Madagascar: Study on Jatropha exploitation

This study, sponsored by the Faith & Justice Network Africa Europe, was conducted by ‘Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier’ (FIS), a group of people speaking out on land issues, the Arrupe Centre (CSA) and supported by BIMTT. The study deals with a venture by a local subsidiary of Fuelstock International, a British company which invested in the cultivation of 2000 hectares of jatropha, for biofuel, in the villages of Miadanasoa and Manjarisoa. The land was granted to the company by the Malagasy state in the form of a 30-year lease and for a ridiculous price of 6.25 € per hectare per year. The investigators conducted household surveys, interviews with resource persons and so-called ‘focus-group’ interviews in the villages in order to discover what was really being experienced by the people.


This type of investment to developing countries is often presented as an engine for sustainable development. The question is how the Malagasy population that consists mainly farmers or ranchers (80%) can benefit from this investment. On top of that, it would be important to analyze whether such investments have the potential to reduce poverty in the country, because 71% of Madagascar's population lives below the national poverty line[1]. The villages involved in this study have the same demographics as at national level, being primarily farmers and ranchers.


Currently the company operates on 600 of the 2,000ha it has been granted. Apart from some permanent staff, the company mainly hires day labourers whose number varies according to the season and the company's needs. Thus, these workers cannot count on solid job security. Given that agriculture and animal husbandry are the main sources of income for people in the villages surveyed, income derived from working for the company is only additional income, not a job in itself. In addition, the daily pay is below the national poverty line and agricultural minimum wage. The workers receive 1.25€ a day ‘at best’; that is to say, if they manage to achieve the daily work targets which are impossible because the workers are paid pro rata for the work. If we apply the World Bank indicator for "appropriate pay" of $2 a day, we see that the workers of Fuelstock are well below that.


The wages of day labourers do not allow them to meet the food needs of their households. Because of this low pay and delays of at least 15 days in the payment of wages, workers are forced to borrow to meet their daily food needs, often from the Fuelstock grocery which charges higher prices than markets.


In addition, workers are exposed to health risks because they are forced to use toxic insecticides, without any protective equipment. Moreover, there is no insurance for work-related health risks or work accidents.


The investigators conclude that the land rights of the people have not been respected because this land was used for grazing by local communities for the breeding of cattle. There was no prior consultation because the land was considered "unoccupied".  As a result, there are fewer areas for grazing, forcing ranchers to move further afield with their livestock for available land which is becoming increasingly rare.


According to the authors, food insecurity is strongly linked to low income, which is why they recommend that the Fuelstock company give food aid to the company’s entire personnel. Currently this food aid is only allocated to the highest paid members of staff, while vulnerable workers get into debt buying their ordinary daily food. In fact, so far no worker who has been interviewed has been convinced that the presence of the company has made a significant change to the welfare and incomes of households in the villages.

The report authors argue for training for local farmers so that they can earn more from their activities. Farmers should be able to store food for their own consumption and to sell some on local and regional markets in order to have additional and decent earnings.


The study in question reveals that so far the activities of the company Fuelstock have done little to alleviate poverty in the villages. In addition, the company has failed to provide appropriate remuneration nor safe and healthy working conditions for these workers. If they had made these provisions for decent work, the workers would have been able to improve their family income, food security and general well-being.



[1] This figure rises to 92% of the population if one considers the definition used by the World Bank, $1.25 per day. (WB, 2013)


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