I keep reading about various initiatives to grow Jatropha curcas in Ghana to use as bio fuel. I thought I’d find out a bit more. Here is a little bit of what I’ve been finding.

Bio fuel might be a very good idea as a short term or transitional power as we move away from fossil fuels. It has downsides as well as advantages. One of the major downsides it that land that is producing crops for bio fuels is not engaged in food production. If land is taken out of food production it means the price of food goes up, and food resources become more scarce. This is currently an issue in the United States with corn grown for bio fuel.

Can U.S. farmers keep filling the nation’s bellies as they scramble to fuel its cars?
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In 1998, about 5 percent of the corn harvest (526 million bushels) went into ethanol production, according to the National Corn Growers Association. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects ethanol producers to use upward of 2 billion bushels, or nearly 20 percent of the crop.
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Considering that corn suffuses the U.S. food system — it’s the main feed for beef, poultry, egg, dairy, and hog production, and provides sweetness for candy, cereal, soft drinks, and other supermarket staples — its price can’t suddenly jump without causing repercussions.
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Tyson CEO Richard L. Bond recently told investors. “Quite frankly, the American consumer is making a choice here … either corn for feed or corn for fuel.”
The Wall Street Journal recently explained succinctly why poultry prices will soon reflect corn’s new popularity as a fuel source. Because of higher corn prices, “It costs nearly a nickel more to produce a pound of chicken today than at the end of 2005, yet the 20-year average industry profit margin per pound of chicken is two cents. . . And adding a nickel a pound for whole chickens at the farm level will ripple up the food system.

The issue in Ghana is going to develop differently than in the United States, but it would be helpful to keep our eyes open and try to avoid the mistakes of others.

Jatropha curcas is a tough plant that is very drought tolerant, and will grow in marginal land. So it might be a useful plant to grow in some areas. But to put large tracts of land that have been, or could be, used for food production into Jatropha curcas or other bio fuel production, could hurt individuals and the economy, creating more hunger and malnutrition.