According to a recent United Nations report, jatropha, a wild plant that flourishes in dry areas on degraded lands, can be processed into a bio-fuel that has the potential to be a low cost energy source for poor farmers.
Although more research is needed on the crop, a report compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) states that the seeds of the jatropha plant can be processed into lower-polluting biodiesel than fossil diesel to provide light and cooking fuel for poor rural families.
Moreover, seed cake, a by-product from this process, can be used as fertilizer and even animal feed after detoxification.
Since jatropha is not used for food, like other major biofuel crops such as maize, it can be grown on marginal and degraded lands where food crops cannot, and animals cannot graze on it.
The plant is already being cultivated in countries like Indonesia, Brazil and Ghana and is proving particularly beneficial to women whose workload is reduced because milling machines are powered by engines fuelled with jatropha. Furthermore, replacing traditional biomass cooking fuels with cooking stoves that run on jatropha oil is healthier, smoke free, and prevents family members from having to collect wood.
Authors of the FAO/IFAD report say that, ‘as developing countries face increasing local demand for energy in rural areas, they also must deal with both economic and environmental pressure on agricultural lands in general’. Growing this crop has the potential to enable some smallholder farmers , producers and processors to cope with these pressures.
It would appear that this development could not only help those in dire need. Yet despite the fact that jatropha is essentially a wild plant sorely in need of crop improvement, this discovery also shows that there are indeed other alternatives to fossil fuels that are expensive, finite pollutants – we just need to be savvy and find them!