Chapter 8 : Jatropha and ‘climate-smart’ agriculture in Kenya and Mozambique

Chapter 8


Jatropha and ‘climate-smart’ agriculture in Kenya and Mozambique


By Baruti Amisi and Khadija Sharife


[…] many question the claimed benefits of Jatropha and believe that the current rush to develop Jatropha [and other biodiesels] 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 (Mattavel, 2009: 6).


Global warming and biofuels projects which intend to solve global warming affect the rich and poor differently. Indeed, whereas the poor and marginalised communities which pollute less remain adversely affected by perceived sustainable solution to climate, the rich who pollute more have sufficient mechanisms to cope with climate change. They dispossess the poor and women of the land for subsistence farming and grazing animals, water for domestic consumption and irrigation, firewood for cooking and warming, and communal sense of belonging and consequently become poverty production processes created and implemented by the same institutions which have a social obligation and self-proclaimed international mandate of addressing poverty.

As a result, the victims of the perceived and real threats of both global warming and the biofuels projects organise to debunk the promises of “sustainable” biofuels projects, even more when they become CDM projects. They seek to resist and protect their livelihoods wherever political opportunities provide a space for organising and freedom of expression.

The impacts of these projects on the poor, and of Jatropha in particular which is one of the focuses of this chapter,  may compromise the economic progress and socio-political stability gained since the 2008 contested elections and ethnic violence that followed in Kenya on the one hand; and decades of civil wars of Mozambique on the other hand. The selection of the two countries was based on their history of socio-political instability.

The main argument of this chapter is three-fold. First, Jatropha plantations represent a short-sighted approach to climate change because they do not address the root causes of the problem: political will to reduce carbon footprint, and investment in truly renewable energy (solar energy and wind power). Second, these projects increase and perpetuate the vulnerability of the poor and women through expropriation of natural resources and by replacing subsistence crops and land for grazing as permanent sources of income by cash crops that offer fewer and unsustainable benefits to women, marginalised communities, and small scale-famers.  Third, the new drive for so called “climate smart” agriculture (of which biodiesel and ethanol are only one aspect – Box 5) must be watched carefully. It is true that food producing, smalle scale agriculture is key in the the fight against climate change, but the call from international finance to include carbon in the soil into CDM, spells further trouble for small famers and peasants.


Biofuel projects as poverty production initiatives


The biofuel projects and Jatropha in particular, are part of poverty production processes introduced to satisfy short-sighted policies from developed countries at the expense of the poor and subsistence farmers in developing countries. They produce and perpetuate poverty by dispossessing the poor of their land, water, and sense of belonging through forced removal with little or no consultation and compensation. They also aggravate the vulnerability of women who are often excluded from property rights and bear the cost of source of energy supply, water provision, and care of family members and the sick in particular.


In fact, new forms of dispossession are being created through biofuel projects based on projections that European transport fuels should contain 5.75 percent mix from agrofuels in 2010 and production targets of 35 billion gallons of agrofuels a year in the USA. The subsequent need for farmland (Mattavel, 2009: 9) means the poor have been and will continue to subsidise many activities which benefit the rich, as the following case studies demonstrate.

Local communities’ response in Kenya


Kenya is the most industrialised country in eastern Africa. It has 39 milllion habitants. The agriculture sector employs 80 percent of the population and accounts for 50 percent of exports, accounting for 25 percent of GDP. The agricultural sector is afflicted by periodic droughts that negatively affect investments in it[1]. The Kenya Bureau of Statistics (2007: 1; cited in Suri et. al., 2008: 1-2) argues that ‘46 percent of the total population is absolutely poor i.e. below poverty line whereas 49 percent of the rural population is absolutely poor’. These findings (2004; cited in Suri et. al., 2008: 2) argue that the ‘richest 20 percent of rural and urban populations earn 62 percent and 51 percent of income respectively.’

Jatropha has been sold as a wonder crop for climate change and alleviation of rural poverty in this impoverished country. Proponents of this wonder plant contend that Jatropha is a win-win solution because the plant makes use of marginal land not suitable for food production and does not compete with food production. It is resistant to diseases and droughts. As a result, Jatropha benefits the farmers, biofuel producers and consumers, and the environment (Mattavel, 2009: 1). Estimates that one half of a hectare of Jatropha can produce 1,900 litres of fuel[2] has fuelled dreams of a new investment which will create 13 000 new jobs[3] for a country with a record of 30,000 deaths of malaria and 19,000 deaths in childbirth in 2005 (DFID Kenya, 2011: 3). Such promises were warmly welcomed by socio-political elites and the private sector in a country where almost half of the population is poor.

The development-affected communities disagree. They argue that Jatropha and biofuels in general occur with land grab and land dispossession as well as forced removal of the communities from ancestral land that they occupied for decades, as the quotes below demonstrate:


They told us we would be burned out if we didn’t go […] They drove machinery round and round the village all day and all night to drive people out. No one understood why, as the village had been there for more than 25 years […] The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons – to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and Jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel […] (cited in Tracy McVeigh, 2011).


On the quality of land and conditions of resettlement processes, some individuals contend:


This is not a good place. Children have died; we have typhoid and malaria now. We were healthy before and our children went to school. This river is now the drainage for pesticides from all the big farms. The proper river has been diverted to irrigate them and now we just get their poison. When we were evicted they showed us the maps, and we saw many more villages who don’t yet know they are to be evicted too. Where will they all go? (elder Gedi Darso; cited in Tracy McVeigh, 2011).


In addition, in the Tana Delta, there is both Jatrophra plantations and sugar cane plantations (for ethanol) being planned.


The eviction of the villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya‘s Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds (Tracy McVeigh, 2011).


The opposition to the Jatropha project in Kenya’s Tana Delta by local activists and the affected communities caused the British firm G4 Industries Limited to pullout from a 28,000 hectare biofuel. This project would have destroyed a wetland ecosystem crucial for regional wildlife in this specific area (Cernansky, 2011). Mike Pond, the Executive Director of the G4 Industries Limited, paradoxically agrees with local activists on the harmful impact of the project on the ecosystems. He explained the reasoning behind the company’s pullout from the project arguing: ‘We have become increasingly concerned about the environmental implications of operations in the Tana Delta and we have now decided to withdraw from the region.’

Response in Mozambique


Mozambique is another interesting case regarding biofuel projects, and Jatropha in particular. Mozambique is rich in natural resources including arable land, mineral resources, hydropower potential from its many rivers, forests, fisheries, gas and subsoil assets such as coal and heavy sands. Mozambique is also one of the poorest countries in the world despite its high annual rate of economic growth. Life expectancy was 48 years in 2002-2008. The country is one of the lowest on the Human Development Index,  ranked 172nd out of 182 (Froger, Paz and Vissers, 2010: 10-12).

Froger, Paz and Vissers’ (2010) report findings on ‘Selection of a Sustainability Standard for Pilot’ debunk the myths and promises of Jatropha as wonder crop and solution to GHG and rural poverty. These findings call for a careful consideration of biofuels as responses to climate change and poverty even though 7,000 ha of Jatropha was already planted in 2008, 35,000 ha by 2010, and 170 000 ha would be planted by 2015. In fact, the biofuels’ entrepreneurs contend that Jatropha is a wonder crop for four main reasons. First, ‘Jatropha grows well on marginal land and can produce high yields on poor soils’. There is not supporting studies from any of these communities, industry experts or individuals interviewed in the study to support this claim in Mozambique. Instead, Jatropha is planted in arable land with fertilisers and pesticides. Second, ‘Jatropha requires low water use and minimal maintenance’. This study revealed that irrigation was required during early development phase. In addition, this is only true for areas where rainfall is between 800 mm and 1400 mm. In contrast, a region with lower rainfall of 600mm and 800mm requires constant irrigation for Jatropha to grow and produce expected results. Third, ‘Jatropha is resistant to disease and pests’. The study revealed that the wonder plant is vulnerable to diseases and has problems with fungi, virus, and insect pests. In addition, severely attacked plants would stop producing leaves and stay in a state of stress, which left the farmer with no choice other than to remove the plants and consequently lose crops and income. Fourth and lastly, ‘Jatropha does not present any risk to food security but is a development opportunity for subsistence farmers’. In Mozambique, Jatropha competes with food crops. It is planted in direct replacement of food crops by around 87 percent of subsistence farmers. In addition, the land law designed to protect local communities has been manipulated by the government through unconstitutional decrees weakening communities’ land rights. The law should identify and emphasize the importance of local community leaders in dealing with community rights and the prevention and resolution of conflicts at the local level.

In practice, the investors and government undermine the law through bribes to leaders to gain community consent without community consultation. In rare cases when community consultations occur, they are often not transparent and they are loaded with unfulfilled promises. Weak dissemination and a lack of translation of documents into local languages that people can understand sustain these abuses because knowledge is power. In summary, the situation of Jatropha as a food-security safe biofuel crop, a source of additional income, and a tool for rural development in Mozambique is ‘misinformed at best and dangerous at worst’ (Froger, Paz and Vissers, 2010). As a result, Jatropha remains a threat to socio-economic stability and peace in Mozambique because sooner or later, it will lead to socio-political instability and upheavals.



BOX 5: Climate-‘smart’ agriculture and soil-carbon credits


The push behind the newest agricultural ‘revolution’ – known as climate smart agriculture – is driven by many factors ranging from multinationals such as Monsanto, eager to embed the money-making intellectual property of genetically modified seeds, to that of mega-dam proponents. But we would not be wrong to identify its most visible proponents: the World Bank and South Africa.

The momentum of both, in fact, is closely intertwined: in September 2011, three months after she collided with ‘climate smart’ ways at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) event in Rome, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson began advocating the ‘climate smart’ concept, she organized the Bank-funded meet and greet with Africa’s agricultural ministers. The UN’s FAO would have been a good ambassador: in their document on the concept, the FAO states, ‘Climate-smart agriculture is rooted in sustainable agriculture and rural development objectives which, if reached, would contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing hunger and improved environmental management.’[4]

According to this FAO report, not only is the agricultural sector the most vulnerable – in Africa, over 90 percent of small farmers will experience drastic crop reduction in the next few decades – but it is also one of the leading producers of GHG, estimated at 14 percent, and ‘a key driver of deforestation and land degradation, which account for an additional 17 percent of emissions.’

The concept extends, in many instances, to the entire economy, including ‘environmental issues, for example energy and water, as well as social issues, such as gender, and economic issues. Achieving the four dimensions of food security (availability and access to of food, utilization of food for adequate nutrition, and stability of food supply) needs to be the overall goal of food production and distribution systems in developing countries.’[5]

The Trojan horse is green-wrapping well-established and known practices such as conservation, within the context of the key solution: ‘Financial mechanisms …that can blend and coordinate funding from different sources, including public, private, agricultural development and climate financing.’[6] As South Africa’s Department of Agriculture revealed that ‘considerable finance will be needed to rapidly implement climate-smart agriculture.’

The country, the gateway facilitating exposure, particularly through the recent COP17, irrevocably backs the concept, using justice-speak (‘agriculture is the economic foundation…employing about 60 percent of the workforce and contributing an average of 30 percent of gross domestic produce…’) to motivate for the location of solutions in neoliberal market-mechanisms.

How will this be realized? ‘The whole proposal of Climate-Smart Agriculture was developed around the possibility of developed countries offsetting their carbon via international carbon market – REDD, REDD+ and soil carbon market. (The UN-REDD Programme is the United Nations Collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries.) Climate-Smart Agriculture comes packaged with carbon offsets,’ writes ActionAid.[7]

Unpacking the reasons why initiatives such as ‘climate-smarts’ soil market won’t work , ‘there is no soil carbon market currently, if there were a market, it would not provide revenues to farmers, the system will be biased against smallholders, to sustain finance from an offset market, developed countries must keep emitting, soil carbon markets are a distraction from addressing real adaptation needs and mobilizing real funding to support adaptation’, and that ‘soil carbon markets are a diversion from real obligations of rich countries: to reduce emissions and to provide substantial, stable, predictable, new and additional public finance.’[8]

But before any of these issues can be considered, – and aside from the fact that many African farmers, cultivating just one or two hectares of land for subsistence would earn perhaps $3 per annum – most African farmers don’t hold legal rights to the land on which the banking scheme is intended to take place.

Smuggled through in the process – as solutions – are high-cost environmentally destructive ‘inputs’ such as fertilizer and pesticide, genetically modified seeds, mega-dams and ill-designed irrigation projects, geared to sustain not Africa’s food needs, but rather, commercial crops.

The process is already under way: Inter-Press Service (IPS)[9] detailed of the venture: ‘The very first project to sell soil carbon credits in Africa is underway in Kenya. Funded by the World Bank, some 15,000 farmers and 800 farmer groups are changing their practices to sequester carbon for a 20-year period. The costs to set up the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project along with the costs involved in measuring the carbon and marketing the credits are estimated at more than one million dollars, said Anne Maina of the African Biodiversity Network in Kenya.’





This chapter has briefly argued that biofuels, and Jatropha projects in particular, produce and perpetuate poverty and vulnerability of the communities that the projects are intended to benefit. Secondly, the biofuel projects, even if they were sold as CDM projects, do not represent sustainable solutions to climate change and do not address the root causes of problems.

Jatropha takes away natural resources (land, water, communal sense of belonging, and other forest resources) from and increases the vulnerability of the women who look after the sick specifically in the context of HIV/ AIDS. These women are the ones who bear the cost of fetching water and firewood often far from where they live, and other family related issues. Biofuel projects also compete with food crops and subsistence farming. Consequently, these projects become poverty production processes that local communities challenge in Kenya whereas in Mozambique the promises and myths of Jatropha are debunked by a scientific report.

The promises and myths of Jatropha as a wonder crop did not pass the scientific assessment in the more than 32 000 ha planted. These unfounded promises are misleading. They also represent a threat to peace and socio-political climate in these countries. The push for Jatropha in Africa (as in India and in other countries) should be placed in a wider context. There is a general attempt to eliminate or push into a corner food-producing peasant agriculture. This includes the diversion of land for purported climate-change  purposes: tree plantations that are supposed to absorb carbon dioxide, Jatropha or ethanol that are supposed to substitute for oil as in the Tana Delta, and also some forms of “climate smart” agriculture with payment for soil-carbon. All such trends belong together. While the Via Campesina rightly claims that “peasant agriculture cools down the Earth” (because of less use of fossil fuels and more carbon in the soil) this would be perverted by the CDM process into simply another way of controlling farmers, through the creation of another source of profits for intermediaries and another excuse not to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.




Cernansky, R. 2011. UK Company Pulls Out of Controversial Kenya Biofuel Project. 26 October. Accessed on 30/10/2011.

DFID (Department for Internal Development) Kenya. 2011. ‘Operational Plan 2011-2015’.

Froger, E., Paz, A. and Vissers, P. 2010. ‘Selection of a sustainability standard for pilot assessments of Jatropha producers in Mozambique – final report activity 1 – May 2010’. Amsterdam: Jatropha Alliance and GEXSI.

Gans, H. J. 1972. ‘The Positive Fucntions of Poverty’. The American Journal of Sociology, Volume 78, Number 2, 275-289.

Mattavel, D.R.N. 2009. ‘Jatropha! A socio – economic pitfall for Mozambique’. Maputo: Justiça and União Nacional de Componesses.

 McVeigh, T. 2011. Biofuels land grab in Kenya’s Tana Delta fuels talk of war. 2 July. [Online], available: Accessed on 12/11/2011.

Øyen, E. 2002. ‘Poverty Production: A Different Approach to Poverty Understanding’. In N. Genov (ed.), Advances In Sociological Knowledge over Half a Century. Paris: International Social Science Council, 1-13.

Suri, T., Tschirley, D., Irungu, C., Gitau, R., and Kariuki, D. 2008. ‘Rural Income, Inequality and Poverty Dynamics in Kenya.’ Nairobi: Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development.

[2]. Tim Padgett, ‘The Next Big Biofuel?’ TIME MAGAZINE ONLINE, January 29, 2009, available at,9171,1874835,00.html.

[3]. ‘New Investments to Create 13,000 New Jobs,’ THE NEW VISION, April 6, 2009.

[4] FAO, ‘Climate Smart Agriculture: Managing Ecosystems for Sustainable Livelihoods’, Undated., <>

[5] South Africa, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2011), ‘Policy Brief: Opportunities and Challenges for Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa’, <;

[6] South Africa, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2011), ‘Policy Brief: Opportunities and Challenges for Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa’, <;

[7] ActionAid (2011), ‘Agriculture: From Durban to the World’, <;

[8] ActionAid (2011), ‘Agriculture: From Durban to the World’, <;

[9] IPS (2011), ‘A recipe for carbon farming’, Dec 2 <;