Biofuels: jatropha still linked to 'land grabbing and displacement of farmers'

Jatropha curcas seedlings
Jatropha curcas seedlings
European investment companies continue to tout the biofuel as a 'wonder-crop' despite serious environmental and social impacts - Friends of the Earth report

A controversial biofuel crop touted by European brokers as a sustainable and profitable investment continues to be linked to land grabbing and displacement of farmers, new research by environmental campaigners claims.

As an Ecologist investigation first revealed in February 2010, get-rich-quick investments in jatropha - a bushy shrub planted for its oil producing fruit and ability to survive in harsh conditions - are being offered by a number of British and European companies guaranteeing high returns on crops grown on marginal land.

But Friends of the Earth (FoE), in a new report published this month, is warning potential investors away from financing the crops' spread, stating there is growing evidence to suggest that jatropha is 'failing to deliver on its promises while simultaneously failing to prevent climate change or contribute to pro-poor development.'

Advocates of jatropha, which can be grown in Asia, Africa and Latin America, have marketed the crop as the new 'green oil' and claim it has the potential to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods in developing countries. There have also been claims that jatropha benefits local communities by improving farming practices, stimulating local economies, preserving family units and allowing the use of marginal land.

Jatropha has been touted as a carbon neutral fuel source and a replacement for fossil fuels that could reduce global warming. Several trials involving using jatropha as an aviation fuel have been carried out.
But Paul de Clerck, from FoE, said: 'European investment companies advertise that jatropha guarantees high returns on marginal soils – but their promises are far from realistic. Many projects have already been abandoned because yields have stayed below expectations, even on good soils. Large-scale jatropha plantations are neither a profitable nor sustainable investment; companies should stop land-grabbing for jatropha.'

Campaigners maintain that jatropha plantations are competing for land that could be used for food production, and potentially using valuable water supplies. 

'In Africa, farmland is taken away from communities and people's  livelihoods are destroyed for yet another false solution to climate change. Food prices are rising again, yet land is being snatched away to grow fuel for cars. We want agriculture that allows us to grow food for people,' Mariann Bassey, from Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said.

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