Jatropha: is it really a crop?

I thought that I’d take a look at Jatropha to see what all the interest from companies like D1 and BP is about. One thing that I’ve been wondering about is how much like a cropping plant, such as apples, wheat, rice or soya is it. One of the characteristics of these plants is that they all more or less produce ripe fruit at the same time as a singular annual event. This has advantages, none of the crops that I’ve mentioned would ever have made them the stars of dining tables across the world.

Jatropha doesn’t do that, according to one US source

Reproduction.—Flowering in India occurs from
February through July (Parrotta 2001). Sometimes
both flowers and fruits will be present at the same
time on plants. Upon drying, the capsule valves
spring open propelling the seeds a few centimeters.
It is not known if there are other seed dispersal
mechanisms. Seeds collected in Puerto Rico
averaged 0.017 + 0.001 g/seed or 59,000 seeds/kg.
The seeds of this collection were highly variable in
weight (C.V.= 53.7 percent) and just 4 percent
germinated. Collecting seed in quantity is difficult
because capsules are mature for only a short period
before discharging their seeds, and there are only a
few capsules per large plant at any time

Now that may not be the most likely variety of Jatropha for biofuels but it points to a plant that will need a lot of harvesting. This doesn’t matter if labour is cheap and working in the fields is what people do, but I think there could be two longer issues

There will be a need to develop varieties that crop at different times of the year or that produce whole trees or groves of jatropha ripening at the same rate. It’s less likely to be a problem now, but finding people to do the work could be difficult if the wealth spreads to the pickers. Rising wealth means higher living standards and that means more demand for manufactured goods. Malayisia’s rubber plantations are a good example of an industry that struggles to find people in the competition with well paying jobs in air conditioned factories.

All surmountable I’m sure. Perhaps some one from BP or D1 oils could let us know how they’re going to get around these problems. It would be interesting.

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11 Responses to Jatropha: is it really a crop?

  1. Mark C R UK 4 July, 2007 at 2:32 pm #

    One of the things I heard (not sure as to the accuracy or if its propaganda)… is that rather than mono-culture – a benefit of Jatropha is that it can be cultivated in mixed fields with Food crops.

    You make some very valid points Si.

    I wonder what BP-D1 crops have to say on the issue?

    I don’t doubt a website will soon be in the offering – much like BP-DuPont’s Biobutanol was produced quickly after the tie in was announced…

  2. matt 4 July, 2007 at 4:49 pm #

    2 words:

    PG Tips

  3. John 5 July, 2007 at 7:01 am #

    It’s a good point about manually intensive labor, but at the same time it is still very feasible. Jatropha has to be handpicked but it allows for intercropping (planting other plants in between jatropha trees). It’s ideal for plants such as tomatoes that need shade and vanilla has been grown on the trunks of the tree. Plus in countries such as Madagascar where there are places with up to 70% unemployment- jatropha is a good new source to plant on land that currently is not suitable for other plants. Plus, after 15 years degraded land is replenished and can be used again for normal cropping.
    If it’s done with a little bit of forethought, jatropha is a very good plant to crop if it’s maintained even with half the decency of other crops. Good Luck in your research.

  4. Biofuelsimon 5 July, 2007 at 10:41 am #

    Guys if two people tell me something independently of each other, then I guess its true. Intercropping makes Jatropha look a lot better as a portfolio crop to me than it did a few hours ago. And John, yes I do like a nice cup of tea of a morning and will be going to make one as soon as I’ve finished this. Jatropha seems to score over tea because tea is pretty much a monoculture… I would still be nice to hear from someone at the firms….

  5. Tomas Ray Harner III 5 July, 2007 at 3:46 pm #

    Intercropping is important with Jatropha…

    Harvesting techniques are being developed…
    One groups says they will use a Olive tree shaker…
    Another says they have developed a Jatropha tree picker…

    A co op venture that allows the locals to share in Jatropha plantation profits is key…

  6. Biofuelsimon 5 July, 2007 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi Thomas, your Jatropha plantation blog looks like it might be worth following, I’ll keep an eye on it for while. Also, cooperative farming has got to be a good way to get cash and a share of the profit/risk more equally spread than the standard owner/worker model. What are the best crops to plant along with Jatropha?

  7. Dr.M.Thavalingam 18 February, 2008 at 3:45 am #

    Dear Sir,
    I am Researcher with Sovereign Innovation, a Company which is promoting Jatropha cultivation in Malaysia. My concern is on harvesting, since its a labour intensive crop, is there any equipment for harvesting, thank you

  8. Jonman 12 August, 2008 at 8:28 pm #

    Are jatopha and jatropha the same plant with different variations of the name? If not, what is the difference between them , and which is the better oil producer? When I Google them, neither one makes reference to the other, which tends to make me believe they are two different plants altogether.


  9. Simon Robinson 18 August, 2008 at 10:56 am #

    Jonman, if you’ve spotted the difference on this blog then its down to sloppy typing, not plant genetics. I’m pretty certain that Jatropha is the correct spelling.

  10. 'Seyi Atinaro 27 October, 2008 at 1:24 pm #

    Will like to know the prunning &Harvesting techniques for Jatropha seeds,if you are planting on a commercial scale.

  11. Simon Robinson 27 October, 2008 at 3:17 pm #

    Hi Seyi Atinaro,

    I found this link about growing and pruning Jatropha http://www.jatrophatech.com/glossary.htm it might help.


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