthermore, the miracle tree turned out to be not so miraculous after all. Jatropha didn’t produce as much seeds as expected and the harvest proved difficult to sell. Also, investment in the process after the harvest lagged behind: the processing and marketing of Jatropha seeds received scant attention. Many of the initial investors withdrew from their support.


Could we have seen this coming? What could we have done to prevent it? But above all: what can we learn from our mistakes? On 19 and 20 June  a conference on the subject will take place in Utrecht: The Global Jatropha Curcas Hype: What Can We Learn from Studying the Boom and Bust from a Miracle Crop. The conference brings together researchers, NGOs, businesses and policy makers from different countries so they can share their experiences and findings and try to answer these questions. Nathalie van Haren of Both ENDS is one of the organizers of the conference. Both ENDS takes part in an association of scientists and NGOs that investigates why large-scale Jatropha cultivation has failed so miserably.


A future for Jatropha?
"How can so many people blindly follow such a hype without a looking critically at the evidence for the characteristics of the crop and paying attention to the local impact of large-scale Jatropha production?" asks Nathalie. "We are investigating the causes of the hype in Ghana and Ethiopia and what lessons we can draw from the past decade. Also, we will look at the possibilities for future Jatropha cultivation and processing on a small scale and its possible contribution to increasing the income of local communities. Both ENDS analyzes the driving forces behind the Dutch and European investments in Jatropha, together with the Ethiopian partners HOAREC, University of Addis Ababa and the Ghanaian partners RECA and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. By getting these parties involved we want to ensure that local communities can make  their voices heard in the Jatropha debate. "




Jatropha Conference Program (Utrecht, 19 and 20 June 2014)


Jatropha Project page (Ghana and Ethiopia)

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