Jatropha overtakes food crops in oil swindle

| 19th June 2009
In the News
The use of the jatropha plant as a source of biofuel has gone from environmental hero to zero in the space of two years.

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D1 Oils conceded that the performance of jatropha crops had so far been ‘disappointing’, but said that FoE had used out-of-date or inaccurate data.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.


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here