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March 19, 2012

Jatropha boom produces more losers than winners

Jatropha was supposed to be the great new 'green gold,' but over the last few years many projects based on its cultivation for oil have gone bust.

In Africa, much publicized projects that have failed for one reason or another include those by British, Dutch and Swedish investors in Mozambique and Tanzania. Plans for expansion of cultivation projects in China and India have been scaled back.

A tough crop that can grow on land of marginal fertility with relatively little water, this was touted as an example of how this biofuel crop was politically correct since it would not compete with food crops. But it is now broadly accepted that while jatropha may survive under such conditions, it will not strive commercially under them. Like almost every other cash crop, it needs fertile soil and sufficient water to produce maximum yields.

Despite the disappointments and the many failures, interest in jatropha's potential continues among some investors, who are convinced it is a matter of finding the right cultivation/business model. There also seems to be a building up of the view that it may not be as viable a crop for small scale farmers to cultivate as once thought, and that only some plantation projects in certain parts of the world will be commercially successful.

More...Bloomberg Businessweek

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