Yes, it is possible and it is being done in India and in many other places around the World. The miracle tree responsible for this agricultural phenomenon is called “Jatropha Curcas”, a plant that looks like a coffee tree and achieves similar height.
Jatropha trees produce seeds that contains between 35% and 60% of oil. This oil can be quickly processed into diesel, a clean-burning bio-diesel unlike the petro-diesel responsible for much of the pollution on our roads. Unprocessed, Jatropha oil can be used as a long-burning lamp oil.
Jatropha Curcas is a plant native of the Caribbean Islands. However it is found growing wild in our region, in Tanzania and in our Southern Province. We know that it was taken to India in the 1600s by Portuguese sailors who used its seeds for long-burning lamp oil.
How it reached our region is anybody’s guess. It could have come with Indians brought by the British to East Africa. We do not know for sure. Unlike Palm Oil or Corn Oil, used for cooking, Jatropha Oil is not edible.
Jatropha can grow well in bad soil, avoiding potential competition with food crops as generally they require fertile soil. In the wild, Jatropha produces 1,870 liters per hectare per year.
However, some research, in Florida, indicates that, with good care, it can yield ten times, as much as 15,000 liters per hectare per year.
A number of countries are jumping on Jatropha bandwagon: India is the place where most of the research on Jatropha has been made; India has set aside about 41 million hectares for Jatropha and it expects 20% of its diesel consumption by 2011 to be provided by Jatropha bio-diesel.
Australia, China, Brazil are also seriously considering Jatropha. Near us, in our region, both Kenya and Tanzania are in the process of starting huge Jatropha plantations. They are targeting the European Market that has mandated a 5% blending of petro-diesel with bio-diesel.
In December 2008, an Air New Zealand Boeing 747 was successfully test-flown using a 50-50 blend of Jatropha fuel and aviation fuel.
What about Rwanda?
In Eastern and Sothern Provinces of Rwanda, there are large areas with marginal land and naked hills that cannot grow any food crop. We should find a way to plant Jatropha there and grow our own bio-diesel while regenerating the land as the Jatropha cake is a good fertilizer.
At the same time, Jatropha would be fighting soil erosion that threatens our many hills. If we plant Jatropha on our marginal hills, we could produce bio-diesel in excess of 50% of our diesel consumption.
This would bring additional benefits: it would cut our import bill significantly (tens of million dollars); it would provide thousands of jobs to our farmers; it would stimulate Rwanda’s University Research in bio-fuels beyond what IRST is doing; it would keep our environment clean; it would allow us to claim carbon credits as Jatropha fuel emits negligible greenhouse gases while Jatropha trees capture nine tons of carbon dioxide per hectare.
I am John Gahindiro. For positive feedback and any criticism I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org