Africa's Newest Rock Star

In the race for renewable energy, the spotlight is on Africa, with Jatropha Circas quickly becoming the super-crop of choice.

Jatropha bushes grow across the continent, from Ghana to South Africa, but Africans have never paid much attention to the bush. There hasn't been much use for it. But now that studies have shown that oil from the plant has less carbon emissions than fossil fuel, scientists are looking at the jatropha bush in a new light.

This has led to jatropha plantations across the continent, trying to feed the growing taste for biodiesel. Although jatropha is a non-food crop - a plus since renewable energy sources in the U.S. have been limited to food crops like corn and soy - huge swaths of land are being devoted to growing the bush. If farmers in these countries realize the earning potential for jatropha they may begin to grow it in abundance (although so far that has not been the case), instead of growing food for their families to eat. While the extra income is desperately needed in Africa, viable food crops are needed as well.

With Norwegian, Indian, and British companies buying or leasing land in Africa for jatropha, Africa has the potential to become the next Middle East. But who's going to profit from jatropha? Will foreign investment in these countries trickle into the communities, or will investors supply the upfront costs to build refineries and start operations, but do little else to ensure the country's prosperity? Will jatropha become like Africa's oil, convenient and strategically beneficial, for Americans, but having little benefit for the country itself?

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4 Comments

  • Subhanu Sogal

    We have been working on Jatropha cultivation for the past years in India.
    We have gained a lot of insight on this crop,though cannot conclude on many issues.
    We would like to partner any company/group interested in investing for cultivation of Jatropha and other oil bearing trees like Pongamia pinnata in countries of Africa,and other countries.

  • rafa tejada

    I need more imformation about this plantation, and I want knoww if this resource cut grown in my country...Colombia

  • Sam

    I believe you are referring to the concept of 'curse of resources' which devastated most post-colonial countries. The basic premise is that valuable resources in unstable countries lead to conflict and exploitation. Instead of enriching the people, it entrenches them to conflict. However, the problem is more complex than that. Not all valuable resources leads to conflict, it depends on several factors, whether the resources is:
    -Geographically concentrated or dispersed
    -Easily extractable or require high-technology
    -Readily used or must be refined
    -Easily guarded, sold and resold.

    In the case of jatropha, it differs from oil in that it is easily cultivated with low-technology, thus less susceptible to monopoly. However, the refining process, which actually gives the crop value, will most likely be the point of control. What we need is a source of capital that will keep the refineries in local control from cultivation to export... [Word limit]

  • Dayna

    Unfortunately, I don't see any reason why this will be different from every other resource the continent of Africa has to provide to the world. First it was slaves, then diamonds, then oil, now jatropha. Every time a resource becomes available that's financially advantageous to the rest of the world, who ultimately benefits? It's not the war ravished countries, or the starving children or the victims of AIDS, or even the farmers themselves who are working the lands. As much as I can hope, the natives of the continent will continue to be without while the rest of the world feeds of its wealth.