Nelly Bassily | August 25, 2008
After hearing about jatropha from biofuel companies and a traditional chief, Burkinabe farmers decided to give it a try this season. Jatropha is a plant used to produce biodiesel. But the farmers say it won’t take priority over their cereal crops. Also, they want to see the jatropha processed and used locally, not exported as cotton is.
In the Nayala province of northwestern Burkina Faso, the production of jatropha is well underway. The plant is growing on 200 hectares of land this year and is expected to grow on10,000 hectares by 2010.
Aimé Charles Ki is president of a farmers’ group known as La Fédération des Groupements de Producteurs de Nayala. He says biofuels present an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. In order to learn the best practices for growing jatropha, his organization undertook a study tour to Mali this past February. Malian farmers have been experimenting with jatropha production for some 15 years. Upon their return, the Burkinabe farmers decided to follow the Malian model of processing jatropha locally and using the biodiesel for local needs – particularly to fuel tractors and mills.
Jatropha has given rise to hope in the Nayala region and beyond. Marie Thérèse Toé is president of a women’s organization that fights poverty, known as “Claire Amitié” or “Bright Friendship.” She sees jatropha as an important supplemental source of income. Léon Moussiané farms in the town of Toma in Nayala province. He has a grander vision. Mr. Moussiané is convinced that biofuels represent the fastest route towards rural development.
However, development won’t happen at any cost. The farmers refuse to hand jatropha processing over to industry, as Western firms are encouraging them to do. Mr. Ki says that the farmers’ priority is food security, so cereal production remains their focus. Instead of devoting entire plantations to jatropha, farmers use the tall plants to mark the boundaries of their fields. Jatropha is also planted within fields to separate different crop varieties.
Burkina Faso’s farmers also refuse to export raw jatropha seeds to be processed for biodiesel. They want to avoid the type of misadventure they experienced with cotton. They say the exportation of raw materials does not promote local development. Instead, farmers lose their bargaining power and have no control over the selling price.
To boost local development, the farmers’ federation has a simple plan – to install a local processing plant. The plant would be managed by three groups of stakeholders. The first group is farmers, who will provide the basic materials. The second group will bring capital and the third group, technology. This new type of business arrangement is Mr. Ki’s dream, and would be at the centre of the jatropha industry. In anticipation of this stakeholder-run company, Burkinabe farmers are experimenting with jatropha this year. But until this structure is in place, they don’t believe the jatropha industry is a viable choice for their community.