Biofuels represent the triumph of hope over experience. Faith alone seems to be the driving force behind increasing production.
In rich countries, drivers hope that biofuels will ease their guilt over driving and maybe even flying. Governments hope that biofuels will help them meet targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without increasing hunger. Unfortunately, they are wrong on both counts. Biofuel production has already made millions more people hungry and scientific evidence that biofuel use can’t help stop climate change increases every day.
Biofuel myths are just as pervasive here in India. I’ve met farmers, business people and even government officials whose hopes for biofuels aren’t matched by reality. One businessman has invested tens of thousands of rupees in growing jatropha, a biofuel plant. In return, his income has been only 3,000 rupees. Despite this massive loss, he would try again.
Why is he so convinced? He has seen some extremely high income projections for jatropha based on completely unrealistic yield assumptions. More worrying are the farmers giving over vital land to jatropha. I’ve met people who have to spend more money to buy the rice or vegetables their family need to survive because they are growing jatropha. These people can’t afford expensive mistakes. So far, none of them have seen the kind of income they have been promised. Most have had no income from jatropha at all. But the myths surrounding the plant are so strong that some are willing to keep trying.
I’m here to do research about jatropha, but hearing from these farmers is making me want to take action. I’m looking for ways that ActionAid can help by spreading accurate information about biofuels to farmers in India. When I come back, I’ll be helping plan ways to bust the biofuels myths in the UK too. Watch this space!