What do the farmers want? A case study on Jatropha farming as a source of livelihoods

Paulina Aldåsen & Cecilie Larsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Biofuels have been widely praised for being a viable solution to the international energy crisis and for mitigating climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, Jatropha Curcas (henceforth Jatropha) has been promoted as a promising feedstock for biofuel. Ghana was forecasted to become one of the largest producers of Jatropha in Africa by 2015 (Brittaine, Lutaladio 2010). However, large-scale Jatropha projects were criticised by local NGOs for issues relating to land grabbing and national food security, and were widely forced to close their businesses. Thus, today principally small-scale, participatory Jatropha projects are present in Ghana, expected to be highly favourable for rural development. However, the impact of this type of project on the local farmers involved in Jatropha farming is scarcely investigated. Therefore, the following research question explored in this thesis is: How can small-scale Jatropha farming contribute to sustainable livelihood improvements of rural farmers in Northern Ghana? In order to tap into this topic we developed an analytical framework building on elements from the sustainable livelihoods approach (SLA) literature and value chain theory. The framework allowed for a ‘multi-level’, holistic livelihoods analysis by combining structural and social perspectives. From the theoretical strand concerned with livelihoods, DFID’s (2001) classical sustainable livelihoods framework was employed as the foundation to be able to analyse the bottom-up perspective on sustainable livelihood improvements in terms of livelihood strategies and trajectories, outcomes and objectives. We concretised the external structures with elements from value chain theory regarding value chain governance, power relations, upgrading possibilities, policies and markets. The analytical framework was employed to analyse the case of a small-scale Jatropha project, located in the West Mamprusi District in Northern Ghana - the Ghaja project. The project was initiated in 2009 with the objective to establish a local Jatropha value chain to improve the livelihoods of local farmers. Through a local, self-sustained market of Jatropha products such as oil, soap, organic fertiliser and briquettes, the project was envisioned to generate sustainable impacts on local livelihoods. However, the market has not yet been properly established due to delays in product development, thus the sustainability of the livelihood improvements is still uncertain. There are multiple different perspectives on how rural farmers’ livelihoods are improved by Jatropha farming. In order to empirically investigate these different narratives, a field trip to Ghana was made to perform interviews with Jatropha experts, NGOs, representatives from governmental institutions and the partners of the Ghaja project. Moreover, interviews and observations of Jatropha farmers in their fields, as well as participatory exercises in farming households were accomplished. The analysis of our data showed that Jatropha cultivation can be a source of livelihood improvements. However, the sustainability of the livelihood improvements is likely to depend on 1) the initial livelihood asset base of each farmer, and 2) the farmers’ individual livelihood trajectories formed and manifested through their lives. Naturally, people tend to follow their old habits and livelihood strategies. Therefore, if Jatropha cultivation does not fit into existing livelihood strategies, the level of engagement will correspondingly be lower, thus the livelihood improvements be fewer. Moreover, it was noted that men have benefitted from Jatropha farming to a higher extent than women, which can be explained by the difference in livelihood trajectories. To sustain livelihood improvements from Jatropha farming farmer interest must be ensured. The livelihood improvements from a Jatropha project are unlikely to be sustainable if the livelihood outcomes are not in line with the farmers’ livelihood objectives. Finally, our research revealed that external structures influence the sustainability of livelihood improvements stemming from Jatropha farming. Value chain types and market structure, and likewise power relations and upgrading possibilities, are of fundamental importance in this relation. As product development is not final and long-term effects are yet unknown, market interest for Jatropha produce is low, thus restraining market development. In addition, fragmented national policies on biofuels and the negative publicity on large-scale biofuel plantations from NGOs have resulted in a trend towards small-scale Jatropha project sites in Ghana. In conclusion, the possibilities for Jatropha farming to be a source of sustainable livelihood improvements for rural farmers are plentiful. Still, farmers’ own livelihood objectives and the external structures are factors that must be taken into consideration when assessing sustainability of livelihood improvements.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages222