Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sirona Fuels Partnership

Posted on www.sironacaresblog.com 4/6/2009:
Things move very quickly with Sirona and last month we had a noteworthy meeting that is only now making it into my blog. We met with Adarsha Shivakumar, Apoorva Rangan and Callie Roberts of Project Jatropha. Although the three members are very young, all students at the College Preparatory School in Oakland, they have accomplished much of what we are attempting to do in Haiti. It was a fantastic opportunity to collaborate and exchange knowledge on farming in developing countries.

In an effort to save the environment and alleviate rural poverty in southern India, Project Jatropha has presented farming jatropha as a desirable substitute for tobacco farming to farmers in southern India. The process of drying tobacco leaves destroys the environment by causing massive deforestation. Project Jatropha traveled to India and forged relationships between Parivarthana, an NGO involved in rural poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and sustainable rural development and Labland Biotechs, a biotech lab that produces highest quality jatropha seeds and seedlings. This collaboration has already led to the planting of jatropha and the beginnings of change for this community. In addition, Project Jatropha works with high school students in India to raise awareness of what Jatropha can do for a community that needs to wean itself from tobacco farming.

Sirona is happy to collaborate with Project Jatropha. We will partner with them and assist them in any way possible, and we have already received valuable information for our farmers in Haiti through their connections in India. In August we plan to travel to India together to see how far our collaboration can take us.

Michelle Lacourciere
Director, Sirona Cares


  1. I'm curious about a few things;
    First, what indications have you found that rural farmers are displeased with their current occupations as tobacco farmers?

    Deforestation for the sake of tobacco growth, while tragic, has been the sole provider of economic stimulus in the region and considering your project provides no coherent timetable or transition period, a sudden swith to jatropha crop could cripple the financial stability of the area.

    Further, how has the tobacco economy contributed to "poverty and [un]sustainable rural development?" There are a nearly infinite amount of alternate causalities in southern India to poverty and blocks on economic development, even disregarding the bureaucratic government.

    Hope to hear an answer from the "Supreme Overlord" soon.

  2. I am a native of rural south India. I have spent 23 years of my life in Malavalli before I came to USA 10 years ago. I belong to a small tobacco growing community. With that background, I can throw in my two cents. The farmers spend almost all of the money they earn from tobacco cultivation on buying firewood for curing tobacco. It is like a vicious cycle.The Indian government has issued an ultimatum to farmers that they need to cut down tobacco cultivation by at least 50% by 2020. The Farmers have no other choice. Bureaucracy is not a problem that is specific to India. It is every where which caused the economic meltdown globally.
    It will be interesting to know how this project can convince the farmers to move away from tobacco. I will look forward to the answer from Project Jatropha as well with additional information.

    April 12, 2009 12:50 PM

  3. The dialogues between Fenster and Subbana are very insightful:

    Indeed, quite a few rural farmers are pleased the monetary prospects of growing tobacco ,as the economies of scale are better .However ,the same dynamics of tobacco cultivation on a large scale do not necessarily hold true on a smaller scale, as might have been the experience of Subbanna. Nevertheless, the pressure to decrease the acreage in tobacco and wean the farmers off the crop is increasing. the Indian government recently signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This mandates that India cuts its tobacco cultivation and export amount by at least 50% by 2020. While the Indian government has promised monetary benefits to the farmers when they give up tobacco, it isn’t nearly enough to sustain the farmers for a long period of time. The Indian government is also not providing any alternative cash crop for the farmers, so a major source of their income would be deprived if they don’t have a backup crop.

    Project Jatropha is not intended to be a complete blueprint for transition of a tobacco based economy to a Jatropha based one. As we have said in our mission statement, we are just the facilitators and catalysts in that we are promoting this pilot project. If the small farmers find this an economically attractive proposition, they will pursue Jatropha cultivation, and the transition from tobacco based economy to a Jatropha based one will gain momentum. We anticipate that such changes are likely to be evolutionary ones, rather than dramatic shifts. If the farmers do not see a economic case for cultivating jatropha, no matter how well meaning our goals are, Project Jatropha may not succeed. We advocate growing Jatropha curcas as a hedge crop or in intercropping with the farmers’ regular food crops. This does not replace the tobacco and merely would supplement the farmer’s income. However, the farmers would have a profitable crop to turn to when the time would come to stop growing tobacco. In addition, all the plants in our project are being planted on the farmers’ wasteland-it is land that they have not used for growing any sort of crop due to its low productivity.

    We cannot really say that tobacco has directly contributed to the poverty as quite a few farmers find it attractive economically. However, Subbanna’s experience with tobacco farming illustrates one of the problems with tobacco cultivation. In addition, tobacco is not a perennial crop-rather, it lasts for 3 months and new seeds have to be planted each time a new crop is wanted. In addition, tobacco requires extensive fertilizers to be sold at a profitable price. These factors inhibit the already destitute farmers from raising themselves up the economic ladder. Tobacco cultivation does add to the destruction of the local trees and forests, even if it is not the sole reason for it. The role of bureaucracy can be debated endlessly. But we feel, it effects on jatropha will not be materially different from its effects on tobacco based economy.

  4. Supreme Overlord,

    You have given a very thoughtful insight yourself. You are a very knowledgeable young adult indeed. You are absolutely right about the tobacco farming. In future, try not to limit the options to intercrop and hedge. Try to convince them to use it as a regular crop. It may be much easier after two years, once you get the first round of seeds.
    With my experience with farmers, let me give you a few tips. You seem to think that farmers are innocent and can be easily cheated. That is not the case. Though they might lack education their survival skills are sharp. Many of them are just plain lazy. Trust me, especially farmers from Karnataka. They want short cuts for every thing.
    I hope you have team members in India who can keep an eye on the project. They need constant reinforcement. I think you have done a very good thing by choosing Parivarthana as a collaborator.
    Hats of to your team though. I am so proud of you. WE, first generation NRIs who come from farmer families always think and talk of helping the farmers back home. But we can't get into that because of so many obligations. We just get lost in our own family problems. It will be too late by the time we realize. It is very impressive that the project Jatropha team opted this project to help their country of origin. May be you should encourage other Indian American students to get involved. Write up an article in Indian news papers.
    As an end note, even if you are successful in helping 10 farmer families, then you guys should be very proud of your accomplishment.
    Just out of curiosity, what is Supreme Overlord?? Well, the name does fit your action. I will be in tune with your project. I may even visit the project site when I visit India. Malavalli is not that far.

  5. Thanks very much Mr. Subbanna for your kind and encouraging words. I will keep your advice in mind when I deal with the farmers. TheParivarthana staff is our back bone; without them, daily operations of Project Jatropha become very hard. You are welcome to visit our project site. Please let me know ahead of time so that I can make arrangements.

    One clarification though. Not all team members and advisors are from India. We welcome all environmental enthusiasts to help us out in any way they can. As mentioned in our web site, though carbon dioxide emissions are local their effects are global. We strongly believe that we need a global approach. Thank you for your continued support for our project. As always your suggestions are welcome.

    Oh, and Supreme Overlord was chosen as I am the Supreme Overlord of this blog. That's it.

    Supreme Overlord

  6. "Supreme Overlord" is a childish name that reflects the immaturity of this project. After my daughter pointed me to this page, I did some more research into the details of 'Project Jatropha,' and I've found some disturbing things; the potential damage to farming populations, and legal issues regarding a certain international statute, among others. I will be writing an article for The Atlantic regarding the project- If I could be given contact information for its organizers, it would be much appreciated.

    - Richard Florida (betasale1@gmail.com)

  7. Regarding Mr Richard Florida's response:

    I have been following this project over the last several months . I am attorney myself who specializes in energy issues, especially biofuels and their international legal implications. I must say that I have been impressed with the passion,knowledge and dedication of the project Jatropha team . For a group of high school kids ,their chievements are very commnendable .

    Obviously ,Mr Richard Florida has no clue about what he is talking ,when he mentions " legal issues " . Indeed Mr Richard Florida's response is very puerile and does not merit any discussion .

    John Silva,.Esq.

  8. While we do welcome constructive criticism, from all quarters, I strongly disagree that my screen name reflects anything about our project. I am the founder of Project Jatropha. This is my idea. We have three members in our management team and I am the leader. So, feel free to address any of your concerns to me directly. You have stated that our project is immature. We would like to know on what basis you came to that conclusion. After we came up with the idea, we have done extensive research on the feasibility of the project and the logistics of operation. We have formed an advisory committee consisting of plant pathologists, scientists, farmer leaders, management experts, social and environmental activists, attorneys, and teachers from both USA and India. We have the list on our web site. We also have all the details of what has been accomplished so far. After coming up with the plan, before the execution of each step, we run it by the advisory committee to get their input. So, we are very interested in knowing the details about "some disturbing things" that you found in our project so that can incorporate the constructive suggestions. What potential damage to farming population are you referring to? We also want to address the issue of the International Statute that we might have missed. We eagerly look forward to your response with your concerns. I will answer any question that you might have for your article in The Atlantic.

    -Supreme Overlord

  9. I had completely forgotten about this project until my daughter raised the issue with me last night. I'm still interested in investigating the project, but obviously I do not want to initiate dialogue on a public "blog." I would be happy to conduct an interview over email- Could the "Supreme Overlord" please provide me with his email address or the email addresses of the other organizers of Project Jatropha?

    Thank you,
    Richard Florida

  10. "Supreme Overlord"!!
    I really get a kick out of that name. I was busy in a conference in MD and could not look into your blog for a couple of weeks. My My! when I revisited the blog I saw the interesting developments! I was waiting to read about the possible problems that the project could face!!
    I also looked at the recent issues of Atlantic to read the article about your project.

    As a native of rual India, I am very interested in your project not to mention a strong supporter. I have read your project details from your presskit.Though I totally agree with Mr.Silva,please continue your conversation and discussion on this blog. I would love to read the interview. I did read about the article that Indian Government is promoting Jatropha cultivation. That is a wonderful news for every one who cares about the environment and the future of the poor farmers.
    We would love to get more insight into the possible problems that Mr. Richards is referring to. Let this be an open discussion. More over, an article about the project in Atlantic will bring in publicity too!
    When will you attain a non profit status? Once you get it, please announce it in the blog so that interested NRIs may contribute. Hats off to officials of Sirona Fuels for believing in your project. I will be visiting Malavalli in late august. I look forward to meeting you guys. May be I can arrange a talk in the local town hall. Keep me posted. Let the discussion begin on this blog!

  11. Mr. Richards:

    As I had mentioned in my earlier reply, all the details are given in our web sites: www.projectjatropha.com and http://projectjatropha.presskit247.com/index.asp

    If you want to learn more about the project, I again suggest you to visit our web sites. If you have specific questions I will answer them here on the blog. I earnestly believe that it serves the other followers of this blog best if our discussions are posted on this blog in a transparent fashion rather than through private e-mails that cannot be accessed by others.

    -Adarsha Shivakumar