Over the last few years, Hivos has engaged in various pilot biofuel programmes, mostly involving Jatropha curcas. These programmes have the intention to provide additional cash income for the farmers who grow the crops and may have additional features, such as adapting engines, converting the pure plant oil into bio-diesel, or even wider goals such as providing the community with renewable energy or dynamising the local economy.
Biofuels have been widely criticised for several reasons, such as displacing food crops and thus reducing food security and possibly food sovereignty, land grabbing, causing large-scale deforestation or clearing of natural vegetation, pushing small-scale farmers into exploitative labour relations or contract farming with large companies, etcetera. Being aware of these criticisms, Hivos established criteria to be fulfilled before engaging in biofuel projects. It also decided that no new pilots would be started before having more insights in the outcome of these pilots. In order to assess its first experiences with biofuels, Hivos conducted a meta-evaluation of all its six biofuel programmes. This study examined if the introduction and processing of biofuel crops have brought the farmers the expected additional income and contributed to the local economy, or that – on the other hand – the introduction of these crops has resulted in negative unintended consequences whereby communities are actually worse off than before.
On Wednesday, October 3, 2012, Hivos organised an expert meeting to present the findings of the meta-evaluation of the Hivos projects, to discuss the preliminary conclusions of the publication and to stimulate exchange and discussion between all types of public and private actors involved in the Jatropha and/or biofuel sector. It brought together development workers, NGOs, academics, business, politicians and consultants working and interested in this field and aimed to generate a substantiated perspective on the way forward. Does Jatropha production by small-scale farmers have sufficient potential for benefits to justify its promotion? If yes, how can we make that happen and in which way can we maximise the benefits for small-scale farmers?