Geert Ritsema of Milieudefensie investigated the situation on Java. “Waterland and the Indonesian authorities made lofty promises to poor, uneducated farmers with small plots of land - all they had to do was stop cultivating food crops and start growing inedible jatropha plants. Farmers who weren’t convinced of this scheme risked losing their land, which is usually on loan from the government. In the end, the farmers were paid a mere pittance for their crops, and in many cases, only part of their harvest was actually purchased. These farmers were already poor, but now they are truly paupers, with a supply of plants they cannot use. All of the risks are run by the farmers, but the profits go to Waterland.”
Bio-kerosene is the new buzzword in the aviation sector. “It’s a clean fuel,” states the German airline Lufthansa, which for six months in 2011 operated an Airbus A321 between Frankfurt and Hamburg using a mixture of normal and bio-kerosene. Dozens of tons of jatropha were needed for this purpose, some of which was grown on Java and supplied by Waterland. The Finnish company Neste Oil, which recently built a large refinery in the Maasvlakte region of the Netherlands, refined the bio-kerosene for Lufthansa.
Milieudefensie informed Lufthansa of its findings in Indonesia, and asked the airline to immediately cease operating flights using bio-kerosene made from jatropha, and to compensate the farmers on Java. In addition, KLM was asked to refrain from purchasing bio-kerosene from Waterland. Last year, Waterland CEO William Nolten claimed that the company had contracts with Lufthansa as well as with KLM/Air France and other European airlines.
Milieudefensie has repeatedly pointed out to the airlines that bio-kerosene produced from agricultural crops is not a good alternative to regular kerosene. “We have already observed on a relatively small scale that jatropha cultivation in Indonesia is squeezing out the cultivation of food crops, leading to poverty among the farmers,” explains Geert Ritsema. “If, in the near future, the majority of flights are operated using bio-kerosene, the consequences will be incalculable for people living in southern countries.”
Furthermore, various recent scientific studies have shown that flights operated using bio-kerosene only minimally reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if at all. “This offers no benefit to the environment,” says Ritsema. “It is time for the airlines to acknowledge this and to search for socially and ecologically responsible alternatives for the aviation sector.”
Today, Milieudefensie is sending out an Earth Alarm about this issue. Some 30,000 people will receive a postal or e-mail appeal to write a letter to Lufthansa, requesting that the company completely cease all flights operating on bio-kerosene and compensate the duped farmers.