Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Biofuels and Marginal Lands: An Interdisciplinary Examination of Jatropha Biodiesel Promotion in Tamil Nadu, India
by Baka, Jennifer Elnora, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 188; 3535389
Abstract (Summary)

How do biofuels grown on marginal lands impact energy security and rural livelihoods? This is an important question because recent biofuel policies have advocated growing biofuels on marginal lands to avoid conflicts with food security and land use change. In this dissertation, I examine this question in India because the country was one of the first to mandate the production of biofuels on "wastelands", an official government classification for marginal lands. My main focus is Jatropha curcas (hereafter Jatropha), a non-edible oilseed tree that can allegedly grow on marginal lands and whose seeds can be used to produce biodiesel. India initiated programs to grow Jatropha on 17.4 million hectares of wastelands throughout the country to support its biofuel policy objectives. Weaving together socioecological metabolism theory from industrial ecology and political ecology research on land use politics, I demonstrate how India's biofuel program is reshaping energy landscapes and agrarian livelihoods.

Based on fieldwork in the state of Tamil Nadu, I find that India's wastelands are not exactly marginal. In rural Tamil Nadu, many lands classified by the government as wastelands are currently covered with Prosopis juliflora (hereafter Prosopis), a tree widely used for household and industrial energy production. In Chapter 1 of my dissertation, I assess the relative energy services provided by Jatropha and Prosopis through a comparative material and energy flow (MEFA) analysis in Sattur taluk, Tamil Nadu. Despite the government's promotion of Jatropha as an emerging energy source, I find that Prosopis provides approximately four to 15 times more useful energy to the regional economy than Jatropha biodiesel would. Further, the Prosopis economy has an energy return on investment (EROI) of 103 compared to a range of 1.1 to 10.4 for Jatropha depending on how, if at all, byproducts from biodiesel production are used. Lastly, I also find that the substitution of Jatropha for Prosopis is likely to engender significant livelihood changes due to the low availability of Prosopis substitutes for businesses and households and because of the limited employment opportunities for the landless and marginal poor in the Jatropha economy compared to the Prosopis economy.

In Chapter 2, I also find that the procedure of classifying wastelands is an inherently political process that narrowly defines these territories. These lands are simultaneously biophysical, economic, social and political spaces. Yet current assessment procedures prioritize the biophysical and economic dimensions. This occurs due to the discursive power of the term wasteland, which constructs these spaces as empty, underutilized territories used by equally wasteful persons. Since Colonial times, numerous wasteland development policies have been initiated to improve the productive capacity of wastelands and provide rural development benefits. Through my examination of these policies, I reveal how a similar policy recipe has been used to operationalize the programs. Yet, these policies fail to account for the differing perceptions of wastelands across stakeholders, which may in part explain the negligible rural development benefits resulting from the programs.

Through a micro-level study of a biofuel-related land acquisition in rural Tamil Nadu, India, in Chapter 3, I reveal how state subject relations are shaping modern land deal politics. Through its political construction of the concept of "wasteland" and its associated wasteland development program, the Indian state has facilitated a series of questionable land acquisitions, shaping agrarian livelihoods in the process. A class of land brokers has emerged to help carry out the state's project of converting "wastelands" to more "productive", state-defined uses such as biofuel cultivation or industrial expansion. Those whose lands have been acquired as part of these programs have increased their transition to wage labor, increasing the prolitarianization of agrarian communities. By documenting the mechanics of this "wasteland governmentality", this paper contributes to a political sociology of the state by unpacking the linkages between the state and agrarian subjects in the context of the "global land grab". Understanding these linkages will help enhance portrayals of the state within this literature and help develop more cogent strategies for reducing excessive land appropriations. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bailis, Robert
Commitee: Carpenter, Carol, Cherton, Marian, Sivaramakrishnan, K.
School: Yale University
Department: Forestry and Environmental Studies
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-B 74/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Alternative Energy, Natural Resource Management, Sustainability
Keywords: Biodiesel, Energy security, India, Jatropha curcas, Marginal lands, Rural communities
Publication Number: 3535389
ISBN: 9781267856692
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