Jatropha Curcas was the most neglected plant so far. It can grow wildly. Now it has acquired significance, because it can provide raw materials for production of Bio-Fuels.
BioDiesel is being manufactured in a number of Developed countries, who depend on Developing countries for supply of raw oil. Due to this, Jatropha Plantation is suddenly in Limelight.
The plantation and down stream processing is going to provide large scale opportunities for poorer sections of society. In arid desert places in Rajasthan in India, there are large plantations of these, which proves that it can grow well in desert lands. References are found in Ayurved (Indian Medicinal Practice) about Jatropha. Plenty of information is available in it, especially about its medicinal value. Now it is gaining popularity as a sturdy bush which can grow in scanty rain fall areas, and providing rich dividends as raw material for Bio Fuels.
Portuguese seamen brought Curcas variety of this plant to India from tropical countries of Latin and Central America in 16th century. Its origin lies in Central America and Africa. Portuguese imported and cultivated this plant in India for its medicinal values. It was propagated all over India only for its medicinal values. Today these grow wildly in all Tropical and sub-tropical regions. It has 200 names in different languages and in different parts of the world. This shows how far and wide it has spread.
It is classified under a generic name of ERAND. It grows wildly as a big tree, or as a cluster of number of bushes, packed very closely, in wild. Whether it is a tree or a bush, it is always green. Depending on local climatic conditions, these can grow 7 to 10 meters tall, but in rain-fed areas these grow only 2 to 3 meters tall. In jungle, 3 or 4 plants grow together, as if it is one tree. In case of plantation, it is grown as 1 trunk and 2 branches at every node.
In jungle its trunk can be 150 mm in thickness, but in plantation it can be only 50 to 60 mm. On fully grown trunk and branches, there are layers of darker color. These peel out if you rub on it. If trunk, branches or leaves are cut, an off-white latex flows down the tree.
The leaves are 100 to 150mm or 70 to 100mm in size. These are broad, egg-shaped with a heart shape. Its ends are lobes of 3 to 5 fingers. The periphery of the leaves are cut like saw-teeth. The edges are sharper. The surface of the leaves is extremely soft and sticky. Since the leaves are bitter in taste, no cattle likes to eat it.
Bunches of flowers grow at the end of the branches. The central bunches generally have female flowers while the outer ones are male flowers.
The fruits are 25mm long and oblong. In the beginning these are green. As these ripen, these turn yellowish with golden tinge. On drying, these darken and when fully dry, these are black. When these dry fruits are peeled, seed each are found in 3 pockets.
These fresh seeds are oblong, gray in color and resembles castor seed. But it is smaller than castor seed. The seeds are 10 to 20mm long and weigh 0.5 to 0.7 grams.
In India, Number of flowers peak in July / August and the fruits start ripening in September. Maximum seeds are available in the month of December.
Most parts of tropical and sub-tropical areas are ideal for Jatropha Plantation. These can grow in areas where minimum rainfall is 500 to 750 mm. However these can grow in desert areas around towns, which can be watered by domestic waste water from towns around these plantations. It can also grow in drought prone areas and where rainfall is scanty. In such areas, the seed production is less. The plant germinates in hot and humid atmosphere. As temperature starts dropping it blooms with flowers and fruits grow in winter. It can not tolerate very harsh winter or fog. At the time of start of flowering, atmosphere should be dry with bright sunshine.
Jatropha can bear fruits for 25 years. It can withstand drought for 3 consecutive years. If the soil is bad and if rainfall is unreliable, these plants need to be watered for first 2 to 3 years. Later on it can survive.
It can grow in soft, rocky, sloping soils along a mountain as well as medium fertile lands. These can be grown along canals, water streams, boundaries of crop fields, along the roads, along railway lines. In short, the least fertile lands are best for this plant. However, fertile lands in which water does not accumulate, can also be used for Jatropha Plantations. Highly fertile black cotton soils, which can hold water and alkaline soils are not good for Jatropha Plantations. Once the roots penetrate deeper, Jatropha can tolerate acidic or salty soils. The soil productivity and fertility is low in the initial stage. It needs to be improved by compost fertilizer, cow dung and other fertilizers. Some micro nutrients are also helpful in improving productivity.
Soils that should be avoided are those containing 10 to 40% sand, 60 to 90% normal soil. These are black in color, hold water and cracks are found in these soils in summer.
The roots of Jatropha plants are shallow in the beginning, hence these can grow in cracks of rocky mountain slopes.
The pH of soil is an important consideration for the survival of the plant. Some soils are highly acidic due to accumulation of salts. Some soils are alkaline due to calcium and aluminum deposits in the soil. It should be ideally 5.5 to 6.5.
The entire land should be fenced before plantation. Stones lying around can be used to create a wall around the plot. Considering the slope of land, flow of water streams, small walls should be erected along to the contours. On top of this dead fencing, a live fence is created by growing plants of cactus varieties. Though plantation can be done without any cleaning activities, but it is advisable to partly clean up the area. Tall trees can be left as it is. All small shrubs and bushes on the soil should be cut above the roots. It stops soil erosion. The left over roots eventually die and provide green manure or composting fertilizer.
The soil should be tilled and it should be porous. Inter crops are planted in these lands for first 3 to 4 years. All weeds and fungus should be completed rooted out.
In case of plantation, it is advisable to keep the plants short in height. This can be achieved by cutting branches from time to time. In this case the distance between 2 plants is less.
Days in June and July, at the onset of monsoon rains in India, is the ideal period for Jatropha Plantation. Land should be tilled in the months of April and May, and all dry vegetation should be burnt and destroyed before plantation.
Direct Seed or Branch Plantation : Jatropha Plantation can be done by sowing seeds or by planting branches of existing trees. The land is marked in squares of 2 meters x 2 meters all along. 2 seeds or one branch is inserted at each intersection.
Good quality seeds of attractive color should be selected for germination. For this purpose, good quality fruits should be collected in the months of September or October and these should be dried in shade for 3 to 4 days, after de-pulping. It should then be soaked in water for 4 days.
A good seed is one which gives out oil if pressed by nail. Cracked, scratched or infected seed should not be used for germination. 5 to 6 kgs of seeds are enough for plantation in one hector of land.
Good quality seeds are planted in poly-ethylene bags having size of 70 x 100 mm. A good soil mix is prepared by mixing 2 kgs of compost, 1 kg of filtered sand. Some insecticide and Weedicide is then sprayed on it.
While filling the bags, top 20 to 30 mm is not filled. That portion is folded, which gives a good strength to the bag.
In the initial phase of growth, roots grow very rapidly and try to penetrate in soil to suck nutrients from the soil. For this the pits should be filled with good, fertile soil. Initial growth is very important, and hence nutrients should be provided from time to time in initial years.
If soil is poor in nutrients, the pit should be filled with excess compost fertilizer and cow dung.
All the weeds should be removed around the plant. Initially for 3 to 4 months, land should be tilled 2 or 3 times after 20 days, to remove weeds. 10 gms of urea should be mixed in the soil, for each plant, one month after plantation. Later, it should be repeated after 1 and half month.
Some natural materials can be used to cover the land between the two plants. This can be husk, small branches, stocks of rice and wheat etc. This reduces evaporation of water from the soil.
The rising top of the tree should be cut once the tree is 1 meter tall. This will lead to branching of the tree. More the branches, more the production of fruits and seeds. Every year branches grow near the base, and these should be removed and replanted elsewhere. It is very important to cut the tree in time and keep it in proper shape. The plants should be cut in proper way, so that these will grow like umbrella. Care should be taken from the beginning. Normally Jatropha can naturally flower only once a year, but with modern techniques it can be forced to flower Twice or Thrice a year. To do this watering of the plants is stopped for a period. During this period half the leaves are shed by the tree. Water supply is restarted at this point and tree starts flowering again. When watering is started again, the quantity of water is increased slowly day by day and NPK fertilizers are provided. Normally, flowering takes place after 21 days.
In case of regular plantation, organic and chemical fertilizers should be provided in proper quantity as per the age of the tree. NPK ratio should be 46:48:24 kgs per hector. As the roots grow longer, fertilizers are applied away from the base of the tree.
Plants get the nutrients from soil as water solution. Hence its successful growth depends on water content of soil, or timely watering of the plants. In the initial stages it is sensitive and hence, water should be provided as per the requirement. Timetable for poorer soils is every 5 to 6 days, medium soils 7 to 10 days, and good soils every 10 to 12 days.
For plantations, it is necessary to erect small boulder check dams, to create small and big water bodies. This water can be used after the monsoon. Drip irrigation is more important to enhance the yield. Through this controlled amount of water and fertilizer can be provided all the time. With drip irrigation, 3 crops can be obtained in a year. In monsoon the trees bloom and flowering and bearing of fruits can be achieved with rain water. Water should wet only the area under the tree and rest should be dry. Hence initially requirement of water is very small. If monsoon rain is at regular interval of few days, rain water is sufficient for it.
Fruits should be plucked at appropriate time and in appropriate manner. Plucking time is generally at the end of December or beginning of January. All the fruits on tree are not ready for plucking and only ripe one should be plucked. Latex drops down from the point of plucking of fruit and care should be taken that it should not fall on body.
The cost of plantation has been estimated to be Rs. 30,000 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 plants and planting, irrigation, de-weeding, 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.
You can set up nurseries which will supply plants to the beneficiary to ensure success of plantations and quick return. It will also result in seed production at the end of the first year itself. Nurseries will supply seedlings to the farmers in their village. A seedling will start yielding seed after a year of its plantation. It is planted at a spacing of 2m X 2m and 2500 plants will be grown in 1 hectare of Jatropha plantation.