The jatropha trap? The realities of farming jatropha in Mozambique

Originally published


In Mozambique, the debate on agrofuels has advanced steadily over the last five years, fueled by industry speculation and demand, grand promises, and foreign interests. Investors applied for the rights to some five million hectares in Mozambique in 2007 alone, nearly one seventh of the country's officially defined 'arable' land. The Mozambican government is rushing to create favorable conditions for investors in the industry as quickly as possible, at the expense of Mozambicans' civil rights. Mozambique's World Bank-funded process to develop a National Policy and Strategy for Biofuels, for example, deliberately excluded civil society participation, lacked transparency, and was only made available to the public after it had been completed and approved by parliament. Because of Africa's water-scarce climate and the availability of supposedly 'marginal' land, jatropha has been prioritized as a potential agrofuel crop that could be grown on degraded land without affecting food production. Many question the claimed benefits of jatropha however, and believe that the current rush to establish jatropha production on a large scale is ill-conceived, under-studied and could contribute to unsustainable trade rather than helping to solve the problems of climate change, energy security or poverty. This study evaluates jatropha production in Mozambique to date, and its conclusions support such concerns. In particular, interviews with and evidence from farmers and communities in different regions of the country indicate that there is a significant gap between rhetoric and reality.