Follow Jatrophabook on  Facebook   Linkedin    last activities  jatropha statistics  bookmark & share eco-safe: printing alternative



Initial framework for evaluating sustainable Jatropha production

To download the full publication click here



The purpose of the paper is to provide a broad framework that could guide an initial analysis of the key relationship between Jatropha cultivations projects and sustainable criteria.

According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB), "projects shall be designed and operated under appropriate, comprehensive, transparent, consultative and participatory process that involve all the relevant stakeholder". Jatrophabook's mission is to actively involve all Jatropha stakeholders in the creation of a sustainable biofuels market.

What is required is an international certification scheme; the global attention to sustainable projects focused on poverty alleviation, fight against climate change, capillary diffusion of the Web as well as youth of the sector itself are offering us an unique opportunity: the possibility to involve all the actors of the supply chain into a transparent and suitable certification scheme.

An international recognition system needs to include social, environmental and economic sustainability goals, in order to choose the appropriate trade-offs between local needs and environment requirements.

Jatrophabook's plan is to create an open and transparent standard-setting process, involving a variety of stakeholder interests from all part of the supply chain and from different countries. Producers, workers, farmers, financial institutions, governments, NGOs and research centers must have the opportunities to interact into this process.

In our first work we divided thematic areas in five main issues related to sustainable best practices:
- Social Development;
- Food Security;
- Land Use Change;
- Energy Balance;
- GHG Emissions.

List of abbreviations

ESIA: Environmental and Social Impact Assessment
EROI: Energy Return On Investment
FAO: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
GBEP: Global Bioenergy Partnership
GHG: Greenhouse Gas
IIED: International institute for Environment and Development
IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature
NEB: Net Energy Balance
EROI: Energy Return On Investment
NGO: Non-governmental Organization
RSB: Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels
UN: United Nations

Social development

Jatropha cultivation can be very useful in bringing an agricultural renaissance for revitalising land use and livelihoods in rural areas.

GBEP underlines the potential of bioenergy for rural development and especially the revitalization of agricultural sectors. It has been explained, that "Although it is still mainly unclear how resource poor farmers might participate in bioenergy schemes, biomass energy systems could contribute to maintaining employment and creating new jobs in rural areas, avoiding land abandonment and reducing in-country migration to cities". (GBEP; Bioenergy Development G8 +5 Countries; 2008)

According to the FAO and IIED document "Fuelling Exclusion? The biofuels boom and poor people's access to land":
"Biofuels production may offer income-generation opportunities in rural areas. By generating income, biofuel production may help improve prospects for food security - namely, by enabling farmers to purchase food on the market. It may also offer an opportunity for farmers - traditionally squeezed by low agricultural prices - to get better terms of trade".

Jatropha cultivation for countries having abundant barren land and poor in other natural endowments may pursue new opportunities. Large-scale and small-scale biofuels production can co-exist and even work together in synergy to maximize positive outcomes for rural development; large-scale cultivation could also provide benefits in the form of employment, skills development and secondary industry.

Following the RSB "biofuels productions shall contribute to the social and economic development of local, rural and indigenous peoples and communities... For new large-scale projects, an environmental and social impact assessment, strategy, and impact mitigation plan (ESIA) covering the full lifespan of the project shall arise through a consultative process to establish rights and obligations and ensure implementation of a long-term plan that results in sustainability for all partners and interested communities".
The ESIA shall result in a baseline social assessment of existing social and economic conditions and a business plan that shall ensure sustainability, local economic development, equity for partners, and social and rural development through all the value chain.

No country in modern times has substantially reduced poverty without a massive increase of energy use. For the world's poorest households, basic energy services for cooking and heating, lighting, communication, water pumping and food processing are particularly important. Shifting these basic energy uses from traditional bioenergy (often used in unsustainable and health-damaging forms) to modern fuels and electricity is probably one of the most important and long-lasting challenges.

An heavy reliance on foreign energy sources means that countries have to spend a large proportion of their foreign currency reserves on oil imports. This is especially relevant for the poorest countries where any saving of foreign currency means increased resources available for other urgent development needs. (IIED; Biofuel production, trade and sustainable development: emerging issues; 2006)
Furthermore, of the world's 50 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of petroleum and 25 import all their energy requirements. Increases in oil prices can have devastating effects on many of the world's poor countries, some of which now spend as much as six times as much on fuel as they do on health. (UN-Energy; Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers; 2007).

Sustainable bioenergy is an opportunity to develop new export markets in order to improve the trade balance. For these reasons Jatropha cultivation shall be a way to reduce the trade gap that afflicts poorest countries favouring social and economic development.

It is also important that biofuels are produced in the most cost-effective way. "The use of technology must improve production efficiency and social environmental performance in all stages of the biofuel values chain". (RSB, 2008) To achieve this point an "investment in transportation infrastructure is crucial to sustainable agricultural development. Decentralized small-scale agricultural production in the developing world needs broad transportation networks to improve market access, reduce retail fertilizer prices and increase harvest prices for farmers. For several African countries, there would be sizeable benefits in terms of poverty reduction". (FAO; Food insecurity in the world; 2009)


Food security

As explained in the UN-energy document, the increase of bioenergy will affect food security in a variety of ways. At the same time the current "food, feed, or fuel" debate tends to be overly simplistic and fails to reflect the full complexity of factors that determine food security at any given place and time; it is clear that the relationship between increased demand for biofuels and increased demand for land may result in changes to land access for poor people.

The rapid spread of commercial planting of biofuels crops, whether for export of for internal market, may result in poorer groups losing access to the land on which they depend: "Biofuel production shall not impair food security". (RBS; 2008).

The intensification of land use can also have impacts on land access because, in some cases, the use of high cost inputs (seeds, fertilisers) may be associated with agribusiness contracts that are inaccessible to farmers who do not meet the entry criteria (large enough farm size, sufficient financial capital). (UN-Energy; 2007)

A major hope for biofuels is that crops like Jatropha can be grown on idle and marginal lands. Governments have claimed that significant land areas are under-utilized and available for biofuels production. The government of Mozambique, for example, has stated that only 9% of the country's 36 million ha of arable land are currently in use, and an additional of 41.2 million of ha of marginal land currently not being used. (Namburete; 2006)

According to the RSB "Biofuels productions shall minimize negative impacts on food security by giving particular preference to waste and residues as input (once economically viable), to degraded/marginal/underutilized lands as sources, and to yield improvements that maintain existing food security", and continues "Biofuel producers implementing large-scale projects shall assess the status of local food security and shall not replace staple crops if there are indicators of local food insecurity".

Land use change

This issue must to be analyzed under a social and environmental point of view.

The spread of biofuels may cause changes in land use that do not affect land access in any way: for example, in the case of a simple change from one crop to another under the same system of management. (FAO & IIED; Fuelling Exclusion? The biofuels boom and poor people's access to land; 2008)

Some cases associated with the development of large-scale biofuels plantations will involve changes in land tenure and bring to the exclusion of specific social groups like pastoralists, shifting cultivators and women.

Jatropha can be successfully grown on lands that may have previously been strategic importance for pastoralists. As a result pastoralists have lost significant land areas to other forms of resource use, which are perceived from the governments to be more productive.

A recent IUCN report underline that women are "more vulnerable to displacement from the uncontrolled expansion of large-scale mono-crop agriculture"(IUCN; Gender and bioenergy; 2007). While local energy self-sufficiency projects have the potential to improve women's livelihoods and reducing time-consuming dependence on traditional bio-energy (fuel-wood), women's land rights risk being eroded by large-scale biofuels expansion.

From an environmental point of view, one of the greatest risks is the potential impact on land used for feedstock production and harvesting (particularly virgin land or land with high conservation value) and the associated effects on habitat, biodiversity, water, air and soil quality. (UN-Energy; 2007)

As stated by the European Union in the final agreement on 17 December 2008 "biofuels shall not be made [...] from land with high biodiversity values, that is to say land that had one of the following statuses in or after January 2008, whether or not the land still has this status":
· Primary forest and other wooded land [...] wooded land of native species, where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed;
· Areas designated by law or by the relevant competent authority for nature protection purposes;
· Highly biodiverse natural grassland - grassland that would remain grassland in the absence of human intervention and which maintains the natural species composition and ecological characteristics and processes; or
· Highly biodiverse non natural grassland, that is to say grassland that would cease to be grassland in the absence of human intervention and which is species-rich and not degraded, unless evidence is provided that the harvesting of the raw material is necessary to preserve its grassland status. If changes in the carbon content of soils, or in carbon stock in forests and peat lands related to biofuels production, might offset some or all of the GHG benefits, good farming methods can achieve increases in productivity with neutral or even positive impacts on the surrounding environment. The use of intercropping for example can reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality, reduce water consumption and reduce susceptibility of crops to pests and disease reducing the need for chemical fertiliser and pesticides.

Perennial crops like Jatropha can reverse desertification by helping to improve the conditions of degraded lands, but the use of large-scale mono-crop could lead to significant biodiversity loss.

Energy Balance

The total amount of energy input into the process compared to the energy released by burning the resulting bioenergy is known as energy balance, energy return on investment (EROI) or net energy gain (NEG).

Estimating the net impacts of biofuels' energy balance is a very complex issue. To be a viable substitute for a fossil fuel, an alternative fuel should not only have superior environmental benefits over the fossil fuel it displaces, be economically competitive with it, and be producible in sufficient quantities to make a meaningful impact on energy demands, but it should also provide a net energy gain over the energy sources used to produce it. (GBEP, 2008)

Energy balances need to consider the entire fuel cycle, from feedstock production to final consumption. The actual net energy of biofuel production is highly dependent on the bio source that is converted into energy, how it is grown and harvested (and in particular the use of petroleum-derived fertilizer and pesticide), as well as the conversion technology. Assessments should also include energy paybacks associated with the co-products - the so-called "co-products credits". (IIED; 2006)

According to the United States Departments of Energy (DoE), to evaluate the net energy four variables must be considered:

1. The amount of energy contained in the final product;
2. The amount of energy directly consumed to make the product (such as the diesel used in tractors, etc)
3. The quality of the resulting product compared to the quality of refined gasoline
4. The energy indirectly consumed (in order to make the processing plant, etc).

GHG emissions

The use of biofuel has the potential to significantly reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Current production and use of biofuels could reduce GHG emissions relative to petroleum-based fuels or could increase them, depending on the pathways chosen for their production. The most critical factor in the GHG balance of bioenergy production is the land-use issue. If a virgin forest, for example, is destroyed in order to plant bioenergy crops, the GHG benefits of displacing fossil fuels with the biofuel produced on that land will be nullified for decades. (GBEP; 2008)

The climate impact of various forms of bioenergy depends greatly on their fossil energy balance. Unlike fossil fuels, biomass fuels have the potential to be "carbon-neutral" over their life cycles, emitting only as much carbon as feedstock plants absorbs from the atmosphere as they grow, however this is generally not the case in practice due to GHG emissions produced in the feedstock production, processing, and distribution.

Full life-cycle GHG emissions of biofuels vary widely based on: land use change, choice of feedstock, agricultural practices, refining or conversion process, and end-use practices.

In accordance with the European parliament "the greenhouse emission saving from the use of biofuels and other bioliquids shall be 35% compared with fossil fuel emission".

To minimise the GHG emissions is necessary to safeguard virgin grasslands, primary forests and other lands with high nature value, and to encourage the use of sustainable practices.

If, for example, prairie grassland is converted to maize or soy, treated with chemical fertiliser and pesticides, and refined with coal and natural gas, the resulting biofuel could have a greater impact on the climate over its live cycle than fossil fuels. (UN-Energy, 2007)

Jatropha it can be cultivated on substandard land and help restore eroded areas, generating clean energy while helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and revitalise local ecosystem.

For those reasons an international certification scheme needs to include GHG verifications for the entire lifecycle of bioenergy products, especially biofuels.



EPFL Energy Center, 2008, Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Global principles and criteria for sustainable biofuels production, Version Zero.
FAO and IIED, 2008, Fuelling Exclusion? The Biofuels Boom and Poor People's Access to Land.
FAO, 2008, The State of Food and Agriculture.
FAO, 2008, The State of Food Insecurity in the World.
GBEP, 2008, Bioenergy Development in G8 +5 Countries.
GBEP, 2008, Conclusions of the 2nd GBEP Task Force Meeting on GHG Methodologies, GBEP
IIED, 2006, Biofuel production, trade and sustainable development: emerging issues.
UN-Energy, 2007, Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers.

To download the full publication click here

For further information, please write to:



Discuss this article


You need to login to submit your comments