Jatropha rhetoric for farmers (Bali Post, 13 October 2009)

The latest news on the Jatropha farmers in Nusa Penida, Klungkung, who suffer from continuous sultry weather should receive more appreciation. The cultivation of Jatropha trees (Jatropha curcas) was promoted by the Bali Provincial Government and a number of journalists and technicians were invited to see a Jatropha plantation in Cirebon, West Java, December 2006.

jatropha curcas

It was a hot topic amongst concerns over the supply of refined fuel oil and the ever-diminishing fossil fuel resources. The burning of fossil fuel is considered the trigger of global warming. The topic was especially hot given the International Conference on Climate Change.

The cultivation of Jatropha trees in Nusa Penida was initiated by the State Electricity Company PLN (Bali Division) as a pilot project to produce biofuel with an expected reduced consumption of refined fuel for electricity production for PLN and a number of smaller electricity producing parties, using the most modern techniques. Preparations for Jatropha plantations were done by planting 20,000 Jatropha trees, and the expectations raised by the project attracted national attention. Hence national government involvement. The plantation in Nusa Penida has yielded its first harvest, but the product does not have a market and therefore cannot yet be sold.

Just like other projects with equally grand promises of huge incomes to the farmers, like the cultivation of Elephant ginger, tobacco, aloevera and the promise of agro-tourism, this project seems another ephemeral dream, nothing but rhetoric. It is hoped that this project does not stop because of problems with marketing the seedlings, fertiliser and pesticides where the farmers are cast as the buying party. The farmers should not become the object of the market or of politics, and should be given the freedom to find and develop a suitable market for their products.

So far, all that is happened is that investors have visited Nusa Penida, the land was divided and sold into smaller plots (dikapling) and then the seedlings and the fertiliser were sold. In Gianyar the cultivation of tobacco was promoted to farmers by investors in a big way, but after the harvesting was done, no investor wanted to buy their products as they thought the tobacco seedlings were of inferior quality. Something similar is likely to happen to the Jatropha farmers in Nusa Penida, and the investors are warned to stick to their initial plans. Do not let the young Jatropha seedlings rot away because no market can be found for them.

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