The rise, fall and potential resilience benefits of Jatropha in southern Africa

Authors von Maltitz, G.; Gasparatos, A.; Fabricius, C.
Year of Publication 2014
Type of Publication Journal Article
Journal Sustainability
Volume 6
Issue 6
Pagination 3615-3643
Open Access Yes


Jatropha is the latest in a list of "miracle crops" that have been promoted in southern Africa for their perceived development benefits. This was based on promises of high yields, low water requirement, ability to grow on marginal land and lack of competition with food. In less than 10 years, tens of thousands of hectares were acquired for jatropha plantations and thousands of hectares were planted, most of which are now unused or abandoned. Overestimations of jatropha yields coupled with underestimations of the management costs have probably been the prime contributors to the collapse of most jatropha projects in southern African. However, a few projects still survive and show signs of possible long-term sustainability. We consider two such projects, a smallholder-based project in Malawi and a large-scale plantation in Mozambique. Though their long-term sustainability is not proven, both projects may increase resilience by diversifying household income streams and contributing to national fuel security. By identifying what seems to be working in these projects we provide insights as to why other projects may have failed in southern Africa and whether there is still place for jatropha in the region. In essence can jatropha still enhance local/national resilience or are jatropha's benefits just a myth?