Increasing consensus about the end of cheap oil, the consequences of global warming and the need for rural development are catalyzing the expansion of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. While most nations are promoting the expansion of conventional crops, India's strategy for biofuels is to promote Jatropha curcas, a drought-tolerant, perennial crop with little prior commercial track record. The aim of this paper is three-fold. (1) To compare the characteristics of various crops with their potential as biofuels in order to assess the relative advantages and disadvantages of Jatropha curcas. (2) To analyze the implications of current biofuel policies for food supply, agricultural water demand and the rural poor. (3) To highlight briefly some alternative strategies that can overcome drawbacks in the current strategy. One conclusion is that although Jatropha curcas has a low water requirement, which is an important benefit, it has several other disadvantages. Another recommendation that emerges from this paper is that biofuel policies should also focus on short-duration, multi-purpose and proven drought-tolerant crops like sweet sorghum that can be adopted by small landholders while wasteland rehabilitation policies should focus on broader array of options, which can provide greater direct benefits to the rural poor.
Research Article|March 01 2008