Originally hailed as a new, sustainable source of plant oils due to its ability to grow on marginal land unsuited to conventional agriculture, jatropha has since come under criticism as farmers discovered that it produces much higher yields in fertile soils better suited to food production.
Now a report by Friends of the Earth has confirmed that jatropha plantings are replacing food crops in Swaziland, where UK company D1 Oils has been promoting the crop to farmers.
The report reveals that growing jatropha on marginal land in the country is very unlikely to allow farmers to make a profit, and that growers have been forced to resort to irrigation in the drought-struck region.
FoE also raises concerns that the farmers were unable to read or understand the contracts offered to them by D1 Oils.
‘It is shameful this so-called “wonder crop” is replacing food production in a country where two-thirds of the population depend on food aid,’ said Friends of the Earth biofuels campaigner Hannah Grifi ths. ‘D1 Oil’s claims about jatropha don’t marry-up with the experiences of the African farmers growing it.’
In a statement, D1 Oils conceded that the performance of jatropha crops had so far been ‘disappointing’, but said that FoE had used out-of-date or inaccurate data.
‘We will make little progress in the field of renewable energy if we halt the development of potentially sustainable crops because of “unknown unknowns”,’ the company said.