A new study from Kenya shows that jatropha, which has been promoted as a “wonder fuel,” is a disaster for the environment and for the people the plantations displace
A biofuel currently considered a green, renewable alternative to oil could cause up to six times more carbon emissions than fossil fuels, a study by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ActionAid and Nature Kenya has revealed. The report comes as petroleum once again climbs above $100 a barrel, pushing the demand for biofuel sky high.
The study analysed whether biofuels made from jatropha grown at a proposed plantation in the Dakatcha Woodlands in Kenya would save emissions when compared to fossil fuels. Taking into account the emissions produced throughout the production and consumption process, the study found that jatropha would emit between 2.5 and 6 times more greenhouse gases, depending on how the land was used before the jatropha was planted.
Dakatcha is home to over 20,000 people and is the ancestral land of the indigenous minority Watha and Giriama tribes. The plantation will not only evict the tribe from their land, but will destroy their livelihoods and sacred burial sites.
Tribe Elder, Joshua Kahindi Pekeshe, who lives in the forest says:
“My people have lived here for generations. If the jatropha plantation goes ahead, we will become squatters on our own land. We will lose our homes, farms and the only school our children have.
“The company promised us jobs, dispensaries, roads and water, but it just makes me laugh. When somebody wants something from you, they know they must give you promises. We don’t trust them because nothing was written down.
“This is a direct violation of our rights. We voted for the new constitution that says the community owns the land directly. What right do they have to take it from us?”
Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels expert, said:
“Biofuels are far from the miracle climate cure they were thought to be. Like most other biofuels, jatropha could actually end up increasing carbon emissions.
“Crucially the Dakatcha case also shows how biofuel plantations can rob entire communities of their land, homes and jobs.”
The area is also a global biodiversity hotspot and home to a number of globally threatened animal and bird species including the Fischer’s turaco, southern banded snake eagle, Sokoke scops owl, and the Sokoke pipit. The Clarke’s weaver bird is found in only two places on earth and is threatened with extinction if the plantation goes ahead.
Much of the biofuel produced in Dakatcha is destined for Europe because of new European Union targets. The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) requires 10 per cent of transport to be renewable by 2020 and most member states plan to meet this almost entirely through biofuels – which is likely to result in a doubling of biofuel use in Europe by 2020.
The RED states that biofuels used in the EU must save at least 35 per cent greenhouse gas emissions when compared to fossil fuels. Yet as the study shows, jatropha would be in direct breach of the RED.
ActionAid, RSPB and Nature Kenya are calling for the proposed Dakatcha plantation to be scrapped as well as the scrapping of all subsidies and targets for biofuels in developed countries.