Proposed Biofuel Project in Kenya Would Produce More Emissions Than Fossil Fuels

jatropha plantation kenya photo

Henzanani Merakini's house and farm are threatened by the proposed plantation. She and others in the region would not be offered compensation if evicted.
Photo credit: Piers Benatar/Panos Pictures/ActionAid

People living on the coast of Kenya are currently fighting to keep the land they and their families have been living on for years. Their opponent: an Italian-owned company that has proposed to clearcut 10,000 hectares in order to grow biofuel to feed European demand for "clean" energy. And, according to a recent report by ActionAid, the biofuel produced on the plantation would actually produce 2.5 to 6 times more greenhouse gas emissions than their fossil fuel equivalents.

The plantation is proposed despite the fact that Kenya has already rejected a larger version of the same project, and despite that jatropha, the proposed biofuel crop, has already proved strikingly less productive than first predicted.Kenyans are trying their hardest to protect the Dakatcha Woodlands, a rich biodiverse area they do not want disturbed by the biofuel expansion.

ActionAid describes a little about the Dakatcha Woodlands:

The forest is home to over 20,000 people from the Watha and Giriama tribes, most of whom make their living from small scale farming, growing crops such as pineapples, cassava and maize to feed their families and sell in the local market. They have lived in the woodlands for hundreds of years and face eviction to make way for the proposed biofuels plantation.

Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited—which is actually Italian-owned—had proposed a 50,000-hectare version of the same type of plantation in 2009, but the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya rejected it because of concerns over its environmental impact.

KJE is now seeking the rich, fertile—and ecologically important—land of Dakatcha for its biofuel plantation that would ultimately supply energy for companies in the EU, and some transportation in Kenya.

Biofuel from Jatropha: A Big Let-Down

jatropha dakatcha woodlands photo

The Kenya Jatropha Energy pilot project inside the Dakatcha woodlands.
Image: Piers Benatar/Panos Pictures/ActionAid

Jatropha was originally predicted to thrive on infertile wasteland, but as it turns out, is extremely low-yield on such land and isn't worthwhile for farmers, and instead grows better in areas with more water and better soil.

The ActionAid report looks at the emissions and other environmental costs of biofuel plantations, and of this plantation in particular. It points out that carbon emissions caused by land conversion (essentially clear-cutting in order to plant a monocrop) should be, but are not, accounted for in the calculations behind the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

As a result, the report concludes:

- Assuming that the jatropha yields from the Dakatcha plantation are similar to India, where jatropha is much more established, GHG emissions from biofuels from jatropha in Dakatcha were found to be 2.5 to 6 times higher than when compared to fossil fuel equivalents.
- Even if exceptionally high jatropha yields are achieved, as optimistically forecast by the developer, in most situations, the plantation will not meet the 35% GHG saving as required by the RED.

ActionAid, along with a number of conservation organizations, are calling for the biofuel plantation to be stopped, in Dakatcha now and in other areas facing a similar struggle later.

More on biofuels
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EU Biofuel Expansion Plans Worse For Environment Than Burning Fossil Fuels, New Report Claims
Algae Biofuel Grown in Bioreactors Has 3.7x the Carbon Footprint of Petro-Diesel: Study
More Bad News about Biofuels: Land-Use Concerns Nix Benefits

Proposed Biofuel Project in Kenya Would Produce More Emissions Than Fossil Fuels
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