Food and jatropha, the chicken or the egg


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What should come first: food for the smallholder farmers in the drylands or Jatropha plantations for the biofuel energy? The answer is obvious.

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Food and jatropha, the chicken or the egg

  1. 1. With attention I have been reading:<br />UN AGENCY HIGHLIGHTS POTENTIAL OF JATROPHA PLANT AS ENERGY SOURCE FOR THE POOR<br />New York, Jul 22 2010 11:05AM<br />UNNews : HYPERLINK "" " _blank"<br />And then came to my mind a very simple question :<br />Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The daily food or the biofuel?<br />Which comes first, Jatropha biofuel that can't come without sufficient daily food for the poor, or daily food that can't come without Jatropha biofuel?<br />For the biofuel industry Jatropha curcas is probably both the chicken and the egg.  But for the poor people living in the drylands, things are different.<br />For me it's obvious: let us first offer to every poor family a small kitchen garden, some fertilizers and some seeds, to avoid hunger and child malnutrition before asking them to work for the big biofuel industry " on marginal and degraded lands where food crops cannot grow, and animals do not graze on it."   Because Jatropha cannot be produced and processed without those poor labourers, who will never become rich enough for laying out their own family garden, who will always have problems with food security and malnutrition.<br />The cultivation of Jatropha may be " particularly beneficial to women" , supposing they have some food to put in their milling machine and cooking stove, but these women live ... on the marginal and degraded lands where food crops cannot grow and animals do not graze!<br />Let us have a close look at two statements in the FAO- and IFAD-report:<br />1. “As developing countries face increasing local demand for energy in rural areas, they also must deal with both economic and environmental pressure on agricultural lands in general,” 2. “The possibility of growing energy crops such as Jatropha curcas L. has the potential to enable some smallholder farmers, producers and processors to cope with these pressures.”<br />What kind of economic and environmental pressures on agricultural lands are we speaking about?  How can producing and processing Jatropha enable smallholder farmers to cope with these pressures?  <br />I hope we are not referring to economic and environmental pressures like " land grab" or pure exploitation of cheap labour for enormous financial advantages for the biofuel industry (see the replacement of rich tropical vegetation by sugarcane for biofuel).<br />It is almost a relieve to read the confirmations:<br />1. That Jatropha is " still sorely in need of crop improvement" .<br />2. That " expecting it to substitute significantly for oil imports in developing countries is unrealistic" .<br />3. That " many of the actual investments and policy decisions on developing Jatropha as an oil crop have been made without the backing of sufficient science-based knowledge" .<br />During the years needed for this " ripening process" of the idea that Jatropha can finally be beneficial for the environment of marginal or degraded lands, beneficial for the economy of developing and developed countries, beneficial for the industry AND for the smallholder farmers in the drylands and their women, we should be able to assist the local population with the construction of a small kitchen garden per family.<br />That would lead to an efficient eradication of hunger, malnutrition, diseases and poverty at the roots.<br />Seeing success stories of family gardens in the drylands is believing.<br />