The advantage of using jatropha curcas to create biodiesel fuel is that the plant can grow almost anywhere. As a result, land that can be used for growing productive crops that feed people doesn’t need to be squandered on something like corn for ethanol. In turn that means food prices don’t have to rise to meet industry demand for corn based ethanol.
However, in Burma, the government is forcing its people to grow jatropha at levels that are causing food problems by wasting land on the crop. What’s worse, the country doesn’t have the infrastructure to convert the nut to oil.
Time: Each of Burma’s states and divisions was ordered to dedicate around 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) to physic-nut cultivation, pressuring many ordinary citizens into a massive forced-planting campaign, according to human-rights groups. While my friend has enough money to pay for the mandatory seeds, but many other Burmese aren’t so lucky. Those who refuse to farm physic nut face possible jail time. By the end of 2008, the nation’s top brass aimed to have 8 million acres (3.24 million hectares) of jatropha scattered across Burma, some in vast plantations run by foreign companies, others wedged into home gardens or between shacks.
Puzzlingly, however, the junta’s planting directive has not been matched by scant infrastructure to turn those acres into energy, like collection mechanisms, processing plants, distribution systems. My friend dutifully tends his jatropha trees and then watches the seeds fall on the ground and die. In his case, the spindly physic-nut shrubs in his garden are supplanting a fragrant frangipani tree or colourful hibiscus bush. But elsewhere in Burma — a nation where UNICEF estimates malnutrition afflicts one-third of children — farmers have had to put aside valuable crop land for a wasted plant.
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