JATROPHA: WHAT THE PUBLIC SHOULD KNOW InquirerFirst Posted 22:47:00 09/08/2007Filed Under: Agriculture,Environmental Issues,Alternative energy GOVERNMENT IS AGGRESSIVELY PUSHING FOR THE CULTIVATION OF Jatropha curcas (tuba-tuba) as a source of renewable fuel. Goldman Sachs recently cited jatropha as one of the best candidatesfor future biodiesel production. The plant, which produces golf-ball-size fruits that contain oil, can begrown in any kind of soil. And it doesn?t need much water and fertilizer.Leading the campaign for the propagation of jatropha in the country is Philippine National Oil Co.- Alternative Fuels Corp. (PNOC-AFC).The corporation has tied up with the military to set up a 500-hectare nursery in Fort Magsaysay, NuevaEcija. In Mindanao, the corporation is looking at some 1.2 million hectares as its main hub for jatrophaproduction.Two weeks ago, Land Bank of the Philippines signed an agreement to provide PNOC-AFC with P5 billionto P10 billion to finance the jatropha development program. Part of the money will fund cooperativesdeveloping jatropha plantations. Among the benefits of jatropha cultivation that government is trumpeting are the reduction in airpollution and the country?s dependence on imported crude oil, creation of jobs, and construction of roads, bridges and a refinery. A group of agriculturists is claiming that proponents of the massive cultivation of jatropha are peddlingmisleading information as facts. The group advises people to study the facts first before going into jatropha farming.By Ted Mendoza, Oscar Zamora and Joven Lales WILL PLANTING jatropha curcas L. or tuba-tuba provide the financial benefits a government agency ispromising farmers?In our study, published in the Philippine Journal of Crop ScienceVol. 32 No. 1 on Jan. 17 and titled ?Towards Making Jatropha curcas (tubang bakod) a Viable Source of Biodiesel in the Philippines,? wefound that:Jatropha becomes a viable source of biodiesel if diesel is retailed at P40 per liter; if the crop has a highfruit yield of 36,000 kilogram per hectare (ha); if it has a high rate of oil extraction (34 percent and 38percent); and if byproducts are included and provide 50-percent additional income from the oil revenue.The assumption is that the price of jatropha seeds corresponds to the price of diesel.But would a high yield of 36,000 kg/ha and high oil content (34 percent and 38 percent) be achievedunder Philippine conditions?This question can only be definitively answered in some future time because we do not have a plantationalready on the optimum fruiting age (five years after planting) and no jatropha variety is grown in thePhilippines that yields 34 percent oil. The current laboratory oil extraction is in the range of 28 percent to
32 percent. At a low-yield level (12,000 kg/ha), jatropha becomes profitable for farmers growing it if the diesel priceincreases to about P140 per liter at a 30-percent rate of oil extraction (revenue is from oil alone). Thisimplies that the buying price of jatropha seeds at the farm level is P42/kg. The substrate cost shall beP42/.30 = P140/liter of biodiesel.The estimates exclude processing and marketing costs. Current estimates put the processing cost atP12/liter. Then, the price of biodiesel from jatropha becomes P152/liter [P140 + P12]. What if the oil priceincreases to more than P152 per liter? If so, let?s be prepared to use caleza and bicycle, or simply walk.Jatropha?s seed yield is inherently low, which explains partly the low revenue. This low-yield trait issuggestive that researches must be done to increase further its seed yield and to find ways to maximizetotalfarm yieldand byproducts. However, will the results of these experiments be realized soon?For a perennial crop that gives optimum fruiting after five years, hybridization and selection wouldrequire a minimum of 35 years (7 cycles of selection x 5 years = 35 years ). Genetic improvements toenhance jatropha?s overall trait as anenergy cropcould have been done way ahead. But this is waterunder the bridge. We can not hurry up nature.There are other information that the the public should know or understand. These include the following:1. The long wait for the crop to reach optimum fruiting (five years after planting ) and its low-seed yieldrequire a multiple-cropping scheme. Short-maturing crops and high-value fruit and wood trees should beplanted along with jatropha to increase the totalfarm yield. The scheme is also a risk-minimizingstrategy. Are the public and the agency promoting the massive planting of jatropha putting equal emphasis onpromoting multiple cropping? We support diverse cropping but we should point out that jatropha is asun-loving crop. While it grows under the shade, photosynthesis (growth and yield) will be affected inproportion to the degree of shading.It should be expected that jatropha yield per plant will decrease under multiple-cropping conditions dueto a reduction in space and sunlight. But it is logical for farmers to adopt multiple cropping. If somethinghappens to jatropha and the price does not improve over time, farmers will have some crops to fall back on. But we do not know much about this age-old practice of multiple cropping.Jatropha produces a toxin called curcin. Will this substance exert toxic effects on companion crops? Dueto this toxin, planting of jatropha was banned in Northern Australia. The Australians are afraid that theircattle will forage on jatropha during the dry months. Besides, they are afraid that it will become weedslater on.2. Many people are enticed to plant jatropha because of the massive government campaign to promote it.One million hectares are targeted. But construction of the processing plant has not started and it will takesome time to set up the processing system.It should be pointed out that three or five years after planting jatropha is too short a time. Are theprocessing plants ready by that time? Furthermore, it is necessary that the know-how to accelerate theoptimization of processing raw oil into trans-esterified oil before it can be used as biodiesel oil, andprocessing of byproducts (press cake and/or glycerol) into high-priced products be acquired soon. Willthese technological know-how be ready in three or five years?This is one of the worries aired by those who were earlier enticed to plant jatropha. ?Planting jatropha
without knowing all the facts can be a very painful and costly experience. Knowing the pitfalls can helpmake planting more worthwhile and successful. While wealthy companies plant jatropha on a massivescale, smallfarm ownerslike many of us must be careful. Wealthy companies know what they are doing. They plant in huge tracts of idle land that they do not own(leased to them cheaply by government or owned by others) and with very little or no expense (while wehave to buy seeds and seedlings from suppliers who promise to buy our produce?assuming there will besome to buy.) Yes, these companies are speculating on a potentially valuable product that will produce biofuel in the future, but they are doing it using other people?s money, time and effort. Speculating isgood but only if you know the odds.?For those who are planning to plant jatropha, clearly there are still many unanswered questions.3. Planting tuba-tuba is primarily aimed at making productive idle public and private lands, particularly denuded mountains and forests, unfit for food-crop cultivation, and at producing in commercial volume arenewable and environment-friendly biofuel (biodiesel), thus alleviating poverty in the countryside andaddressing ecological concerns.This is a very inviting statement among jatropha proponents. We should point out, however, the followingfacts:First, jatropha can grow in marginal soils but growth and yield will also be slow and marginal or low.There is a saying ?you cannot get something from nothing!?Second, for us agriculturists, there is no land, which is unfit for food-crop cultivation. Where jatrophagrows, mangoes, cashew, siniguelas, duhat, jackfruit, bignay and many other tropical fruits will grow.Moreover, cassava, sweet potato and many legumes will also grow.Third, jatropha can survive dry weather but it will shed off leaves as an adaptive measure, to avoid dyingdue to excessive loss of water. But then, there is no growth and no fruit set. It will resume growth once thesoil is moist again.Fourth, jatropha grows well under a favorable environment (highsoil fertility , adequate moisture and weed management during its early years of growth). But using these lands will compete with lands growntofood security crops, which the proponents try to avoid. What are the latest observations? Fertilized jatropha plants grow well when irrigated but they become vegetative. This means that they do not yield the quantity of fruits that we expect.4. There is a big push for growing jatropha using imported seeds as they are high yielding.Importing the high-yielding varieties may also mean the importation of ?unknown? bad traits likesusceptibility topests.Using imported seeds should be done with utmost care. It would be frustrating if the imported seeds were planted in large tracts of land and we later came to know that the plant wassusceptible to viral or fungal diseases.Moreover, it might just serve as a source of inoculum, thus infecting even the indigenized varieties in thecountry.5. The main feature being claimed about Jatropha curcas or tubang bakod is that it could yield yearly asmuch as five to seven tons of seeds per hectare.