New FoE report on jatropha cultivation for aviation biokerosene in Java

A new report by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, and Friends of the Earth Indonesia investigates the situation in Java, where jatropha and other crops are being grown to produce biokerosene for Lufthansa’s “Burn Fair” programme.  The report finds that Javanese farmers and workers have converted some of their land from food to fuel crops, in return for ridiculously low payments. They have had a fall in income, conflict and frustration. Indonesian farmers feel the lifeblood of Indonesia will be tapped for the benefit of wealthier people in Europe and elsewhere. Biofuel crops are putting pressure on land for food. The report says this growing of biofuels for aviation fuel is putting a double pressure on the poor in the global south: both in climate change and food prices.




Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) and Walhi (Friends of
the Earth Indonesia) have just published a new report:

“Biokerosene: Take-off in the wrong direction”

Trends and consequences of the rapid development of aviation biofuels, as shown by the impacts of jatropha cultivation on local people in Central Java

Report at:


by Berry Nahdian Forqan, Executive Director of Walhi:

In January 2012, Lufthansa said they were very satisfied with their six-month trial of biokerosene, `Burn Fair’, which had gone smoothly.

The use of biokerosene made from jatropha and other oils was celebrated as a technical and environmental success  .Not a single word was said about the Javanese farmers and workers, who have converted some of their land from food to fuel crops, in return for ridiculously low payments.

For them, the introduction of jatropha has led to a fall in income, conflict and frustration.

As Lufthansa calls for biokerosene production to be expanded to a commercial scale, it looks once again as though the lifeblood of Indonesia will be tapped for the benefit of wealthier people in Europe and elsewhere.

Faced with rising fuel prices and the changing climate, the aviation industry is looking for a license to grow. They claim that in future large quantities of biofuels will be able to replace kerosene from fossil fuel. They claim that flying on biofuels will substantially reduce emissions. Plans have been drawn up to switch from fossil kerosene to biokerosene, while continuing to increase levels of air traffic.

But the idea that using biofuels for aviation on a large scale can be green is a dangerous myth: Growing crops for biofuels such as biokerosene needs land and this comes at the cost of food production.

Like fossil fuel, biokerosene emits high levels of greenhouse gases, particularly during flight at high altitudes. Pushing the use of biofuels will make the global food and climate crises worse. The only solution to the problem is to reduce air traffic, foremost in Europe.

This might not be a welcome message for the aviation industry or for frequent fliers, but it is a blessing for poorer people in the South who suffer twice: from the effects of climate change and from the loss of valuable land which is used to grow fuel instead of food.

We hope that this report will inspire policy makers, business people and consumers alike to look for sustainable alternatives to air travel and – by cutting the amount of miles they spend up in the air – to contribute to a world that is both more just and sustainable.


Conclusion and Recommendations:

Jatropha is not the answer for the growing demand for aviation fuel

Clearly, the jatropha “money trees” have not made the farmers in Grobogan rich. On the contrary, our research in the field showed that growing jatropha in Grobogan threatens food security as jatropha is replacing food crops, in particular corn. Furthermore:

• Growing jatropha does not benefit farmers and can lead to economic losses, compared to food crops.

• The failure of jatropha is triggering conflicts within communities, e.g. of angry farmers against cooporation leaders who have promoted jatropha on behalf of Waterland.

• It is difficult for the farmers to refuse to grow jatropha on land that is owned by the State Forest Company. As a result they have to forego growing other, more profitable food crops on this land, which they had previously been able to use.

•  The effects of jatropha are particularly affecting women

If the aviation sector’s plans for biofuels go ahead, replacing all aviation fuel with biofuels by 2050, would take as much land as 378 million hectare (see graphic, page 11). At the same time in this scenario greenhouse gas emissions from aviation biofuels will grow massively. Companies and governments should stop hiding behind false solutions and start taking measures to reduce the staggering growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry.

Corporate Responsibility

European airlines and their passengers should ask themselves how ethical it is to have farmers work for 68 cent per day to enable cheap flights between European cities. This question is particularly relevant for Lufthansa, given that it has already used Waterland’s jatropha oil for flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg. A farmer in Java needs to pick seeds for 18 days in order to enable one person to fly from Frankfurt to Hamburg, a route that can be travelled by train in 3.5 hours. Yet it seems that Lufthansa and the other airlines are not open to the serious downsides of aviation biofuels. On the contrary, they claim that tests using aviation biofuels have been hugely successful and that they want to increase the use of these harmful fuels.

Friends of the Earth is urging airlines to:

•  be completely transparent about the origin of their products.

•  abstain from using jetfuel that has been produced while, directly or indirectly, damaging food security, the climate or biodiversity. In practice this means they should not use crop based fuels, such as palm oil and jatropha oil.

•  withdraw their biofuels targets and replace them with emissions reductions targets based on actual reductions in emissions.


Governments responsibility


European politicians will have to face the question as to whether they really want a future in which their citizens’ flights are contributing to increased
demand for land and rising food prices. If they do not, they should consider replacing as much European air traffic as possible with sustainable alternatives and make aviation less attractive. Air traffic is a notorious climate killer and the possibilities to cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing air traffic are enormous. For example, they can:

•  eliminate inefficient and unnecessary shorthaul flights and replace them with smarter transport alternatives, such as high-speed trains which generate roughly a quarter of CO2 emissions compared to planes (see graphic, page 25) This will provide plenty of opportunities to achieve considerable cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. For example, forty percent of all air traffic from and to Amsterdam- Schiphol airport flies within a
range of 1000 kilometers.

• In order to discourage flights, European policy-makers should end the unjustifiable privileges enjoyed by the aviation industry and make sure kerosene and air travel are no longer exempt from tax.

Measures they should take include:
• abolishing the “zero emission factor” for kerosene made from biomass under the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) and incorporate all the climate impacts from planes in the ETS.

• charge VAT on air tickets and fuel duty on jetfuel, as on other products. Revenues raised by abolishing these tax exemptions could be used to make Europe more energy efficient, for example by insulating affordable homes or by supporting a better and more affordable railway system

• Remove subsidies for the development of biokerosene

In short: the EU should bring its policies on aviation in line with its ambitions to tackle climate change and end world hunger.


The Indonesian authorities should:

• avoid promoting or imposing commodities which threaten local farmers’ income, food production and community cohesion

• thoroughly evaluate failed national and local jatropha programmes in an open, comprehensive and inclusive manner and readjust plans, employing the precautionary principle

• prioritise the food, land and energy demands of the local rural population over export-oriented activities, especially when allocating land-use rights on state land.