Shame on Agritech Faso and industrial promotors of Jatropha
On August 8th the daily paper l’Observateur Paalga, Burkina Faso, published an article on biofuel ”Boni: We have seen agrifuel MADE IN BURKINA flow.” The introduction reads ”The Jatropha agrifuel project in Boni, county of Tuy, turns out a winning bet.” However …
The article continues: ”The first lot collected on Saturday July 3rd 2011 is found to be of very good quality.” That the quality is good I have no reason to doubt. But when I read on (pages 10 and 11) to the comments of the Mayor of Boni ”This is a community project with the full involvement of the population” I told myself: Either the situation has improved since 2007 (see our newsletter Agrifuel, an opportunity or a threat to farmers?), or this is a sales promotion article. It would be worthwhile to go and have a closer look and talk to some of my friends there. They are many, since I spent four years in the village (from 1993 to 1997).
Thus, a few days ago, I was able to stop in Boni for a couple of hours. What I saw and heard is not very glorious. The Jatropha is not the ”miracle plant” said to grow on arid soil. The AGRITECH FASO company has indeed carried out some tests on the not so fertile plains of Boni. But the results are not brilliant (see pictures) in spite of irrigation with a drip system!
On the other hand, in the village I saw a number of fine Jatropha specimen bordering a courtyard, good trees with beautiful nuts, a confirmation of what I expressed on March 21st 2009 : The Jatropha has much in common with a dairy cow. (Growing well, when fed well NdTr).
I did not see ”the full involvement of the population”. Many a person told me that even the Local Council is distancing itself from the Mayor. And it is not a community project, as initially stated, but a project of the Mayor of Boni, Mr Patrick Bondé himself. Worse – farmers already regret having dedicated too much land to the Jatropha project. Some have started uprooting plants, but only partly, for fear of retaliation from the AGRITECH … or even the government.
Boni farmers all possess a few animals and regret that they have given up the hillside range for the Jatropha project. Now they no longer know where to take their cattle to graze.
At times disagreement occurs in families because of this. An elderly man had divided up (assigned, but not given) his land between his sons and then taken back two hectares from the youngest to ”hand them over” to Agritech Faso for money. . Jealousy crept in between the sons … family unity and solidarity tend to disappear.
The journalist again quotes the Mayor of Boni: ”Over a hundred persons get a regular salary, not counting temporary workers who also receive their pay.” If that is the truth, they are indeed lucky. I say this referring to my friend Ambroise, who was hired to manage the tree nursery in 2007 (giving up his market gardening). He worked hard with some degree of success (See pictures), but he was never paid, in spite of my representations to the Mayor of Boni. He therefore went to court in Bobo Dioulasso …
On November 12, 2009, the Bobo-Dioulasso court sentenced the ”Jatropha Project” (previously represented by Mr Yacouba Bondé) to pay a sum of slightly over 1 800 000 francs. But Ambroise still has not been paid, on the covert pretext that the Jatropha Project does not have legal status. Today the case continues its course towards the condemnation of the AGRITECH FASO company. When that happens, we will probably be asked: ”Are you sure that at the time the facts occurred, AGRITECH FASO existed legally ?”
What is certain is that the Mayor of Boni knows the history of the case very well and that he is indeed one of the persons responsible for the injustice, like other promoters of AGRITECH FASO. How can anyone take pride in the ”success” of the project, when from its outset farmers were not paid and when, even after winning a court sentence, they fail to obtain their money?
Shame on the Mayor of Boni! Shame on AGRITECH FASO!
As long as one single farmer remains unpaid, promoters of the Jatropha project should not think of inaugurating their big plant. ”It will be the biggest manufacturer of agrifuel in West Africa” Mr Rouamba happily proclaims upon his return from a prospecting tour in the south west” (L’Observateur Paalga). In its conquest of new land AGRITECH FASO is insatiable. Farmers ought to be beware …
But shame also on the industrial promoters of Jatropha. The case of Boni is indeed patent proof of their hypocrisy, what they stand for and what they say.
Jatropha allegedly is a miraculous plant that grows on poor soils, therefore its cultivation will not compete with subsistence crops. In Boni we already saw that this is not true, even now that the project is only in its early stages. The deputy general manager of AGRITECH FASO, Pascal Rouamba, does not hesitate to declare ,in the same issue of L’Observateur Paalga”! The fear of competition with subsistence crops has no grounds.” (But Boni farmers say they already regret having given up too much land for Jatropha cultivation ….)
To have us believe this lie, they incessantly repeat: Jatropha can be used for hedges! But this the farmers have known for a long time. They did not need AGRITECH FASO to start planting their hedges. However, oddly enough, the Jatropha advocates, speaking of their ambitions, do not express them in terms of ”hedge miles” but in terms of hectares! The BRP company with headquarters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, has set its sights on a production of one million hectares!* (1 hectare = 2 ½ acres NdTr) Expressed in km of hedges that amounts to roughly 160 000 km, or 4 times the circumference of the earth. AGRITECH calculates in hundreds of thousands of hectares! Who still dares confirm that fears of competition with subsistence farming are unjustified? It will not be long before we will have the sad evidence of this: The promotion of industrial production of Jatropha is incompatible with social peace.
I sincerely fear that the first ones to be hit by the Jatropha frenzy will be the pastoralists, who, like the farmers and cattle owners of Boni, no longer know where to find pastures for their animals. We are told that much land remains available, but how come then that pastoralists say they no longer know where to find grazing land for their herds?
Koudougou, September 25th, 2011
Maurice Oudet, Director, SEDLAN