Jatropha plantations for biodiesel in Tamil Nadu, India: Viability, livelihood trade-offs, and latent conflict
Jatropha curcas is promoted as a clean alternative to conventional fuels, a biofuel with the potential to contribute to climate change mitigation. Proponents of biofuels argue that they can help countries meet their energy demands without the greenhouse gas emissions that might be expected from conventional fuels and can also support livelihoods and generate income in the global South through contract farming. When the authors wrote their paper, the Government of India had proposed to create Jatropha plantations in 13.4 million hectares of marginal land which it termed as ‘wastelands’ to meet its requirements for biofuels. This paper examines the economic and social viability of Jatropha plantations in India.
Research goals & methods
The researchers conducted interviews with 45 Jatropha cultivating households in the state of Tamil Nadu. Through semi-structured interviews, they sought to understand if: (i) Jatropha cultivation was productive or remunerative for farmers, (ii) there were any shifts in livelihood strategies because of Jatropha cultivation, and (iii) there were any differences in the impacts across socioeconomic classes, leading to the possibility of conflict.
Conclusions & takeaways
They found, on average, yields (and therefore profits) were lower than expected, even with irrigation. Close to one-third of farmers had already stopped growing Jatropha. Since Jatropha is largely cultivated as a monoculture plantation, the production of other crops that provide food, fodder, fuel is reduced and this results in a reduction in household incomes and self-reliance. This is especially true for small and marginal farmers. In addition, the crop has a three-year gestation period after which farmers start to see returns and most smallholder farmers do not have access to long term credit reducing their ability to participate in the plantation economy. Finally, in a context where water scarcity in increasing, the water requirements for Jatropha could exacerbate conflicts over water and other resources.
Jatropha plantations for biodiesel in Tamil Nadu, India: Viability, livelihood trade-offs, and latent conflict. Ecological Economics. 2010;70(2):189 - 195. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.05.011..
- Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Barcelona, Spain