The Rise, Fall and Potential Resilience Benefits of Jatropha in Southern Africa
- Reconstruct the rise and fall of the jatropha sector in southern Africa;
- Identify the reasons behind this trajectory;
- Identify what characteristics have made some jatropha projects persist despite widespread project collapse;
- Put these findings into perspective to understand whether jatropha still has a role to play in southern Africa.
3. The Rise of Jatropha in Southern Africa
3.1. The Conducive Environment for a New Biofuel Crop in Southern Africa
3.2. A Reconstruction of Early Jatropha Initiatives in Southern Africa
4. The Decline of the Jatropha Industry in Southern Africa
4.1. Jatropha’s Unmet Expectations in Southern Africa
4.2. The Factors behind Jatropha Project Collapses in Southern Africa
- Changes in investor behaviour. During the outset of the 2008 financial crisis investors withdrew funds from risky foreign investments (suddenly jatropha investments were viewed risky) . Additionally the emerging food-vs.-fuel and land-grabbing debates combined with the increasing scrutiny over biofuels’ social and environmental benefits, meant that biofuels were no longer being portrayed as socially and environmentally appropriate investments [36,105,106]. This further undermined investor support [36,104,107];
- Time lags in production. Initial projections were that yields would materialise as early as two years after planting, which proved to be optimistic. Furthermore, several projects in southern Africa took longer than expected to finalise planting due to the complexities involved in acquiring land (largely communal land), and the extent of labour and resources needed to clear the land [64,107];
- Overestimated yields [108,109]. Indications from site visits and the available literature suggest that none of the jatropha projects in the region have been achieving financially viable yields, despite most trees now being older than the productive age of three years . It has been pointed that this may be partly due to many projects being established in areas with low jatropha potential ;
- Underestimated labour costs. Jatropha appears to require far more labour than initially anticipated. Picking is particularly labour intensive, becoming more intensive for lower yields ;
- Underestimated maintenance costs. Jatropha has not lived up to expectations of low maintenance needs. Many projects were susceptible to insect pest and required unanticipated spraying [64,109]. Jatropha plantations also need to be kept weed-free during early stages if rapid growth is desirable ;
- Global fuel prices. Global oil prices more than quadripled between 2000 and 2008 reaching an all-time high of USD 145/barrel (July 2008). While several jatropha projects aimed to capitalise on high oil prices, the sudden oil price decline (reaching about USD30 per barrel by the end of 2008) essentially made jatropha-based fuels uncompetitive for export within just a few months;
- High transport costs. Many jatropha projects were/are located in remote rural areas making transportation of the feedstock from project sites expensive. Furthermore, the cost (transort and personnel) of collecting small quantities of seeds from scattered smallholder farmers ended up higher than was anticipated (Section 5), In countries such as Mozambique and Malawi, high fuel prices during the oil price spike might have reduced farm gate jatropha prices due to high transport costs affecting the profitability of jatropha .
4.3. Lessons Learnt from the Collapse of the Jatropha Industry in Southern Africa
- Full and scientifically rigorous trials (both in research stations and on-farm) must be undertaken in the expansion region prior to large-scale promotion of the crop;
- Different physiological features can impart some plants with some competitive advantage in different environments. However, any claim that a particular crop can perform far better in a certain condition than competing crops would require sound scientific support before being accepted. The claim that a single crop can perform well over a wide variety of climatic and agroecological conditions should be treated with extreme caution. Though many species can grow over a wide range of conditions, it is unlikely that they will be economically viable over all these conditions;
- Where multiple benefits are claimed, it is not always feasible to access all benefits. In addition, different benefits may be in conflict with each other. For example, while jatropha is able to grow on degraded/marginal land or in water-limited environment, this takes a toll on its ability to produce high yields;
- Large variations in performance should be expected if a “wild” species is to be used. Baseline productivity predictions should be based on the mean performance of the species in the relevant agroecological zone, and not on the performance of a few high performing plants. In addition, appropriate breeding and selection should be undertaken early on in the process;
- There are almost always unforeseen environmental and social consequences when introducing new crops. Significant effort needs to be invested, to understand in an integrated manner what these consequences may be. EIAs, Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) or Sustainability Assessments should aim to capture these potential impacts ;
- Euphoria over the potential of new crops seems to overrule more nuanced and cautious approaches to crop introduction. This might stem from the effort of crop promoters to sell the concept to potential investors. Investors need to access unbiased and independent data, and undertake appropriate risk assessments before entering large-scale investments;
- Governments should be more involved from the onset in exploring the potential of new wonder crops. If such crops are deemed beneficial then governments, through appropriate policies, should regulate their introduction and support the development of markets and infrastructure.
5. Lessons from Two Operational Projects
|BERL Malawi||Niqel Mozambique|
|Project type and scale||Smallholder-based project. Trees are mainly planted as hedgerows in small family farms and are managed by farmers themselves. Currently 30,000 smallholders are involved throughout Malawi, with the intent to increase this over time. Most of the 90 buyers/extension staff were retrenched in June 2013.||Large-scale commercial plantation. Trees are planted in block plantations and managed by paid labour. 2250 ha are planted in a concession of approximately 7500 ha at Grudja, Mozambique. 250 permanent staff with added casual labour hired for harvesting.|
|Ownership||Trees are owned by farmers and are mainly grown as hedges in family farms. BERL is owned by a private company linked to the Dutch TNT.||Trees are owned by Niqel on leased land. Niqel is a private, listed company in Mozambique and is linked to the Dutch Dikon Holdings.|
|Role of company||Purchases jatropha seeds through a network of buyers across Malawi and extracts jatropha oil. Extension activities were discontinued in June 2013.||Grows jatropha trees, harvests seeds and extracts oil (from 2014).|
|Demography and location||High population density. Some of the villages visited in Machinga district were remote. Other BERL villages are located in more accessible areas.|
Mean household size was 5.6 (2.1 SD) with 2.8 (1.6 SD) children under the age of 15.
|Low population density. The plantation is located 20 Km from the closest tar road. Farming households are dispersed around the plantation, with only one small formal village located in the vicinity of the plantation.|
Mean household size was 7.5 (3.5 SD) with on average 3.8 (2.5 SD) children below the age of 15.
|Farming practices and livelihoods of local communities||Wall-to-wall permanent small family farms: 0.1–2.5 ha (1.7 ha mean). All farmers grow maize, with a mix of other crops. Production is largely for subsistence purposes. Mean income from sales of excess crops is USD 38 per year. Most households experience 2–6 months of food shortage per year.||Non-permanent farms using slash-and-burn agricultural practices: 0.5–14 ha (4.0 mean). Only 11.5% of the total land is under cultivation, with the rest being woodland. Mean income from agricultural sales of excess crops is USD 83 per year. Most households experience 4–5 months of food shortage per year.|
|End-use and expected blending targets||Jatropha oil to be directly blended into national diesel fuel up to a maximum of 9%.||Jatropha oil to be shipped to Maputo where it will probably undergo transestification. Niqel could potentially produce half of the total biodiesel needed to achieve the 3% biodiesel blend mandated by the government of Mozambique.|
|Yields||First harvests were recorded in 2012–2013. Quarter-year yields range widely: median is 0.07 kg/tree, but few farmers report over 0.4 kg/tree. BERL target is 1.5 kg/tree per year at maturity, which is the equivalent of 1.9 t/ha (at 1250 trees/ha).||First formal harvest obtained in 2012–2013. Yield increased from 0.16 t/ha in the first year, to 0.4 t/ha in the second year. Target is 3 t/ha during maturity.|
|Proportion of crop land converted to jatropha||At present a 500-jatropha tree hedge could take up 7% of the average area of a family farm. This might increase slightly as trees grow.||Approximately 6% of the total community land is converted to jatropha, reducing the land per farmer from an estimated 27 ha, to 25 ha. However, this is expected to have no impact on the area under crop production, as labor (and not land) is the scarce factor for food production.|
|Impact on food security||At present seems minimal though some cropland is lost to jatropha. Possibly there is a competitive interaction between jatropha trees and food crops. Additional income will enable farmers to purchase food during the most food insecure months.||The plantation does not limit land for home food production. Plantation policy limits hired labour to one family member per household, and respondents say they can maintain their crop production. Additional income from labour allows households to purchase other household items without need to sell food crops (or might act as a safety net during droughts).|
|Impacts on woodland and access to forest products||No (or minimal) direct impact on woodlands as the land under jatropha cultivation was already converted to agriculture. Indirect effects might be possible but this will depend on the location of the farm. Indirect impacts for the whole Malawi would be very difficult to estimate due to the outreach and disaggreagated nature of BERL’s operations.||High direct effects on woodlands as it is expected that 5500 ha of woodland will be lost if the project reaches it maximum size. Given the low population density, current woodland loss does affect access to woodland products (e.g., timber, medicinal plants).|
|Infrastructure investment||BERL has established an oil pressing plant in Lilongwe||Niqel has established 200 km of all-weather road. This allows community members from surrounding villages to access the tar road during the wet season, which was impossible in the past. Niqel is also building a new primary school and has created small dams for water provision to local communities. Niquel is also investing in an oil pressing facility.|
6. A Resilience Perspective on Jatropha Production in Southern Africa
6.1. Jatropha Systems through a Resilience Lens
- Other factors that may influence the general resilience of jatropha systems include:
- The diversity of livelihood strategies and farming enterprises, at the household and the village scale. At the household level, adding jatropha to a smallholders’ crop portfolio means that the farmer diversifies income sources;
- The flexibility in labour arrangements, e.g., households’ ability to hire people to supplement on-farm labour;
- The availability of cash reserves. This may buffer the system against economic collapse during the initial enterprise development stages and during dry years;
- The willingness and capacity of stakeholders to learn, reflect, innovate and adapt.
6.2. Can Jatropha Increase Resilience in Southern Africa?
Conflicts of Interest
References and Notes
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Von Maltitz, G.; Gasparatos, A.; Fabricius, C. The Rise, Fall and Potential Resilience Benefits of Jatropha in Southern Africa. Sustainability 2014, 6, 3615-3643. https://doi.org/10.3390/su6063615
Von Maltitz G, Gasparatos A, Fabricius C. The Rise, Fall and Potential Resilience Benefits of Jatropha in Southern Africa. Sustainability. 2014; 6(6):3615-3643. https://doi.org/10.3390/su6063615Chicago/Turabian Style
Von Maltitz, Graham, Alexandros Gasparatos, and Christo Fabricius. 2014. "The Rise, Fall and Potential Resilience Benefits of Jatropha in Southern Africa" Sustainability 6, no. 6: 3615-3643. https://doi.org/10.3390/su6063615