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Jatropha in Mexico: Environmental and Social Impacts of an Incipient Biofuel Program

Margaret Skutsch, Centro de Investigaciones en Geografia Ambiental, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Emilio de los Rios, REMBIO, Mexico
Silvia Solis, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Enrique Riegelhaupt, REMBIO, Mexico
Daniel Hinojosa, Centro de Investigaciones en Geografia Ambiental, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Sonya Gerfert, University of Twente, the Netherlands
Yan Gao, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Omar Masera, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04448-160411

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Abstract

Three case studies from Mexico are presented in which the impacts of the recent introduction of jatropha cultivation for biodiesel production are examined. In Chiapas and Michoacan, local social and environmental impacts were assessed using interviews with key informants and questionnaires directed at three groups of stakeholders: jatropha cultivators, farmers in the same areas who are not cultivating jatropha, and laborers on jatropha farms. Results show that the farmers are primarily motivated to participate by the subsidies offered in a government program in the first 2 years, rather than any proven economic benefit. Our farm budget study indicated that profits would be marginal for these farmers. However, no cases of land alienation were involved, and impacts on food security and deforestation are currently not significant. Employment opportunities for landless laborers have increased in areas where jatropha is now grown. The program is only in its third year currently, so these outcomes would need to be reexamined as it develops. In Yucatan, production is mainly in the hands of commercial companies, using estates formerly under low-intensity grazing and secondary forest. A carbon balance analysis indicated that there may be a significant loss of carbon stocks associated with jatropha plantation establishment on these estates. Depending on the maturity of the forest regrowth and the intensity of jatropha production, the carbon payback period varies from 2 to 14 years, although, in some scenarios, the carbon debt may never be recovered.

Key words

biodiesel; carbon balance; estates; smallholders; sustainability
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087