jatropha curcas


In the quest for biofuel plantations, and for export food crops, foreign countries and corporations are grabbing land, “using methods that hark back to the darkest days of colonialism” in Ghana and throughout Africa.

Foreign companies now control 37 percent of Ghana cropland. The spread of jatropha is pushing small farmers, and particularly women farmers off their land. Valuable food sources such as shea nut and dawadawa trees have been cleared to make way for plantations.

A total of 769,000 ha has been acquired by foreign companies such as Agroils (Italy), Galten Global Alternative Energy (Israel), Gold Star Farms (Ghana), Jatropha Africa (UK/Ghan), Biofuel Africa (Norway), ScanFuel (Norway) and Kimminic Corporation (Canada). According to the CIA World Fact Book Ghana has 3.99 million ha arable land with 2.075 million ha under permanent crops. This means that more than 37 percent of Ghana’s cropland has been grabbed for the plantation of jatropha.

Large-scale jatropha plantation with forest in background, Brong Ahafo region,Ghana. Photo by Laura German

What is worse in most cases the companies involved in the production of the biofuel import labour from outside the communities where production sites were located, and “there were drastic lay-offs as the project progressed from land preparation and planting stages.”

Friends of the Earth published Africa: up for grabs: The scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels PDF describing the problem throughout the continent. It contains maps and tables showing more detailed information about specific countries.

With its relatively stabile political situation and suitable climate, Ghana is an apparent hotspot for acquiring land to grow jatropha.

Harvesting jatropha in Ghana

Examples of land allocated reportedly for biofuel investments in Ghana:

FoE table of examples of land allocated reportedly for biofuel investments in Ghana (click to enlarge)

The following story from Ghana shows how the Europeans, often with the help of some government enablers, trick local communities into giving up their land. The company representatives imply they are bringing jobs and income, but do not contract in any way in which they can be held legally accountable to keep their promises. It is not just Europeans who are siezing land in Africa. The US, China, Brazil, and other countries are involved. In Ghana so far, most of the appropriated land has been taken over by Europeans.

Biofuel land grabbing in Northern Ghana PDF is the story of how a Norwegian biofuel company took advantage of Africa’s traditional system of communal land ownership and current climate and economic pressure to claim and deforest large tracts of land in Kusawgu, Northern Ghana with the intention of creating “the largest jatropha plantation in the world”.

Bypassing official development authorization and using methods that hark back to the darkest days of colonialism, this investor claimed legal ownership of these lands by deceiving an illiterate chief to sign away 38 000 hectares with his thumb print.

This is also the story of how the effected community came to realize that, while the promised jobs and incomes were unlikely to materialize, the plantation would mean extensive deforestation and the loss of incomes from gathering forest products, such as sheanuts. When given all the information the community successfully fought to send the investors packing but not before 2 600 hectares of land had been deforested. Many have now lost their incomes from the forest and face a bleak future.

Land stripped for biofuel production near Alipe, Northern Ghana.

Rural communities who are desperate for incomes are enticed by developers who promise them a “better future” under the guise of jobs with the argument that they are currently only just surviving from the “unproductive land” and that they stand to earn a regular income if they give up the land for development. This argument fails to appreciate the African view of the meaning of the land to the community. While the initial temptation to give up the land to earn a wage is great, it portends of an ominous future where the community’s sovereignty, identity and their sense of community is lost because of the fragmentation that the community will suffer.

The strategy for the acquisition of the land often takes the following course: The imaginations of a few influential leaders in the community are captured. They are told about prospects for the community due to the project and they were swayed with promises of positions in the company or with monetary inducements. The idea is that these people do the necessary “footwork” in the villages where they spread the word about job opportunities. A document is then prepared, essentially a contract, to lease the land to the company. In the event of problems the developer can press their claim by enforcing the ‘contract’ or agreement. When the legality of the process is not adequately scrutinized, the developers have their way but, subject to proper scrutiny, it emerges these contracts are not legally binding as they have not gone through the correct legal channels. This is what happened in this particular case in the Alipe area.

In this community, like in most parts of Ghana, over 80 percent of the land is held under communal ownership and more that 70 percent of this land is managed by traditional ruler-chiefs mainly on behalf the members of the their traditional areas. The chief was very categorical that he had not made such a grant and that he had also been battling with those “white people” to stop them – without much success. He confirmed that he “thumb printed” a document in the company of the Assemblyman of the area which had been brought to his palace by the “white people” but he did not confirm its contents.

The Chief was initially unwilling to go against the wishes of his people as his efforts to stop the developers were being interpreted by the community as driving away opportunities to earn an income during the current dry season”.

The facts began to emerge – a big fish in Government was promoting the project and had deployed his business associates in the Region to front for him. This front man was immediately employed as the Local Manager of BioFuel Africa. The EPA then insisted that they must go through the processes of having an Environmental Impact Assessment made. We then had a public consultative forum in the community where we had a face-to–face confrontation Mr. Finn Byberg, Director of Land Acquisition for BioFuel Africa in the village square in front of the Chief’s palace. The audience and judges were the village communities affected by the proposed project.

The Chief and his elders waiting to hear the presentations.


… the promises of jobs and a new improved life would not materialize because Mr Finn Byberg, the Chairman of BioFuel Africa confessed, during his presentation that he could not state categorically what commitments the company would make He said, “Commitments are not very easy and so when I am required to make these, I need to be very careful. I do not want to be caught for not keeping my word.”. … This made it clear that our land is being used for experimentation. Mr Byberg’s promise of jobs …were mere campaign gimmicks.

Most vocal indeed were the women at the session. Looking Mr Finn Byberg in the face a women asked, “Look at all the sheanut trees you have cut down already and considering the fact that the nuts that I collect in a year give me cloth for the year and also a little capital. I can invest my petty income in the form of a ram and sometimes in a good year, I can buy a cow. Now you have destroyed the trees and you are promising me something you do not want to commit yourself to. Where then do you want me to go? What do you want me to do?”

We need a more aggressive campaign to halt land grabbing. We need to engage with traditional rulers, District Assemblies and Politicians about this ominous phenomenon. We need visibility through print and electronic media to put our message across effectively to a wider audience. RAINS has a strategy to build on the rapport that it has developed through the OSIWA project with traditional rulers to open up another channel for engagement. We cannot afford to be caught unawares in this war with the biofuel companies. The ancestors are on our side and we shall win the war!

by Bakari Nyari, Vice Chairman of RAINS – Regional Advisory and Information Network Systems, Ghana, and Ghana and African Biodiversity Network Steering Committee member

At the same time, from the Friends of the Earth study:

Reports from India, however, indicate that yields of 1kg per plant have been difficult to achieve. Food Security Ghana is yet to hear of any commercially viable biofuel production from Jatropha, and it looks more and more as though the jatrophy frenzy is a big bubble waiting to burst.

The FoE report is indeed alarming if one considers that Ghana has allowed this massive land grab to take place in the absence of a biofuel policy and with no environmental impact studies undertaken – on the possible negative effects on both natural resources and on the communities – of huge jatropha plantations.

The report further states that proponents of agrofuels generally argue that agrofuel production will address the economic crisis facing many developing countries; they will create wealth and jobs and alleviate poverty.

According to the FoE these arguments overlook the other side of the story and leave many questions unanswered.

• Is the push for agrofuel production in the interest of the developing countries or are the real beneficiaries Northern industrialised countries?

• Will the production of agrofuels actually provide more jobs and enhance economic development at the community level?

• Will it address the issue of food insecurity plaguing the developing world?

• What are the social and environmental costs of agrofuel production to host communities?

• Who stands to benefit from the entire process?

The FoE concludes its report with the following:

  • “Hunger for foreign investment and economic development is driving a number of African countries to welcome agrofuel developers onto their land. Most of these developers are European companies, looking to grow agrofuel crops to meet EU targets for agrofuel use in transport fuel.
  • Demand for agrofuels threatens food supplies away from consumers for fuel in the case of crops such as cassava, peanuts, sweet sorghum and maize.
  • Non-edible agrofuel crops such as jatropha are competing directly with food crops for fertile land. The result threatens food supplies in poor communities and pushes up the cost of available food.
  • Farmers who switch to agrofuel crops run the risk of being unable to feed their families.
  • While foreign companies pay lip service to the need for “sustainable development”, agrofuel production and demand for land is resulting in the loss of pasture and forests, destroying natural habitat and probably causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Agrofuel production is also draining water from parts of the continent where drought is already a problem
    .
  • While politicians promise that agrofuels will bring locally sourced energy supplies to their countries, the reality is that most of the foreign companies are developing agrofuels to sell on the international market.
  • Just as African economies have seen fossil fuels and other natural
    resources exploited for the benefit of other countries, there is a risk that
    agrofuels will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies. Countries will be left with depleted soils, rivers that have been drained and forests that have been destroyed.”

The Government of Ghana announced that a biofuel policy will soon be introduced. Now is maybe the time for the people of Ghana to ask if the critical questions posed by the FoE have been addressed in the development of this policy.
from Food Security Ghana

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September 17 from GhanaWeb: Tema fishermen halt sale of land, agricultural land is not the only land being seized by nationals from other countries.

About 200 fishermen and fishmongers Thursday resisted attempts to clear debris and erect a fencewall around a fish processing area near the Tema Canoe Beach.

The area was being cleared for the construction of a palm oil processing firm to be owned by Wilmor Edible Oil Refinery-Project (WEORP) a Singaporean firm.

The 64 hectare land was leased to the company by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA).

The demonstrators wearing red arm bands and headgears singing traditional songs with the refrain “wo kpene ni ashishi wo,” to wit, “we will not allow them to cheat us,” stopped the bulldozer from preparing the ground and sealed holes dug up to erect pillars for the fencewall.

Rebecca Ashong, one of the fish processors, said she had been on the business for more than 15 years and had been supporting her family with proceeds from it and driving them out of the land will spell doom for them.

Wolenye Korkor Abo, said more than 2,000 people depended on the fish processing business for survival and displacing them will bring about untold hardship into the Tema Manhean community and asked government to take another look at it.

Nii Shippi Armah of the Tema Traditional Council wondered why the people of Tema would not be left alone to occupy this piece of land after so many acres of their land had been taken over by the State.

He said in 1959 when the construction of the Tema harbour and industrialisation of Tern a displaced the indigenous people, government resettled them at Tema Newtown.

In addition, government pointed the landing beach and this piece of land where our people could continue fishing processing their catch and mending nets as we did at our previous location.

He said “after almost 51 years of using the place, it has by convention and usage become ours“.

He said over 2,000 people were involved in the fish processing business in the area and it is from that they support their families and children’s education and sacking them would bring untold economic hardships. “We will, therefore, resist all attempts to displace us again,” he warned.

Nii Shippi Armah said a committee set up to study the implications of the project to the community was yet to present its report to the Tema Traditional Council.

And these sound like empty promises:

Mr, Asiedu said over the last five months it had been meeting the committee members and they had agreed that those affected by the project will be relocated and the cost paid by the project so that their livelihood were not destroyed.

He said for instance, “it had been agreed that a fish processing platform will be built across the road near the lagoon where business can be done in a more hygienic manner.”

He said a new 50 seater toilet facility will be provided to replace the 40 seater one which is currently located at the centre of the land.

Mr. Asiedu said the concerns of the community were being addressed and the construction of the project would be carried out alongside the relocation plan and, therefore, advised those affected by the project not to panic.

The project is expected to directly employ between 1,800 and 2,400 people.

The local fishing business already supports that many. Will the processing plant employ Ghanaians, or will it import labor? If Ghanaians will be relocated, the relocation spot should be prepared and ready before they move. Promises mean nothing. No one can live on promises. And why should these people be forced to move again?

I wish the fishermen and fishmongers of Tema much success in holding on to their land and livelihood. And I wish farming and working communities throughout Ghana success in holding on to their land. The dangers are wealthy, powerful, and growing. Local people need some help and support from their government. Government needs to provide this backing to stay legitimate. If you want people to vote for you, they need to see you are supporting their interests or they will vote you out. That just happened in Washington DC, where a mayor who repeatedly ignored and insulted a majority of his constituents, the people who had previously supported him, just lost his bid for reelection. It can happen in Ghana too. It is what a lot of Ghanaians were looking for in the presidential elections at the end of 2008.

________

Unfortunately, Fifteen fishmongers arrested.

________

The first part of this article was published, text only, on GhanaWeb on September 19.  You can read comments there.

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Here’s a dumb energy idea – fight climate change by chopping down forests to grow biofuel crops:

 

Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels.

It seems obvious that this is a really dumb idea, but that is just what international corporations and some really bad leadership in Africa are planning.

Africa appears to plunge from one corporate nightmare to another. Just as we begin to come to terms with the colonially-sponsored corporate conquest of our oil resources, along comes a new wave of ‘green’ companies turning fertile African lands to Northern ‘gold’. Senegalese president and agrofuel promoter Abdoulaye Wade has called this ‘a new revolution in Africa’. Others have likened it to ‘the new scramble for Africa’.
. . . large tracts of arable land are being sold off to the highest bidders with little regard for the repercussions on local populations livelihoods and food security.
. . .
A recent study published by the Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) provides compelling evidence from Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Benin that the misguided scramble for projects could lead to an environmental and humanitarian disaster on the continent. For instance, Timothy Byakola reports that a plan is underway to convert a third of Uganda’s prime rainforest reserve, Mabira Forest, into agricultural land on which sugarcane will be planted for ethanol production. According to Byakola, President Yoweri Museveni has vociferously supported this controversial project, ignoring community opposition to it. The consequences of the deforestation of 7,100 hectares of one of the key water catchment sources for the Nile River and Lake Victoria, and the implications for the communities around Mabira which depend on the forest as a source of livelihood, are potentially enormous.
. . .
As with carbon trading, the agrofuels issue brings climate justice questions to the fore. In 2004 climate change activist George Monbiot warned that rising demand for biofuels will result in competition for food between cars and people. ‘The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation.’ He goes on to argue that the reason Northern governments are enthusiastic is because they don’t want to upset car drivers. He argues that biofuels ‘appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It’s an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total.’

Grain prices, particularly maize and wheat are shooting through the roof. People are already going hungry in a number of countries as a result. And the switch to biofuel crops damages protein supply, driving up the price of animal feed, as well as the price of staple food crops. Food aid is dropping because the budgets alloted to it are fixed, but the price of the food is going up. At the same time, the biofuel “miracle plant” jatropha is growing on huge plantations. The reason jatropha was supposed to be a good idea is because it is tough enough to grow in arid and marginal lands. Instead, it is being grown instead of food. As the paragraph above points out, poor people will starve, and rich people will drive, fueled by the food taken from poor people’s mouths.

The governments of the poor countries will use their armies trained and equipped by the US and other rich countries, to control political dissent. Rich governments will be happy because they don’t have to pass unpopular regulations or raise taxes. The people in the rich countries will tut tut comfortably about how those poor people don’t know how to govern themselves. And even if biofuel contributes more to global warming than does fossil fuel, rich countries will meet their carbon targets, and won’t worry. It is probably a good thing the poor are always with us (Matthew 26:11) that way we can continue to rip them off and avoid any sacrifice or inconvenience to ourselves.

In Mali, this machine can turn the local nut into fuel.

The New York Times had an article today about growing Jatropha curcas in Mali for use as biofuel, Mali’s farmers discover a weed’s potential power.

. . . jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual yield from his field.

Poor farmers living on a wide band of land on both sides of the equator are planting it on millions of acres, hoping to turn their rockiest, most unproductive fields into a biofuel boom. They are spurred on by big oil companies like BP and the British biofuel giant D1 Oils, which are investing millions of dollars in jatropha cultivation.
. . .
But here in Mali, one of the poorest nations on earth, a number of small-scale projects aimed at solving local problems — the lack of electricity and rural poverty — are blossoming across the country to use the existing supply of jatropha to fuel specially modified generators in villages far off the electrical grid.

“We are focused on solving our own energy problems and reducing poverty,” said Aboubacar Samaké, director of a government project aimed at promoting renewable energy.

If jatropha can be grown in conjunction with food crops, as the article implies, in a manner that actually facilitates local development, that would be a great boon. The article also describes huge plantations of jatropha for biofuel:

Countries like India, China, the Philippines and Malaysia are starting huge plantations, betting that jatropha will help them to become more energy independent and even export biofuel.
. . . farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds. (And who paid for the seeds for the crop, and to put the land into cultivation? Are these farmers now in debt based on someone else’s speculation?)

For more information on the jatropha plant in Africa there is an article here from a biofuel corporation. And another document with a bit more information about some of the questions, and about storing and processing here: PDF: Jatropha investment in Africa:

. . . biofuel has been accused of having a negative energy payback . . . but there is great variation in the energy paybacks for various biofuels.
Jatropha is a perennial, yielding oil seed for decades after planting, and it can grow without irrigation in arid conditions where corn and sugar cane could never thrive.
. . . the oil . . . burns without emitting smoke.

As the pdf document points out, jatropha needs to be handled and processed quickly, with attention to certain factors such as guarding it from moisture, or the product will be damaged and degraded, and not necessarily usable. Some of the questions about its practicality have not been resolved.

Added April 2008: I crossed out the lines above because the link is dead. I found some information about the processing in another location. This article is about 3 years old, and is rather naively optimistic about jatropha’s potential yields, but it does contain some general information that is useful to know about processing jatropha.

From Jatropha in Africa:


1) Jatropha oil is hydroscopic – absorbs water and needs nitrogen blanketing on steel tanks. One issue that is quite clear is because Jatropha is high in acid, it has the tendency to degrade quickly, particularly if not handled properly through the supply chain.

2) Right from the time of expelling, the oil needs to be kept in storage conditions that prevent undue degradation. Exposure to air and moisture must be minimized – hence the need for nitrogen blanketing on the tanks.
. . .
Seeds degrade as soon as they are picked and so careful storage and handling is required. In the warm humid atmosphere in countries such as Ghana the degradation of seeds can be rapid. (end 2008 addition)

Other things I’ve been reading lately may or may not be relevant to this issue.

Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could change the nature of grasslands and decrease their usefulness as grazing pastures, say researchers . . . Woody shrubs . . . thrived.
. . .
The main reason why these woody shrubs out-compete grasses in conditions of high carbon dioxide, says Morgan, is because their method of photosynthesis is better suited to high levels of the gas.

The major concern, he says, is that woody shrubs . . . are unpalatable to most domestic livestock, so domination by these types of plants would render land poor for grazing.

. . . there is already evidence of shrub encroachment in many grasslands of the world.

Jatropha is a woody shrub and might be advantaged by this climate change. I’m not sure what the implications are for food or fuel, though I can guess at a few. There are some suggestions on how to control this change:

. . . a possible way to lessen the transformation of grasslands is to use controlled burning, which kills shrubs but not grasses, and to prevent overgrazing, which weakens grasses and allows woody plants to move in.

I think the question to ask about jatropha is, does the crop provide direct advantage to the local farmers and their community rather than promising some trickle down advantage later, a promised advantage that will likely never arrive. And, are the farmers still able to feed themselves and their communities, and profit from growing food?


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?
. . .
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.
. . .
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.
. . .
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.