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

Margaret Skutsch, Emilio de los Rios, Silvia Solis, Enrique Riegelhaupt, Daniel Hinojosa, Sonya Gerfert, Yan Gao, Omar Masera

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    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number11
    JournalEcology and society
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Biodiesel
    • Carbon balance
    • Estates
    • Smallholders
    • Sustainability


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