Monday, July 26, 2010

FAO on jatropha

“Although there have been increasing investments and policy decisions concerning the use of jatropha as an oil crop, they have been based on little evidence-based information,” the report said, adding that identifying the true potential of jatropha requires separating the evidence from the hyped claims and half-truths.” ...

The FAO has also punctured the argument that growing jatropha utilizes marginal lands effectively. The level of economic returns needed to secure private sector investment “may not be attainable on degraded land”, FAO said, noting considerably better gross margins which can be gained on sugar cane and oil palm plantations. The UN organisation, however, does not rule out the oilseed completely, but has flagged an urgent need to multiply the yields.


  1. Sugar cane plantations may have profit potential but they're terrible for the environment and we've all heard of rainforest being cleared to make way for palm trees. Hardly what we're looking for.

    The FAO are right that jatropha needs to be grown on appropriate land in order to produce commercial yields, and that the same land may be viable agricultural land. However, they're missing some important points!

    First, a lot of that land is lying fallow because there's simply no money in the area. There's no business to speak of and no jobs. A well-run jatropha operation could bring jobs and empower people to buy food as well as other goods and services (including education).

    Second, jatropha is a tree and can be intercropped with other crops and even cattle! With a profitable oil business and good jobs to support the growing of other crops, couldn't you now create the best of both worlds?

    I could go on but instead I simply encourage the readers here to look beyond the headlines and learn about social enterprise and investing. While I work in that space, my intention here isn't to promote my employer but to raise awareness.

  2. One of the issues is that jatropha were (appear to have been) oversold - plop them in the the worst ground, forget about them, instant income and energy independence. Now they're discovering they don't work as well as advertised.

    A well-run operation could do a lot of good. One question is if you can get a well-run operation where "there's simply no money in the area."

    The intercropping is, to my mind, a much stronger argument, and it's one that needs to be investigated. Is it profitable in practice? Are there other positive or negative feedbacks between crops?

    To find out, we need to try it out. This is all still in the early stages. And even if it has been oversold, that doesn't mean there is nothing there, just not as much miracle power as claimed.