Jatropha curcas the sustainable biofuel?

by Ali Siddiqui

Biofuels are a controversial energy source; however, there has been strong interest in these biofuels by both developing and industrialized countries. Some countries have even financially incentivized the production of these crops. A promising crop called Jatropha curcas has recently been viewed as a sustainable option for biodiesel production. This inedible plant has typically been used for soap production, medicinal purposes, and even as way to demarcate property boundaries as a living fence. Its high resistance to droughts and pests, inability to be eaten by cattle, short gestation period, and versatility of products are qualities that have been cited by many researchers as advantages for small farming communities, who might be able to use Jatropha to increase their employment, increase revenue, and increase energy self-reliance.

Although researchers hypothesize advantages for communities adopting this crop, some communities that have have suffered real negative consequences. The study by Iria Soto et al. (2015) tries to understand whether the state of Chiapas, Mexico, subsidies to farmers growing Jatropha would result in an overall better economic climate for the entire community.

The results revealed many economic effects caused by Chiapas’s subsidy program. One trend that arose was that the communities that most often received a greater portion of subsidies were those that were generally larger and more inter-connected with other communities. Another trend noticed was that within the communities that adopted the new crop, the subsidies tended to be allocated to households that were more advanced either through better technology, access to information, and/or more resources. An implication of these trends was that the way the Chiapas allocated subsidies to communities led to the lesser distribution of government resources to poorer communities as well as less resourceful and smaller households.

Chiapas used an extensive network of agents to reach out to rural communities in order to inform them of this government program and to persuade farmers to adopt Jatropha curcas. However, the state also incentivized these agents to get most communities to adopt these new practices through financial means. This incentive program may have led agents to reach out to communities they believed could sustain the risks of these new practices, which may have led to the trends outlined earlier. Overall, a different strategy needs to be implemented by the state in order to target rural farmers, who may not be as relatively wealthy or advanced as farmers in larger communities.

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