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Thursday, 19 March 2009

The battle for Jatropha..

The Civil Society Bio-fuel Forum is appealing to government not to give 100 000 acres of land to an investor who wants to grow jatropha because it "may bring more harm than good". In the words of CSBF Chairman Marriot Nyangu “While we welcome any promotion of investments that will increase the incomes of farmers, reduce poverty and has the potential to increase employment, however, we feel this is a complex issue which affects not only the farmers and rural development but also encompasses many issues such as Land use change conflicts, Food supply, climate threats and environmental concerns” .


  1. I have to agree with Chairman Nyangu, if bio-fuel inputs are not sustainably produced, it will not only create as big of a problem as it solves, it will also make it nearly impossible to export any surplus at premium prices. The Southeast Asian plantations have failed, quite utterly, in this respect, and given bio-fuels a bad name worldwide. Bringing these same idiots to ruin Zambia's green fuel potential is folly. Let's check the private bank accounts of the government officials who approved this plan, I suspect that they are somewhat fatter now.

  2. These deals are surrounded by the same level of secrecy that gave us the Development Agreements.

    Let's check the private bank accounts of the government officials who approved this plan, I suspect that they are somewhat fatter now.

    And the same goes for all the other deals the MMD is making. It is more than time that everything is discussed openly in parliament.

    And why would 100,000 hectares go to a single investor? That is 31.6 km x 31.6 km. If they created 100 hectare farms, they could literally fit 1000 commercial farmers in that space.

  3. I think that the deal is for 100,000 acres, which is 40,000 hectares. But that is still space enough for 400 farms of the type that you have been advocating. Or another approach might be to extend the holdings of current farmsteads. My understanding is that some of the land in question is already under customary leasehold, and may or may not be currently cultivated. Knowing just how much would be useful. I believe that a recent government statement indicated that they were targeting distressed forest areas for bio-fuels development, but this statement by CSBF seems to contradict that impression.

    Even if relatively large tracts can be safely cultivated for non-food mono-crops such as jatropha (or cotton for that matter), the FDI-driven agribusiness model seems little different from the policy on mining development. While this may improve the GDP, and possibly the balance of trade due to import substitution of fuels and/or export of bio-fuel precursors (though increased fertilizer imports may offset), the profits are likely to be concentrated in the hands of foreign capital with little effect on poverty alleviation.

  4. Related story from Business Day, describing long term contracts signed with Germany for biodiesel exports

  5. Not to forget that the instability in Madagascar was partly due to deal involving large land for biofuel...

    Well atleast in Zambia chiefs appear eager for biofuel...I did a blog earlier this week on the House of Chiefs on this..

  6. Yakima,

    I think that the deal is for 100,000 acres, which is 40,000 hectares.

    I'm sorry, I misread that. That is still 20 km x 20 km. A massive piece of land. I wonder how many people will have to be moved off that to make way for Jathropa. If they made 400 1km2 farms from that, they would employ over 1000 people.

  7. MrK,

    Massive indeed, and yet dwarfed by the reputed plans described on House of Chiefs to place an additional 700,000 hectares in Northern Province to jatropha plantations. Considering that the government reported 1.7 million hectares planted for all crops combined in 2008, this seems like an excessive investment in a single relatively unproven imported crop species. I am a fan of jatropha as a step towards rural economic diversity and local energy production, but this is ridiculously risky. No wonder CSBF is expressing concerns about biodiversity!

  8. Having much smaller farms will massively increase biodiversity, and break up areas growing the same crop, reducing diseases and pests.

    Have you heard of beneficial insects or predatory insects? These can be used instead of pesticides, as they seek out pests and their larvae and reproduce until the pest is under control, or at least managable.

    Farmers could grow these insects themselves, again reducing costs.

  9. MrK,

    Indeed, I have made use of predatory mites myself, and can attest to their effectiveness. I would say that the best thing is that even if you can only afford a small population to start with, it will breed itself up pretty rapidly to match the available food supply. Of course you will continue to suffer losses from pests during the breeding cycle, but a partial dose of predators is eventually effective, unlike a partial dose of pesticide, which is often counterproductive by encouraging genesets which display partial resistance.

  10. Yakima,

    Of course you will continue to suffer losses from pests during the breeding cycle

    You could create a double whammy by both using pedetary insects, and spray or feed the plants (very light doses of) neem oil. This is an anti-feedant (it clogs up the stomach of plant feeding insects) and stops them from feeding so they starve. Neem oil in feed water needs to be very low in dosage so it doesn't clog up the roots, but even a low dose is effective.

    And to people and non-plant feeding insects, it is completely harmless, with thousands of years of human use, including in beauty products - how is that for non-toxic?

  11. Here is an interesting page on the earliest harvesters, which were making use of draught power. It has very nice historic images of the McCormick harvesters.

    Grain Harvesting History

    It would be interesting to know if such devices could be an alternative to tractors and other fossile fuel using engines.

  12. Shocking! The level of misinformation or lack of it in Zambia is very dangerous. Is it laziness to read or "I don't care" attitude? How can someone enter into an agreement which is against your own long term survival?

    Internet is full of information about large-scale agriculture/plantations - pros and cons. And for that matter China's record on this file is clear. How can then those who represent Zambia in these matters be judged? It seems as if the young Zambians (for the sake of driving Toyota cars) they are mortgaging the country, which the old folks fought for with their blood. There is no other way of looking at it. Because I can’t see how those who suffered under colonial rule, color-bar, and torture allow the land to slip away from their hands? Is an imaginable!

    Moreover, giving out our land freely (without being forced by any one) is totally foolish. The future generation will even be more mad when they compare Zambia to Zimbabwe, which at the same period (time) is chasing foreigners from their land. What has gone wrong in Zambia? Has corruption become so cancerous that it blurs our minds? Can someone explain to me? I am really getting concerned. May be it was a mistake to get rid off the KKs.


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