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?