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Satish Lele

Why cultivation of Jatropha curcas (RatanJyot, VanErand)

In China, there are plantations in Kunming, growing jatropha for reforestration. Jatropha is ideal for reforestration. The Jatropha trees take 4 to 5 years to mature fully. At that time, if Jatropha Plantation is rain fed, these plants can yield 0.35 to 0.375 gallon of oil per tree or 375 gallons per hectare or 150 gallons per acre. If it is irrigated (3 to 5 liters of water per plant every 15 days) it can be double this amount. Water footprint of 1 liter of Jatropha oil is 1,400 liters.

Climate wise both Jatropha and Karanj have same requirements. Yield per hectare is same for both. But Jatropha is favourable due to following reasons.

  • Jatropha: Grows as a small bush after pruning every year. Full harvest is available in 3 to 5 years. Fruits can be plucked easily as these are available at 1 to 2 meters height. Its leaves are not eaten by animals, hence no cage like protection is required. Fruits can be opened just by pressing by hand, once dried. Oil does not have much wax, hence good for manufacture of BioDiesel.

  • Karanj: Grows as a tall tree. Its height at maturity is 4 to 5 meters. Full harvest is available after 10 to 15 years. Fruits can not be plucked from ground as these are available at 4 to 5 meters height. Its leaves are eaten by animals, hence cage like protection is required initially. Fruits can be opened only by breaking it by chisel and hammer, once dried. Oil does have lot of wax, which is not good for manufacture of BioDiesel.

According to the U.N., harvesting Jatropha requires 1 worker for every 1 acre of Land. Currently most of the seeds produced are sorted and A grade seeds are used for Plantation Purposes and other seeds for Crushing for oil. Seeds are crushed and oil is used as fuel additive, for manufacture of Soap (Palm oil is now too expensive for soap) and as Lamp Oil in Houses and Temples. This is likely to continue for another few years. Currently no oil is available for BioDiesel and may be available after few years.

Plantation of Jatropha alone is not economically attractive, as there is little income from it for first 2 to 3 years. As Jatropha plant is initially small in height, Castor is intercropped with it in Fallow Land, to get income and oil for first 2 to 3 years. The Castor oil can be used for manufacture of Stearic Acid, BioDiesel or for Lighting Homes. (see Castor). If land is good, soy can be grown, as soy oil is edible oil and soy meal is cattle feed. Soy can fetch more income than castor.

Jatropha Plantations are doing well in India due to 4 reasons

  1. India is densely populated country and the Fallow Land Holding per farmer is 1 to 10 acres. A family of farmer can take care of this size of land very easily, as far as plantation, harvesting as well as security is concerned. The infrastructure of Roads, Housing, Market is already there in Farmer's village. This infrastructure substantially reduces cost, as compared to plantations on barren, vast, unhabited lands.

  2. Most of the farming in India is Organic by default. Cow dung is used as manure for Jatropha, and it is the cow dung which has done all the difference in low mortality of saplings, good yield, less pests etc. (In India there are 1 cattle for every 5 persons, 200 million cattle for 1 billion persons)

  3. In India, the day to day expenses are quite low and a daily per capita income of US$ 2, in rural areas, is good enough for survival. This makes Indian farmer, far more competitive as compared to farmers in developed world.

  4. The price of Petroleum Diesel in India, is around US$ 1 per liter. If it is less than this, there is no incentive to farmers to grow Jatropha.

Oil content of seed with cover varies from 28% to 30%. It can meet a number of objectives such as meeting domestic needs of energy including cooking fuel and lighting, as an additional source of household income and employment, bio fertilizer, medicines, and industrial raw material for soap, cosmetics, etc. In creating environmental benefits, protection of crops or pasture lands, or as a hedge for erosion control, or as a windbreak and a source of organic manure.

For mitigating climate change by reducing emission of green house gases, meeting rural energy needs, protecting the environment and generating gainful employment, Jatropha curcas / Castor has multiple role to play. All attempts to increase its production and productivity, oil extraction by application of appropriate technology, product development and diversification and policies that will protect and promote national interest would be welcome.

    There can be 4 Business Lines
  • Plantation of Jatropha curcas

  • Collection of Oil bearing seeds

  • Processing of seeds to produce oil and seed cake. Processing of cake to get Bio Gas and Bio Fertilizer

  • Manufacture of biodiesel

The oil cake is rich in nutrients and will produce bio-gas and very good quality bio-fertilizer for soils which are getting increasingly deficient in carbon and nutrients. Every component of the program will generate massive employment for the poor, belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled castes and other under privileged categories living mostly in backward areas, which have experienced the adverse impact of forest degradation, and loss of natural resources.
Same Plantation by Tree Oils India Ltd. as seen in June 2005

Oil Bearing Trees - Selection of Jatropha curcas

There are more than 100 tree species which bear seeds rich in oil having excellent properties as a fuel and which can be processed into a diesel substitute. Of these some promising tree species have been evaluated and it has been found that Jatropha curcas (Ratanjyot), Pongamia pinnata (Honge or Karanj) and Castor (Erand) are the most suitable. However, the advantage is clearly in favour of Jatropha curcas due to the following reasons.

  • Oil yield per hectare is among the highest of tree borne oil seeds.

  • It can be grown in areas of low rainfall (500 to 1,000 mm per year) and in problem soils. In high rainfall and irrigated areas too it can be grown with much higher yields. Therefore, it can be grown in most parts of the country. It can be grown in desert areas, with the help of drip irrigation (but it is expensive system).

  • Jatropha / Castor is easy to establish, grows relatively quickly and is hardy.

  • Jatropha / Castor plantations have advantage on lands developed on watershed basis and on low fertility marginal, degraded, fallow, waste and other lands such as along the canals, roads, railway tracks, on borders of farmersí fields as a boundary fence or live hedge in the arid / semi-arid areas and even on slightly alkaline soils. As such it can be used to reclaim waste lands in the forests and outside.

  • Jatropha / Castor seeds are easy to collect as they are ready to be plucked after the rainy season and as the plants are not very tall. This provides employment to farm labor, after the harvesting of other crops.

  • Jatropha / Castor is not browsed by animals.

  • Being rich in nitrogen, the seed cake is an excellent source of plant nutrients.

  • Seed production ranges from about 0.4 tons per hectare in first year to over 2.5 tons per hectare after 3 years.

  • The Jatropha plantation starts giving seed in a maximum period of two years after planting, while Castor bears seed in 3 to 5 months (It is a crop).

  • Raising plants in nurseries, planting and maintaining them and collection of seed are labour intensive activities. Except for the cost of fertilizer and transportation of the plants from a on-site nursery, all the activities in the nurseries and in plantation consist of labour.

  • Various parts of the plant are of medicinal value, its bark contains tannin, the flowers attract bees and thus the plant has potential of honey production.

  • Like all trees, Jatropha / Castor absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, stores it in the woody tissues and assists in the build up of soil carbon. It is thus environment friendly.

  • Jatropha can be established from seeds, 3 months old seedlings and vegetatively from cuttings. Use of branch cutting for propagation is easy and results in rapid growth, but has no tap root. It makes plant weak. Castor is grown from seeds only.

  • The plant is undemanding in soil type and does not require tillage.

The cost of plantation has been estimated to be Rs. 25,000 per hectare, inclusive of plantation and maintenance for one year, training, overheads etc. It includes elements such as site preparation, digging of pits, fertilizer & manure, cost of sapling and planting, irrigation, deweeding, plant protection, maintenance for one year i.e., the stage up to which it will start seed production etc. The cost of training, awareness generation, monitoring & evaluation is also included.
The area shown in Red is fertile (Food Basins where Jatropha / Castor plantations are unviable) while that shown in Pink are desert and that shown in Blue are high mountains (where it is difficult to grow Jatropha). It can be grown in all areas shown in green.

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