Jatropha is emerging as an important biofuel crop throughout developing countries in the tropics. Initially lauded as an environmentally-benign ‘wonder crop’ suitable for arid wasteland cultivation that would avoid competition with scarce livelihood resources, it has recently begun to attract mounting criticisms related to competition with food production, biodiversity impacts, insecurity of land access by local populations, exploitative employment conditions, and disappointing effects on greenhouse gas emission reduction. In this paper we analyse the nature of the local developments that have given rise to these criticisms, and the underlying innovation processes and global forces that are driving the sector in the direction of these contested outcomes. We focus on Tanzania, an important forerunner in Jatropha biofuels production whose experiences have informed the international biofuel debate more broadly. Two surveys among biofuel actors in Tanzania held in 2005 and 2008/9 are the primary data sources. An extended innovation systems perspective is adopted, which is instrumental in studying patterns of global and local institutional embeddedness from a long-term perspective. These patterns are found to be key drivers behind the emergence and evolution of three distinct organizational models in the sector: local energy production and use for rural communities; decentralised subcontracting for centralised oil processors; and large centralised plantations. Socio-economic interactions in these models seem to be regulated by institutions put in place by colonial and early post-colonial governance of agri-commodity production and exchange. Each is also closely associated with different social (network) relations, organizational choices, economic viability, and environmental sustainability effects.
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