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Socioecological Fixing and Financialization: A Critique of Jatropha Biofuels

Authors: Jennifer Baka*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Energy
Keywords: biofuels, financialization, socioecological fix
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper critically reflects on the rise, fall and possible return of Jatropha curcas biofuels. Through document analysis and interviews with government, international development, NGO and industry stakeholders, I unpack how an exotic tree with no commercially available varieties garnered enough international attention to be billed as a “win-win” solution for a sustainable transportation fuel transition. Based on a preliminary analysis, a key theme from these documents and interviews is that promoters of Jatropha, which included a network of developed and developing countries, international development agencies and venture capitalists, failed to recognize that Jatropha was an agricultural crop. Financial analyses of Jatropha, which also failed to consider Jatropha as an agricultural crop, yielded unrealistic expectations of Jatropha’s potential returns. Drawing on concepts of socioecological fixes and financialization, I reflect on how Jatropha came to represent more than a typical agricultural investment and what such oversights mean both for communities entangled with bioenergy promotion and for advocates of renewable energy more broadly. These insights are particularly salient as Jatropha promoters are currently reassembling in order to develop varieties are more readily suited for the (re-)emerging bioeconomy, which seeks to engender a large-scale transition to bioenergy in a myriad of forms.

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