• About
  • Forestry Investment
  • World Forestry Update
  • Archives
  • Categories
  • Is jatropha to good to be true?

    2010 - 01.29

    Jatropha has been touted in India as a miracle crop. An eco friendly answer to India’s growing energy needs but is really all it is hyped up to be?

    Jatropha is a wild plant that can flourish in any kind of soil making it ideal for planting in India’s drought prone nation. It produces non-edible oil that once blended with diesel can make a biofuel able to power the country’s cars.

    But new research has indicated that jatropha, which is part of government efforts to cut carbon emissions and combat climate change, yields less than experts had first predicted and is now being grown on fertile farmland. Obviously this is undermining its two biggest selling points.

    “Jatropha is being talked of as a crop that will grow on marginal and uncultivated land, and which will not compete with mainstream cultivation,” said Sharachchandra Lele, a senior fellow at ATREE, an Indian environmental research group promoting sustainable development. “But this is not what is happening in practice. Some state governments are promoting its cultivation on regular agricultural land, where it will displace existing crops, including food crops,” said Lele. “We are basically subsidising the urban elite’s petrol consumption at the cost of rural livelihoods and food production.”

    The Indian government has set a policy that dictates that by 2017 all petrol and diesel fuel must contain 20% of biofuel. To do this the Indian government has aggressively promoted production of the crop, setting its sights on 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of plantations nationwide by next year.

    K.D. Gupta, chairman of the Institute of Applied Systems and Rural Development, one of the staunchest backers of jatropha for biofuel, denied that good agricultural land was being used to cultivate the crop. “Farmers are not going to plant jatropha, because other crops are yielding more returns,” said Gupta.

    Initially two Indian research institutes reported that under irrigated conditions jatropha could yield up to 7.5 tonnes of seeds per hectare, which is three tons per acre. In 2007 another report was conducted by National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oils Development Board (NOVOD) this report predicted that jatropha would produce yields of three to five tonnes per hectare.

    However a recent research conducted by ATREE that under normal conditions the predicted yields were less than one tonne per hectare. The report raised concerns that the jatropha crop could ever yield as much as previous research had suggested.

    Despite this less than favourable outlook the hopes of business keen to promote this plant are not dashed.

    “It all depends on how you manage the crop,” said Subhas Patnaik, chief operating officer of Mission Biofuels, which started cultivating jatropha in 2007 and currently owns around 130,000 hectares in five states. “The whole challenge is how to get better yields from this crop and once you’re able to prove that to the farmer and to everybody then definitely it is going to be a miracle crop,” said Patnaik.

    Already over two million jatropha saplings have been planted in over 1,300 hectares of northern India by the Institute of Applied Systems and Rural Development. Gupta, the institute’s chairman, said that it is too early to judge the crop as it takes years to fully develop and produce desirable results.

    But ATREE’s Lele remains unconvinced. “Neither for energy security nor for mitigating carbon emissions is jatropha cultivation by any means the first option,” he said. “Much more could be achieved through investments in public transport and reductions in private vehicle use.”

    The Timber Investment Blog is sponsored by Greenwood Management. For more information on investing in Forestry please click here

    Your Reply