By Dr Promode Kant, Director, Institute of Green Economy, New Delhi and Dr Wu Shuirong, Associate Professor, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing
The results of massive plantings of Jatropha worldwide for use as a biofuel feedstock — some 12.8 million ha (49,421 square miles) are expected to be planted by 2015—are “anything but encouraging”, according to Promode Kant from the Institute of Green Economy in India and Shuirong Wu of the Chinese Academy of Forestry.
In a Viewpoint published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, Kant and Wu suggest that what they call the “extraordinary collapse of Jatropha as a biofuel” appears to be due to “an extreme case of a well intentioned top down climate mitigation approach, undertaken without adequate preparation and ignoring conflict of interest, and adopted in good faith by other countries, gone awry bringing misery to millions of poorest people across the world”.
The current situation began in 2003 with the decision by the Planning Commission of India to introduce mandatory biofuel blending over increasingly larger parts of the country with a target of 30% by 2020. The Planning Commission pushed for Jatropha as it was considered to be high, early yielding, nonbrowsable and requiring little irrigation and even less management.
India encouraged millions of marginal farmers and landless people to plant Jatropha across India, Kant and Wu said. In 2006, China decided to meet 15% of its transportation energy needs by 2020 and, following India’s example, focused on Jatropha, with plans to raise it on more than 1 million ha of marginal lands. Other developing countries took similar measures, in the hope that the crop would provide enhanced income for farmers as well as renewable energy.
By 2008, Jatropha had been planted on more than an estimated 900,000 ha, of which 85% was in Asia, 13% in Africa and the rest in Latin America.
According to the authors:
- In India the provisions of mandatory blending could not be enforced as seed
production fell far short of the expectation. A recent study has
reported discontinuance by 85% of the Jatropha farmers.
- China is seeing very little production of biodieselfrom Jatropha seeds.
- Research on Jatropha planting in Tanzania found the net present value of a five-year
investment in Jatropha plantation was negative with a loss of US$ 65 per ha on
lands with yields of 2 tons/ha of seeds and only slightly beneficial at US$9 per ha
with yields of 3 tons when the average expected Jatropha seed yield on poor barren
soils is only 1.7 to 2.2 tons/ha.
Jatropha, the authors note, was never considered economically important enough for domestication; as a result, seed and oil productivity is highly variable.