The UN’s food and agriculture arm on Monday advocated the use of jatropha for producing bio-diesel and said the crop can help farmers improve their financial condition in dry areas.
“Using the energy crop jatropha for bio-diesel production could benefit poor farmers, particularly in semi-arid and remote areas of developing countries,” said a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Jatropha curcas grows reasonably well in dry areas and also on degraded soil that are marginally suited for agriculture, the report said.
It said jatropha seeds can be processed into bio-diesel, which is less polluting than fossil diesel, and can be used for lighting lamps and as cooking fuel by the poor.
“Particularly small-holder farmers, oil mill out-growers and members of community plantation schemes or workers on private-enterprise can earn an income from jatropha production,” it added.
The report indicated that cultivation of jatropha would be beneficial to women as cooking stoves that run on jatropha oil is healthier and creates less pollution than stoves that run on traditional biomass fuel. In addition it would also save women the need to gather fuel wood.
“The lower use of fuel wood also relieve pressure on forest resources,” it added.
However, the report pointed out that jatropha is still essentially a wild plant and it required investments for developing into a commercial crop.
“Jatropha could eventually evolve into a high-yielding crop and may well be productive on degraded and saline soils in low rainfall areas,” the FAO report said
Unlike other major biofuel crops, such as maize, jatropha is not used for food and it can be grown on marginal and degraded lands where food crops can not grow.
In 2008, jatropha was planted on an estimated 900,000 hectares globally, which includes 760,000 hectares in Asia, 120,000 hectares in Africa and 20,000 hectares in Latin America. By 2015, it is estimated that jatropha will be planted on 12.8 million hectares.