Socio-cultural barriers to Jatropha use in Mali

Previous projects focusing on energy uses of Jatropha met with some difficulties regarding socio-cultural barriers. The project was designed to focus on use of Jatropha seed from living hedge around gardens. Initially (and traditionally), women were allowed to collect jatropha seeds from these hedges and use them for artisanal soap production. This was a usefule income generating activity, but generally limited in magnitude, just providing modest gains. The owners of the gardens (generally men in Mali) were happy for the women to use the seed thus. However, with the arrival of a project, the men increasingly saw that the jatropha seed had real value as a product, and they wanted to have payment for the seed taken from their land. This created a conflict which caused problems in supply of the seed. This was also a result of a top down approach, where the village population were not involved in project initiation.

Women and girls collect seed from a Jatropha living hedge in Mali. Traditionally this was a group activity. Click on images for higher resolution.

This problem can, however, be overcome by taking a different approach. MFC takes a participative approach, often in villages at risk from desertification, with men as well as women, to discuss and clarify roles as early as possible. Jatropha is a highly adaptable plant and can survive on relatively poor land (even quite sandy land) which is not used for crops or gardening. This land can be used by women (or men) with permission, for planting jatropha. MFC generally does a lot of Information-Education-Sensitisation work to build a concensus in a village before commencing a Jatropha project. This involves explaining in detail the benefits of the Jatropha plant, both environmental and economic, and encouraging local people to plant Jatropha to combat deforestation & desertification, and to allow initiation of new income generating activities. Generally local populations have been very receptive to the idea. The disadvantage of course is that it requires some investment of time. Women's associations can also request to use land in or around the village for Jatropha production.

This means that these socio-cultural barriers need not stop plantation or use of Jatropha in Mali, it is just a question of having an approach that is well-adapted to local conditions, and has an understanding of and works with local customs. After analysis of previous actions on Jatropha in Mali and other countries, MFC has developed an approach that is appropriate and cuturally sensitive. MFC has worked in a number of villages over the last 5 years and has succeeded in planting over 50 hectares, mainly managed by women. This investment in planting will pay off for the villages when the seed is produced (2 years after planting) and they start to use the Jatropha for income generating activities, like running a Jatropha energy platform, producing soap or organic fertiliser, or selling seed or oil as a cash crop. Jatropha has the potential to bring real sustainable economic benefits to rural populations in the whole of West Africa. MFC is committed to a wide-scale adoption of Jatropha technology to meet the needs for modern energy services, and foster economic development.

A Jatropha plantation in its early stages (left); another plantation after 1 year (centre); seeds collected from a plantation after 3 years (right). Click on images for higher resolution.