Across the world biofuels/Agro fuels are being promoted as an alternative to fossil fuels and an answer to climate change. They have however started to generate intense controversy by leading to land conflicts and rise in food prices.
Navdanya released its study on the social, economic and ecological impact of Jatropha cultivation for bio diesel in India “Biofuel Hoax: Jatropha and Land Grab” at a press conference on 27th of November 2007. The study authored by Dr Vandana Shiva and Manu Sankar is based on field work in the three states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
India plans to cultivate Jatropha in 11 million hectares. In a land starved country this diversion of land has serious consequences for rural livelihoods and rural eco systems. The Companies involved in the gold rush of Jatropha in India are D1 Oil, Godrej Agrovet Ltd, Tata Motors, Indian Oil Corporation, Kochi Refineries Ltd, Biohealthcare Pvt, The southern online Biotechnologies Ltd, Jain irrigation System Ltd, Natural Bioenergy Ltd and Reliance Energy Ltd.
In Chhattisgarh, a predominantly tribal belt, agricultural crops of tribals have been destroyed to plant Jatropha. To promote jatropha plantations, the tribals are being denied their inherent right to make decisions about land use for which the local community (Gram Sabha) is the highest competent authority . This is a violation of the legal recognition of collective rights and Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The study also has details of the villages in Chhattisgarh which have faced land conflicts because the people have opposed the cultivation of Jatropha plantations.
Chhattisgarh is the center of diversity of rice and according to Dr Richaria, India’s eminent rice scientist it was the source of more than two hundred thousand rice varieties. Planting Jatropha monocultures in place of the indigenous diversity of tribal crop lands is not just a destruction of the food security and livelihood of the tribals, it is also a threat to India’s biodiversity.
Two Biaga tribals whose crops have been damaged by the Government for Jatropha cultivation were present at the press conference.
Santhoshi, from Daiharibagh village, Kota block of Bilaspur district, ” the forest department forcefully planted Jatropha on our paddy land. They told us if u don’t allow us to plant jatropha you will go to jail. We have send our plea petitions to the chief minister, District collector and BDO but of no avail. At last we had to uproot the jatropha plants that were planted in our agricultural land”.
Dharam singh, from Pandripani village, from Kota block of Bilaspur village, said “the gram sabha in my village did not give the permission for the forest department to plant Jatrophas in our agricultural land. But they planted it by force and issued court notices to 10 people including me to vacate our agricultural land”.
Instead of recognizing the rights of the tribals as required by the PESA Act of 1996 and the recognition of the Forest dwellers Rights Act of 2004, the government is using jatropha plantations to undo the constitutional safeguards that tribals have to their right to land and livelihood.
Jatropha is not just leading to Land grab, it is also leading to Biopiracy
Dr Sunil Puri, who used to be the head of Department of Forestry at the Indira Gandhi Agricultural University in Raipur had illegally taken 18 elite varieties of Jatropha from the University collection. A week later he joined the company. Local protests followed and a report by a state government inquiry into the affairs concluded that Dr puri, and D1, by accepting the plants without the necessary authority, had breached India’s new biodiversity laws, designed to protect the country’s bio resources from foreign exploitation.
In Vidarbha, Maharashtra the company involved does contract farming with the farmers . They have taken advantage of the failure of Bt cotton crops and have lured farmers into cultivation of Jatropha. The corporates have been successful in inducing the farmers into Jatropha on the false promise that the plantations will give them immense returns after three years. The Government is also providing subsidies to the farmers who plant Jatropha. Govind Chithuji Jungare, a farmer of Buldana who shifted from cotton to Jatropha has committed suicide in April 2007, because of the Government’s inability to provide with the promised subsidy.
Rajasthan, a desert state is also seeing the destruction of village commons and grazing lands (referred to as “Wastelands” in colonial revenue categories) by the imposition of Jatropha plantations. On 7th of May 2007, The Government of Rajasthan passed rules under its powers conferred by Section 261 of the Land Revenue Act of 1956 to create a new law called “The Rajasthan Land Revenue (Allotment of wasteland for biofuel plantation and biofuel based industrial and processing unit) Rules, 2007″. The Rules allow 1000 ha - 5000 ha of village common lands (called “wastelands” in the colonial revenue category) to be transferred for 20 years from the village community to biofuel industry. The land allocation is for biofuel plantations, especially Jatropha, and biofuel based industry and processing units.
Village community pastures are the common resources in Rajasthan, having potential for equitable accessibility to all classes for the rural population. Rajasthan has 1.94 million hectares of common pasture lands and more than 70% of the total geographical area are under the common lands. The Jatropha cultivation is severely limiting the ability of the commons to support rural livelihoods comprehensively and thereby harming the ecological services they render. Livestock is the major source of livelihood for the poor and they are heavily dependent on the common pastures for the grazing of their cattle. By planting Jatropha the fodder availability of the cattle will be directly affected.
The destruction of the livelihoods of pastoralists and livestock herders such as Gujjars have already led to major riots in Rajasthan. The transfer of commons and grazing lands from providing fodder to livestock in the local economy to providing fuel for automobiles of the rich will further erode rural livelihoods and increase social tensions.
The poor live in a biomass / biodiversity based economy. Diversion of land to industrial biofuels will also divert biodiversity / organic matter from basic needs of the poor and maintenance of ecological cycles. It will create total destitution and collapse of rural agro-ecosystems as biodiversity and water are diverted by industry for biofuel.
Dr Vandana Shiva, Director, Navdanya has described the mad rush for Jatropha plantations, a recipe for ecological, economic and social disaster.
1. The industrial biofuel policy is not a solution to the climate crisis or an answer to peak oil. The massive infrastructure of fossil fuel based production and transportation systems cannot be maintained by converting food to fuel, and plants to oil for cars. The heavy infrastructure of automobiles and power generation needs to be adapted to the limits of the planet. The planet should not be further plundered and the poor should not be further burdened to uphold a non-sustainable system for a few years more.
2. The village commons need to be protected by and for local communities - to provide for their basic needs of food, fodder, fuel, medicine etc. Rejuvenation of village commons through biodiversity that maximizes production for local needs should be immediately taken up under rural employment guarantee schemes and environmental programmes. Their transfer to industry for jatropha or other plantations must be immediately stopped to avert ecological and economic catastrophe. The Rajasthan biofuel law must be withdrawn immediately. The colonial policy of characterising village commons as “wastelands” must be immediately revised.
3. To protect rural livelihoods and food and energy security of the rural poor, agriculture policy must shift from chemical / industrial / corporate farming to biodiversity ecological farming. The village commons play a vital role in providing inputs to the agrarian economy. Integrated and sustainable sylvi-agri-pastoral systems need to be protected and strengthened to adapt to climate change. Decentralised food and energy systems are vital to enhance climate resilience and reduce climate impact. Land must be used for the food and energy needs of the people, not the fuel demands of industry. The biological produce of commons must first go to meet local needs.
4. Decisions about the use of Village commons should be made by the village community (Gram Sabha). In the Scheduled areas anyways this is a constitutional obligation. Local communities should be given absolute rights over the land use decisions for enhancing their livelihood and ecological security.
5. Instead of displacing tribals by imposing jatropha plantations the government should implement the new law recognizing thew rights of the tribals.
6. Legal action needs to be taken to stop jatropha biopiracy. D1 company should immediately return the stolen germ plasm to India.
Figure 1 : Santhoshi and Dharam singh, bhiaga tribals from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh whose crops have been damaged by the government for planting Jatropha
Figure 2: Grazing land in Jhadol, udaipur , Rajasthan where Jatropha is being planted by the government
« Exxon Suxx. McCain Duxx // Another Bloody Day in Gaza:Death Toll Rises to 101, with Hundreds of Injuries »