The Newsletter 66 Winter 2013

Jatropha: from an iconic biofuel crop to a green-policy parasite

Jacqueline Vel

In less than a decade, a very promising renewable energy source went from being a top policy priority to experiencing ‘an extraordinary collapse’. How could that happen, and what can policy makers learn from this short history?

Prior to 2007, Jatropha curcas Linn. was promoted as a miracle crop capable of producing biofuel from marginal and degraded lands. Growing jatropha represented a response to both the alarmingly high price of oil and the emerging demand for biofuels that would not harm food security. Jatropha became an icon for a hopeful technocratic narrative seeking to simultaneously address global concerns about climate change, fossil fuel depletion and rural poverty. In 2008, a worldwide survey found 242 jatropha plantations on approximately 900,000 hectares and projected Indonesia as the largest producer in 2015 with 5.2 million hectares. h owever, many researchers who analyzed such agronomic claims about the crop or the social and environmental impacts in production areas argued that the story was too good to be true. a fter 2011, ‘an extraordinary collapse’ was reported from c hina, India, e ast a frica and Mozambique. When the results from actual cultivation of the crop failed to fulfill these optimistic expectations, it was assumed that improvement in policies and regulations governing biofuel production would be the best means to improve performance.


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