Final Report: Integrated Carbon Credit Programs: A Biofuels Program in Madagascar that Links the Energy, Land Use and Transportation Sectors

EPA Grant Number: SU833909
Title: Integrated Carbon Credit Programs: A Biofuels Program in Madagascar that Links the Energy, Land Use and Transportation Sectors
Investigators: Savage, Phillip , Currie, William S. , Shatkin, Gavin
Institution: Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP) , UM School of Natural Resources and Environment , University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


These students contributed to this project: Jenn Baka, FES, Yale University; Douglas Kolozsvari, URP, University of Michigan; Melissa Munsell, URP, University of Michigan; William Northrop, Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Michigan; Marion Payet, non-affiliated planning professional; Neha Sami, URP, University of Michigan.

Biofuel programs linking the energy, land use and transport sectors hold significant promise for reducing greenhouse gases, improving public health and benefiting local livelihoods. Although critics have argued that these programs fail to live up to their expectations and could cause greater social or environmental harm, most climate change scientists agree action must be taken because anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) exacerbate global climate change and lead to serious economic, environmental and social harm worldwide. Moreover, some regions of the world will suffer greater hardship than others. The distribution of impacts across different geographic locations and the ability of populations living there to cope with them have parallels in the inequitable distribution of development’s benefits and costs. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular will be placed at considerable risk as it consistently ranks lowest among the world’s regions in terms of development indicators (World Bank 2007).
This project was conceived as an endeavor to develop a replicable approach for securing carbon credits in order to sustain responsible biofuels programs that help rural communities in less developed countries (LDCs). Developed in collaboration with our Malagasy research partner, the USAID funded Ecoregional Initiatives program in Fianarantsoa (ERI), this project examined whether a “multifunctional platform,” using a simple engine running on jatropha oil to power a small electric generator, a rice dehuller and an oil press, can be run sustainably within the context of a rural Malagasy community. We also focused on strategies to expand the use carbon credit mechanisms in Africa by applying our analysis to the circumstances of the Fianarantsoa-Côte Est (FCE) railway transport corridor in Madagascar. This project holds particular significance for the rural populations of LDCs who scientists predict will be hardest hit by global climate change and already teeter on the edge of economic instability, questionable land tenure and food insecurity. In order to answer our questions and better understand the lives and needs of our target population, we visited seven rural villages in southeast Madagascar. The two primary focus villages, Andemaka and Ambohilza, lie along the FCE corridor and have no direct access to regional roadways. Although focusing on Madagascar, our project aims to provide rural populations around the world with more options and choices on how to meet their needs while confronting the root causes of environmental and social catastrophe.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

We used rapid rural appraisal (RRA) techniques to gather information about these communities’ natural environment, histories, social dynamics and previous development interventions. Our researchers focused heavily on local agricultural practices, household needs and their connections to the regional economy. From our fieldwork, we learned that although farmers grow their own food (e.g., rice, cassava, beans), they need income to buy items and services they cannot generate themselves by growing and selling bananas, coffee, and other treebased fruits. Frequent major external events, including economic, political and natural events (i.e., cyclones) mean that these Malagasy are resourceful in shaping and living within their surroundings. They have a strong desire to improve their lives through development, but are also risk adverse given the small gap between a comfortable existence and a desperate one.
The tenuous state of the FCE railway, exacerbated by high fuel costs that prevent necessary maintenance work, has significant implications for the region. Besides supplying Madagascar’s urban areas with food, the FCE is the only source of lighting fuel and other products of primary necessity (PPN) for approximately 100,000 people who lack other forms of regional transportation. In addition, uncertainty over the ability to move local produce to market via the FCE has increased farmers’ incentive to abandon more sustainable tree-based cash crops in favor of slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy) to ensure their immediate food security. This shift in agricultural production, exacerbated by increasing demographic pressures, places this area’s remaining tropical forests in great peril. Degraded soil conditions from tavy also threaten the area’s long-term food security interests, thereby affecting social stability. Given present circumstances, reducing the FCE’s fuel costs appears to be the best option for improving its reliability. Jatropha oil has the potential to lessen the fuel costs of the FCE, which will lower greenhouse gases (GHGs) and provide additional income to farmers in the region.
It would be irresponsible to recommend that farmers in the region grow Jatropha curcas exclusively, due to the lack of a viable market and uncertainty over prices. However, many farmers already practice polycropping and some have even incorporated jatropha into their fields using it to fence off their land or as a tutor plant for vanilla or chili pepper plants. In spite of this, it is clear that they want and likely need additional technical training to design better arrangements and improve yields of all their produce. This will help assure both their food and economic security. In addition, villagers will need to learn how to press and filter jatropha oil that they can use in simple self-made lanterns. Switching from kerosene or other fossil fuels to jatropha not only would lessen GHGs and household costs better spent on education and healthcare, it could also improve indoor air quality by reducing particulate matter.


Our team recognizes that the existing trajectory of the agricultural system needs to be modified in order to avoid ecological, economic and social catastrophe. The initial intervention through a multifunctional platform, although feasible in some locations and circumstances, presents certain potential social and environmental risks if not implemented with greater support and oversight than currently available. Supporting local farmers with technical training on growing jatropha using a polycropping approach would assure their food security and responsibly maximize the use of their land. Technical training and access to a manual press that allows them to expel and use jatropha oil as a lighting fuel could reduce their current household budget. Not only is this intervention feasible, but increasingly necessary given the unreliable state of the FCE.
If the FCE fails, it is clear that the long-term effects for the regional economy, its population and the biodiversity of its forests will be disastrous. It is unclear how the government will support the “unprofitable” FCE in such challenging economic and political times, while the international community seems unwilling to make any additional large investments. Once a stable jatropha market has been established, the FCE could buy excess oil at market prices for use in modified engines, making reduced costs substantial.
Substituting jatropha oil for fossil fuels in homes or on a powerful locomotive leading to a decrease in GHGs will make such activities eligible for earning carbon credits. We recommend pursuing a small-scale, programmatic approach under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) following key steps needed to meet their high standards and to build the capacity of these communities to oversee the funds. This will require technical and financial support, but will ensure that the technical training key to the program’s long-term viability is sustainable.
Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:
Phase II builds on our previous work and seeks to build the foundation for a long-term, sustainable solution for the region’s communities. First, in conjunction with our Malagasy research partners, we will compare the level of particulate matter emitted from burning jatropha to ensure that it represents a safe alternative to other lighting fuels. Second, we will establish a technical training program for farmers who choose to grow jatropha in a polycropped field that also meets their food needs. Third, we will integrate a training program on the use of jatropha oil and provide manual presses so that farmers can produce their own lighting fuel. Fourth, our team will draft a new CDM methodology for switching indoor lighting fuels and submit a project development document for the region so that these communities can earn carbon credits for their efforts. Finally, our team will work with FCE staff to identify foreign aid grant applications that will pay for retrofitting the rolling stock’s engines to make them compatible with biofuels.
In an area where the livelihoods of people, the future of their communities and the state of the ecosystem are so visibly intertwined, our recommended interventions lay out a viable, responsible path while there is still time to avert a looming disaster.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

biofuels, climate change, greenhouse gases, indoor air quality, Jatropha curcas, Madagascar, multiplatform press, oil press, polycropping, railway, rice dehulling, sustainable development, sustainable agriculture, transportation, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Urban and Regional Planning, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, alternative materials, biomass, energy efficiency, energy technology, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, carbon credits, alternative energy source

Relevant Websites: