Number of jatropha producers grows in Mozambique’s province of Sofala

Jan 24, 2012 12:00 AM

The number of peasants in Buzi district, in the central Mozambican province of Sofala, who are growing the jatropha shrub has risen in the last three years from 10 to about 300.
This number is an underestimate, since it only refers to peasants who are members of the local jatropha producers' association. One of the requirements for joining the association is that a farmer must be cultivating at least half an acre of jatropha. Smaller producers certainly exist and can sell their production.

The increased interest in jatropha is because the company GalpBuzi has promised to buy all the jatropha seeds produced by the farmers. These seeds are then used to produce biofuels. The amount of jatropha seeds sold in Buzi has risen from a few dozen kilos three years ago to 10 to 11 tpy now.
"Now the peasants see the importance of jatropha because there is a company which not only provides technical assistance, but also guarantees to buy their production", said Joao Gomes, an agricultural technician at GalpBuzi.

He stressed that if jatropha was damaging to the lives of farmers, as is claimed in some quarters, then it would not have been possible for GalpBuzi to interest so many peasants in growing the crop.
The company pays ten meticais (about 36 US cents) for a kilo of jatropha seeds. Gomes regarded this as a fair price, since jatropha is a plant that does not require much care. Furthermore, after attaining productive age a jatropha shrub will produce more than one harvest a year. The shrub can live for decades bearing fruit every year.

The peasants need not devote much effort on their jatropha, and can spend the rest of their time on other activities, such as food production, Gomes said. But jatropha producers in the Buzi locality of Chissamba told they feared that at some stage GalpBuzi would no longer be interested in jatropha.
"Our only fear is that the company might eventually stop buying our production", one of them said.

GalpBuzi denies that this will happen, since the demand for biofuels is rising. All over the world governments and companies are looking for alternatives to fossil fuels, which are much more damaging to the environment than biofuels, and which are likely to continue rising in price.
One insistent critique of biofuels is that they replace food crops and thus threaten food security. This does not seem applicable to jatropha, which can be grown on marginal land.

There is no sign that increased jatropha production in Buzi, and the neighbouring district of Chibabava has caused any food security problems. Here jatropha is being grown on land that was previously lying idle. 52 year old peasant Fernando Chadiwa, who currently grows jatropha on 1.5 hectares, told he has every intention of increasing his jatropha production.
"I will increase the area little by little", he said. "Apart from jatropha, I also grow maize, tomatoes, sesame and rice. I'm also breeding livestock. Jatropha gives us an income that we can use for other needs".

A second company, Niquel, buys up jatropha in Chibabava. To guarantee that this poses no threat to food security, Niquel insists that no more than two people in any household may be employed in jatropha production, while the others cultivate food crops.
Niquel has a jatropha plantation covering 1,500 hectares (and has the right to use a further 6,000 hectares). It employs 200 permanent and 70 seasonal workers.

As for claims that jatropha makes soil lose its fertility, Niquel agricultural engineer Heinrich Van Der Merwe points out that any crop, when produced intensively can impoverish the soil. To avoid this, basic agricultural principles such as crop rotation should be practiced, he said. Niquel had not deprived any farmers of their land, he stressed. Indeed, the project was helping local people, because it had brought new roads to the area.
"When the project began (in 2008), there were practically no roads here", said Van Der Merwe. "But the road you journalists have just used was opened by us. Today, the same roads are used by agricultural marketing and even by timber companies".

Armando Mulewa, a community leader in the Chibabava locality of Gudja, said that, with the appearance of Niquel, a great deal was changing.
"Now I have a wage at the end of the month, and I still have my field and my animals", he said. "Now we have more than one way of fighting against poverty".

Unlike GalpBuzi, Niquel is not buying jatropha from peasant producers, but Van Der Merwe thought that this would come in the not too distant future, when its processing plant begins to operate.
A start will be made on building the factory later this year.

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