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Jatropha not booming business in Mozambique
Two years ago western investors were queuing up to start up plantations of the biofuel crop jatropha in Mozambique. But all the plans fell through due to the credit crunch and plant diseases.
Maya Slingerland of the Plant Production Systems chair group explains that many western companies that wanted to found plantations with risk capital have already gone bust.
'They put ten percent of the investment on the table at the start, and the other 90 percent was to come from institutional investors', says Slingerland. 'Then came the economic crisis and that money wasn't there any more.'
Another problem is that jatropha is plagued by fungi and insects that strip the plant bare. 'It takes ten years to get an understanding of the agronomics of a plant and to select genetically superior varieties.' The area of Mozambique planted with jatropha is growing by no more than 200 hectares per year. It takes three years before the plant makes the oily seeds and there are no factories yet for processing the oil into biodiesel.
The government of Mozambique wants to produce biofuels instead of importing fossil fuels. It wants to invest in biofuels as a way of improving the rural infrastructure and guaranteeing the local energy supply. 'There is plenty of space for fuel crops', says Slingerland. 'But up to now they are grown in the coastal areas near existing infrastructure created for exports.'
Energy crops are largely grown on foreign-owned plantations which often have to negotiate with neighbouring farmers to get their hands on large tracts of land. The local farmers are usually given a plot of land elsewhere so that local food production doesn't suffer. It is not attractive for the farmers to grow jatropha themselves. Slingerland: 'It is a new crop and knowledge about its production is rudimentary. So the farmer doesn't take any risks.'
The same goes for the production of sweet sorghum. A Swedish company wants to use the sweet sorghum grain for food and the sugary canes for ethanol production. That sounds good to the government.
'But sweet sorghum doesn't taste nice', says Slingerland. 'The farmers know that and they are not going to grow it as a food crop. It falls to us to explain that to the government.'
The Mozambique government does not want food crops such as sunflower and cassava used to produce biofuels, whereas this is precisely where Slingerland sees opportunities. 'Sunflower can easily be processed on the farm in a small oil press, and it can be used as a cooking oil too. As for cassava, local production has dropped from twelve tons per hectare to six, because the demand for cassava for export has gone down. Farmers can intensify production again if the market picks up because cassava can be processed into ethanol or biogas.' For the present, Slingerland sees few 'competing claims' between food and biofuel in Mozambique.
The research on what the bio-energy hype means for farmers in Mozambique takes place within the framework of a partnership programme between Wageningen UR and DGIS. A dozen MSc students have carried out case studies within this programme. Moreover, March Schut, a PhD student with Communication Sciences, advises the Mozambique government on sustainable biofuel production.
If the government does not take any additional measures, an internal market for biofuel in Mozambique will not develop, says Slingerland. 'The government could for example impose compulsory mixing of a proportion of biofuel to stimulate home production.'
Text: Albert Sikkema
Green energy vs food security: Biofuels in Mozambique
Nico Strydom probably knows as much as anyone about jatropha, the poisonous tree whose oily black seeds just might sprout a green energy revolution. But, as the soft-spoken forester admits during a tour of his jatropha fields in central Mozambique, that's not saying much.
"There's a lot of research that needs to be done. Jatropha is a relatively new plant," says Strydom.
He looks out over the 10-month-old, 1,000-hectare farm he runs for Sun Biofuels, a British-based company that hopes jatropha will turn African farmland into a fuel source for the 21st century.
"If anybody tells you he's an expert on jatropha, he's a liar," he adds.
That knowledge gap is causing some nervousness in Mozambique, an impoverished country with a history of civil war and natural disaster that has made it vulnerable to food shortages.
Jatropha enthusiasts say the plant can grow almost anywhere, yielding high outputs of cleaner, renewable energy, without taking quality farmland away from food crops.
But sceptics question those claims and argue Mozambique should not grow an inedible biofuel crop when it still struggles to feed all its people.
Indeed, the debate goes beyond Mozambique.
The United Nations says the world's food supply needs to grow 70 percent in the next four decades to feed a population expected to reach 9.1 billion.
With the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting next week in Rome for a summit on food security, the rest of the world, too, is raising questions about the best uses of farmland in an age when technology and the need for green energy have created tension between food and fuel.
Jatropha is native to the Americas and was long considered a noxious weed, until recent interest in biofuels focused new attention on the plant.
The tree produces yellow pods with several seeds inside that, when pressed and processed, yield about 35 percent of their weight in oil.
Mixed with traditional fossil fuels, that oil can power cars, trucks and, as an Air New Zealand test flight demonstrated last year, commercial jets.
Companies like Sun Biofuels also say the plant has the power to create jobs and energy independence in developing countries like Mozambique - a vision the government has enthusiastically embraced with plans to dedicate up to 20 percent of arable land to biofuels.
But some farmers and environmentalists aren't convinced.
In August, five months after the Mozambican government adopted its biofuels policy, two organisations released a study called "Jatropha! A Socio-economic Pitfall for Mozambique."
In it, the groups Environmental Justice and the National Union of Peasants question what they say are "myths" propagated by the jatropha industry and government officials.
"Almost all of jatropha planted in Mozambique has been on arable land, with fertilisers and pesticides," the report says.
"Jatropha is planted in direct replacement of food crops," it adds. "Given that around 87 percent of Mozambicans are subsistence farmers ... major concerns arise when one considers the plan to encourage (them) to plant large amounts of jatropha."
"It's not like they say, that it can grow anywhere, on any land," says Elias Timosse Panganai, a farmer in the village of Manhane, in central Mozambique, whose family tried unsuccessfully to grow jatropha.
"With all that work we did we didn't receive anything. Not even a cent."
Strydom acknowledges there have been "wild claims" about jatropha's invulnerability that may have been over-hyped.
But he says there needs to be more research before writing off jatropha.
"There's a lot of emotion around jatropha, there's a lot of emotion around biofuels in general. I would prefer to work with facts," he says.
"One can, I believe, come to a workable solution." (AFP)
Will Jatropha Invade Mozambique?
At the opening ceremony of the Fifth International Via Campesina Conference in Maputo, Mozambique, over 600 representatives from 50+ countries were gathered to hear a welcome address by the President of the Republic of Mozambique, Armando Emilio Guebuza.
While Pres. Guebuza had some encouraging remarks about the future potential of peasant agriculture, his suggestion that jatropha was a solution for Mozambique’s energy crisis was not well received by many in the audience.
Jatropha is but one of a whole host of crops (including maize, soya, canola (rapeseed), sugarcane, cassava (manioc), plantain, sunflower, palm, coconut, and castor among others) now being aggressively promoted as feedstock for the global agrofuel industrial complex.
Such crops, often genetically engineered, grown in monoculture plantations, and destined for export markets, hardly deserve to be called “biofuels” since they have no life affirming qualities and undermine all the basic principles of food sovereignty.
As the leading umbrella organization for peasant farmers, fishers, foresters, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples in the world, Via Campesina has been a harsh critic of agrofuels since their inception. In its 2008 report titled “Small Scale Sustainable Farmers Are Cooling Down the Earth,” Via Campesina identifies agrofuels as but one of several false solutions to the climate change crisis. To quote the report: “Leaving aside the insanity of producing food to feed cars while so many people are starving, industrial agrofuel production will actually increase global warming instead of reducing it. Agrofuel production will revive colonial plantation systems, bring back slave work and seriously increase the use of agrochemicals, as well as contribute to deforestation and biodiversity destruction.”
Inspired by a similar statement from European counterparts, five U.S. based groups: Rainforest Action Network, Global Justice Ecology Project, Food First, Grassroots International, Family Farm Defenders, and the Student Trade Justice Campaign issued a call in 2007 for an immediate moratorium on further U.S. incentives for agrofuel development. Over 50 groups from around the world signed onto this statement in solidarity, including Mozambique’s own National Farmers’ Union (UNAC), host of the Fifth Via Campesina Conference. Just prior to the Via Campesina conference from Oct. 13th - 14th 2008 in Kulima Mozambique, UNAC along with Justica Ambiental (JA!), African Center for Biosafety (ACB), Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) and the Center for Food Safety met to reaffirm their opposition to any form of agrofuel development that undermines food production and food sovereignty.
Yet, the forces of corporate globalization have been hard at work and have apparently already reached the ear of Mozambique's president. Chief among these agrofuel peddlers is the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), bankrolled by the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations and chaired by former U.N. secretary, Koffi Annan. At the global food crisis conference convened in Rome from June. 5th - 7th. 2008, three major U.N. institutions - the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program (WFP) - all signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations to advance AGRA's agenda. Over $150 million has already been set aside to push this latest version of the Green Revolution across Africa over the next five years.
While some leaders, such as former U.S. Pres George Bush Sr., have argued that the lifestyle of the north is not negotiable, the current food versus fuel debate dominating media headlines is hard to ignore. According to the FAO, food prices skyrocketed 88% worldwide between March 2007 and March 2008, triggering riots in dozens of countries with some demonstrators even being killed in Cameroon, Senegal, and Mozambique. The crisis has been attributed to a vicious convergence of several factors – runaway speculation in commodity markets, weather related crop failures induced by global warming, and – as even the World Bank had to admit – the boom in agrofuels. The creeping expansion of these green deserts that destroy biodiversity, supplant subsistence production, and siphon off scarce public funds is more a recipe for corporate profit than genuine energy security.
There is a fuel crisis in Africa, yet the continent’s own petroleum producers are not even allowed to meet the needs of their own people when corporations based in the north still control the supply chain and find global markets more lucrative. Many of these same oil giants with a horrific track record of violence and corruption – British Petroleum, Chevron, Total, Royal Dutch Shell - are now primary investors in the agrofuel sector, along with other notorious grain, timber, biotech, and finance corporations: ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Con Agra?, Dreyfus, Du Pont?, Monsanto, Syngenta, Marubenji, Tate & Lyle, Weyerhauser, Tembec, Misui, Mitsubishi, JP Morgan Chase, Societe Generale, and the Carlyle Group, to name but a few. Other agrofuel industry cheerleaders with deep financial pockets and cozy political ties include former Florida governor, Jeb Bush; Brazil’s former minister of agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues; and the current president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Moreno.
Contrary to their greenwashed image, today’s agrofuel industry bears little resemblance to the history behind Rudolf Diesel running his new fangled engine on peanut oil at the 1898 World Exhibition in Paris or the modern image of the do-it-yourself type, pouring recovered restaurant grease into a modified vehicle. Instead, today’s agrofuel industrial complex has been constructed around the same destructive infrastructure and corporate exploitation that dominates other globalized commodities. Today the industry is dominated by ethanol derived from sugar cane and maize, and biodiesel from soy, canola (rapeseed), and palm. Yet, this is just the tip of the agrofuel iceberg. Biotech giants such as Sygenta and Monsanto are gearing up to introduce new GE crops specifically tailored for the agrofuel industry, such as maize with a built-in fermentation enzyme and other crops engineered to have a lower lignin content. Other work is being done on cellulosic ethanol using switchgrass, stover, and fast growing trees as the feedstock, as well biodiesel derived from GE algae.
To illustrate the impact of largescale agrofuel development, one need look no further than the the U.S. It currently takes up to six gallons of water to produce one gallon of corn-based ethanol, with another thirteen gallons of waste water. If plans proceed to build more ethanol plants in the Midwest, the Environmental Defense Fund estimates the endangered Oglalla Aquifer could be drained of an additional 2.6 billion gallons per year simple to irrigate and process these agrofuels. Nearby residents report massive groundwater contamination and airborne pollution from these facilities, including clouds of biotech crop dust that harm workers and other non-target species. Even the distillers waste, a leftover from ethanol production long touted in the U.S. as a feed supplement for livestock in factory farms, is now being found to be unhealthy for animals. Many of the farmers who invested their life savings to pioneer ethanol cooperatives in the U.S. in the early 1990s have since gone bankrupt or been muscled out of the market by agribusiness. There are about 130 ethanol plants operating in the U.S., but whereas in 2003 over half were farmer controlled, today 90% are in corporate hands.
This consolidation of the agrofuel industry has been encouraged by massive taxpayer subsidies. In Canada where legislation recently passed requiring a 5% ethanol content in fuel by 2010, agrofuel boosters now expect to receive $2.2 billion in subsidies. Over ten nations in the European Union also provide various forms of agrofuel incentives and this translated into a whopping 60% of the EU’s entire canola crop going into biodiesel in 2006. The U.S. alone is spending over $7 billion per year to promote agrofuels – a subsidy of $1.38 per gallon for ethanol. During the recent U.S. Farm Bill debate ADM and Cargill threatened to import Brazilian ethanol if the White House did not provide sufficient “incentives” to keep domestic agrofuels globally “competitive.” The upshot was even more taxpayer subsidies for development of cellulosic ethanol and for the use of sugar as another potential agrofuel feedstock – conveniently coinciding with Monsanto’s introduction of GE sugar beet. If the U.S. were to actually meet its proposed renewable energy mandate of 15 billion gallons of ethanol per year, over half of the country’s corn acreage would be devoted to energy rather than food production.
Such unrealistic goals mean massive agrofuel imports from somewhere, and these will also probably be subsidized through the perverse manipulation of carbon credits. Under the Kyoto Protocol, 20% of global energy is to come from renewable sources, including agrofuels, by 2020. But none of the greenhouse gases linked to the production of agrofuels will be included in the transport sector, despite the fact that biodiesel combustion alone generates 50-70% more greenhouse gas emissions than the petroleum it would replace. Instead, agrofuels will be counted as part of the agriculture, industry, and/or energy sectors. This false accounting gets even worse. Under Kyoto, a country in the north which imports agrofuels from the south can use them to offset its own greenhouse gas inventory. The upshot is that wealthy polluters are able to out-source green house gases and claim carbon credits by encouraging corporate investment in monoculture agrofuel plantations half way around the globe.
Where will these agrofuel carbon credits come from? Brazil already has 6 million hectares devoted to agrofuel production and plans to increase its sugarcane acreage five fold to meet expected ethanol export demands. In Dec. 2007 - and without hardly any public comment on an earlier draft - the South African government released its final Biofuels Industrial Strategy with a goal of 2% agrofuel out of total liquid fuel demand - or 400 million liters per year - by 2013. The South African-based Tongaat-Hulett investment group has proposed a $200 million renovation of the Hippo Valley sugarcane plantation and Triangle ethanol plant in the Limpopo Valley once the political crisis in Zimbabwe is resolved. Colombia plans to increase its oil palm from 188,000 ha to over 1 million ha., and communities who stand in the way of these expansion plans have already fallen victim to the deadly impact of death squads. Indonesia intends to establish the largest oil palm plantation in the world – 1.8 million ha in Borneo. Dubbed “deforestation diesel,” this palm oil bonanza has cleared vast tracts of pristine rainforest, jeopardizing biodiversity and indigenous peoples alike. Compared to other agrofuel fuelstocks, though, palm oil is by far the most productive, generating 6000 liters per ha – versus only 446 liters per ha for soya and 172 liters per ha for corn.
And, then there is jatropha. India has already earmarked 14 million ha of “wasteland” for jatropha plantations, while a German consortium is negotiating to purchase 13,000 ha in Ethiopia, including portions of an elephant sanctuary, for the same purpose. As a drought-resistant largely inedible plant that requires little or no inputs, jatropha can be harvested up to three times a year. There are already 200,000 ha of jatropha in Malawi and 15,000 ha in Zambia, most under the control of the UK-based company D1 Oils. Jatropha planting is now underway in four Mozambican provinces: Inhambane, Manica, Zambezia, and Nampula. While Mozambique currently has only one refinery at Busi with a limited production capacity of 10 tons/day, agrofuel boosters point out that since sugarcane processing accounts for just 160 days each year, the rest of the facility’s capacity could be devoted to agrofuel.
The negative consequences of runaway jatropha development in Mozambique will likely be similar to those already experiences elsewhere on the continent. Food sovereignty advocate, Ousmane Samake of COPAGEN in Mali, has already well documented how jatropha plantations encroach on traditional grazing lands, drain groundwater supplies, and exascerbate resource conflicts in that country. Even the FAO's own recent bioenergy report notes, "the growing demand for liquid biofuels, combiend with increased land requirements, could put pressure on so-called 'marginal' lands, which provide key subsistence functions to the rural poor."
The world will not be able to escape the food versus fuel debate as long as governments continue to subsidize agrofuels to the detriment of sustainable agriculture as practiced by millions of peasant farmers. Similarly, the world will not be able to achieve genuine food sovereignty as advocated by Via Campsina without rejecting the agrofuel panacea offered by the likes of the Gates Foundation, AGRA, and their corporate cheerleaders. The government of Mozambique would do well to heed the call for an outright moratorium on agrofuel incentives as endorsed by dozens of grassroots organizations around the world including Mozambique’s own National Farmers’s Union (UNAC). It is time to end corporate domination over the world’s food supply and an essential first step is to dismantle the global agrofuel industrial complex that would rather feed a gas tank than a hungry child.
Jatropha curcus is a drought-resistant perennial, growing well in marginal/poor soil. It is easy to establish, grows relatively quickly and lives, producing seeds for 50 years.
Jatropha the wonder plant produces seeds with an oil content of 37%. The oil can be combusted as fuel without being refined. It burns with clear smoke-free flame, tested successfully as fuel for simple diesel engine. The by-products are press cake a good organic fertilizer, oil contains also insecticide.
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