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26/10/2009

Jatropha! a socio-economic Pitfall for Mozambique

 

In Mozambique, the debate on agrofuels has steadily advanced over the last five years, fueled by industry speculation and demand, grand promises and foreign interests. Investors have applied for rights to close to 5 million hectares in Mozambique in 2007 alone, nearly one-seventh of the country’s officially defined “arable” land and is rushing to create favorable conditions for investors at the cost of civil rights of Mozambicans. A good example of this was clear with the World Bank funded National Policy and Strategy for Biofuels that purposely blocked civil society participation, lacked transparency and was only made publicly available once complete and approved by parliament.
Because of Africa’s water scarce climate and the continent’s large extent of supposedly 'marginal' land, Jatropha has been given the most attention as a potential agrofuel crop. However, many question the claimed benefits of Jatropha and believe that the current rush to develop Jatropha production on a large scale is ill- conceived, under-studied and could contribute to an unsustainable trade that will not solve the problems of climate change, energy security or poverty. Therefore, this study evaluates Jatropha production in Mozambique and the most common claims made in favor of Jatropha in order to delineate the differences between the rhetoric and reality.
Myth No. 1: Jatropha grows well on marginal land and can produce high yields on poor soils
Unfortunately, no cases from the literature or from any of the communities, industry experts or individuals interviewed could even mention a single example of this being true in Mozambique. On the contrary, almost all of Jatropha planted in Mozambique has been on arable land, with fertilizers and pesticides, but have still fallen short of the claimed growth rates and yields.
Furthermore, one of the main factors for Mozambique's projected potential for jatropha production is it's “claims” of extensive stretches of “unused arable and marginal land”. Not only are these claims believed by many experts to be grossly overestimated, at an industrial level, one must take into consideration that around 70% of Mozambique is covered in forest and woodlands [34] and most large scale agriculture projects are going to replace natural vegetation. In the current climate change crisis the lose of the major carbon sinks like forest have to been taken seriously and agrofuels in Mozambique is a threat in the combat to decrease the counties carbon foot print. In addition, it doesn't take into account neither the ecosystem services, such as sustaining local hydrology, replenishment/maintenance of soil nutrients and maintaining biodiversity; nor the resource contribution to livelihoods, such as animal protein, fruit, firewood and building material. The large extensions of these functioning ecosystem is vital in coping with the livelihood requirements of rural communities and the lose of these area to large scale agriculture will intensify the community impacts.

Myth No. 2: Jatropha requires low water use and minimal maintenance
In Mozambique it was found that irrigation was required during the early development phase, even in areas were the rainfall ranged between 800mm and 1400mm. In the southern region of the country were the lower range is around 600mm, constant irrigation was often required and even some areas that received around 800mm of rain still found it useful to irrigate their crops. In one of the districts visited there were already concerns of the impacts of the large amounts of irrigation water used by the large scale farming company in the area.
Myth No. 3: Jatropha is resistant to disease and pests
This study found extensive evidence pointing to Jatropha ´s vulnerability to diseases and problems with fungi, viruses, and insect pests. In cases were the plants were heavily infested the plant would stop producing leaves and stay in a state of stress, which left the farmer with no choice other than to remove the plant. The extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides has still not solved these problems. Even of greater concern in Mozambique is the growing evidence from both the subsistence farmers, and experts, of Jatropha pest spreading to surrounding food crops. More research is required to better understand the extent and impacts to subsistence farmers and food sovereignty in general, but the current food deficit, weak support and lack of “safety nets” characteristic of the subsistence farming sector makes even minor impacts serious.
Myth No 4: Jatrohpa does not present any risk to food security but is a development opportunity for subsistence farmers In Mozambique Jatropha is planted in direct replacement of food crops by subsistence farmers, and given that around 87% of Mozambicans are subsistence farmers and produce 75% of what they consume, major concerns arise when one considers the plan to encourage subsistence farmers to plant large amounts of Jatropha. This concern is even further exacerbated because subsistence farmers have very weak links to markets and their lack of storage capacity, communication and information makes it difficult to benefits from cash crops. As the lowest link in the agricultural value chain, when food agricultural markets crash or slump in Mozambique, the price risks are passed down to small farmers. While subsistence farmers are somewhat resistant to food price fluctuations because they produce such a high percentage of their food consumption, non consumable cash crops like Jatropha will change this.
The land law designed to protect local communities has been manipulated by Government by unconstitutional decrees weakening communities land rights. In addition, the law identifies the importance of local community leaders in dealing with community right, as well as, the prevention and resolution of conflicts at a local level, but this is abused by investors and Government through bribes to leaders to gain community consent without community consultation. When they do take place, community consultations are often not transparent and loaded with promises that are never delivered. These abuses are facilitated by weak dissemination of community rights, information and lack of translation of documents into local languages. When abuses are uncovered, resolution is usually very difficult, especially for communities that lack the resources and information around the legal processes. These problems have made large land grabs of community land a likely reality in Mozambique's drive for jatropha production.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The report concludes that the dominant arguments about Jatropha as a food-security safe biofuel crop, a source of additional farm income for rural farmers, and a potential driver of rural development were misinformed at best and dangerous at worst. While further independent research will give more detail, this investigation seriously challenges Jatropha as providing for sustainable fuel and development in Mozambique. Given the trend in evidence emerging internationally demonstrating the failures of Jatropha to meet expected outcomes, and in fact endangering food sovereignty and rural livelihoods, this report recommends that support for Jatropha development in Mozambique be halted until some of the major development issues surrounding subsistence farming are addressed and rural communities obtain food sovereignty. A similar conclusion was reached by Mozambique’s civil society, and subsistence farmers, in 2008, resulting in the emergence of a declaration with specific recommendations that should be respected, including prioritizing of food production, greater support for subsistence farmers, increased support for cooperatives, ensuring farmers ´ rights, respecting community land rights, and promoting food sovereignty.

 

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  Federico Maria Grati (federicograti) at 27/10/2009 01:24:57

The article contains information about companies operating in Mozambique and land concession list for Jatropha in the country.

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