Issues for Discussion

The present national program is probably not only the most ambitious bio-diesel program ever launched internationally, but also one of the larger programs to jointly address energy needs, poverty alleviation and erosion control/deforestation.

The present Indian program is attempting to integrate and combine crucial economic, social and environmental aspects

Program documents are believed to gravely under estimate production and transfer costs, needed inputs and time lag expected until production and processing and infrastructure is up to planned levels; at the same time, they overestimate yields and thus expected incomes.

Even though a program combining the issue of underutilized species and soils with energy issues should be mandatory in the Indian context, it is feared that over-optimistic projections may lead to a severe setback for both issues.

Even more so, since farmers might be the ones who invest on a long-term basis into the Jatropha crop once again, without getting yields and returns as planned.


Average oil yields of over 1 t/ha asking for seed yields close to t/l ha can most likely only be attained on medium soils with irrigation, pruning, fertilization and sufficient sun exposure. However, with the plant material presently available and past experiences it remains questionable whether similar yields are even then realistic on a broad scale in a short term. To create high yielding varieties on a million ha scale, a lot of time-consuming breeding and selection work has to succeed before. Figures and information oh high yields seem to be coming rather from hearsay from remote countries like Nicaragua, than from many Indian plantations in the field, which have been evaluated and described.

Urgently, dry and wet weight, fruit and seeds yields will have to be more clearly distinguished in all reports to allow any reliable economic calculation.

To attain yields envisaged, higher inputs are needed which in turn result in higher production costs and thus higher oil prices,

As well, processing cost for expeller and bio-diesel production will be higher than assumed. If the bio-diesel production is to profit from sale of the nutrient rich press cake (at 3-5 RS/kg, which is almost the same price as assumed for the whole fruit), to keep the price of processing low, then inputs into nutrients and fertilizer on the Jatropha fields will have to be further increased.

Glycerol, if indeed purified to needed quality levels, would flood the market, reducing the actual market price of RS. 50/kg (1 S/Euro) considerably.

To achieve the ambitious national goals presently envisaged a well-coordinated and much larger input will have to be mobilised and more price incentives will have to be secured for farmers, processing companies or wholesalers on a reliable basis.

For this, economies of by- products, reforestation, soil improvement, social effects, availability of rural energy, foreign exchange savings, and erosion related and green house gas effects need to be quantified, priced and attributed separately, to reach at market prices for each step, which allow viable private investments at different locations.

There is a range of options for optimization, by using and intercropping with other non-edible oils, edible oils and vegetables, better use of by-products and other income sources (i.e. soap, medicine and bee keeping). In spite of many shortcomings and insecurities of the present argument in India, there is sufficient good justification for an investment into a rural non-edible oil program at this stage, even with more realistic figures and projections.

Bio-diesel needs an attractive price for raw material production and processing, but as well an attractive price to compete with petro-diesel and rural energy sources.

As long as alternative incomes from other crops, labour and even reforestation efforts persist to be considerably higher, the program is bound to stagnate or even fail fully due to a lack of oil supply.

If other targets as soil improvement, reforestation, poverty alleviation etc. are to be combined with commercial bio energy production, they need to be accounted for and brought in line with market based economic cost figures, to reach at prices that allows production and consumption on a sustained basis.

To this end, transparent, long-term market regulations or subsidies will have to be designed and established, as is done in many other countries. For an increase of oil production alone a guaranteed, mandatory and controlled use of Jatropha based B5, BI0 d B20 would be sufficient.

Bio-diesel Processing

Government calculations assume a minimum of 100 ha Jatropha for one expeller and collection centre and 1000 ha for one esteriflcation plant. Making oil from seeds has a long tradition with rural oil mills in India, however with potential for adaptation to Jatropha and improvement of efficiency. Processing raw Jatropha oil into bio-diesel only exists on a small and pilot scale in India meant for rural industries. For large scale, imported technology is expected to be applicable.

Handling, transport, storage, drying, blending, engine conversion and processing of seed and oil will ask for considerable effort in the medium term. This applies as well for quality control, where possibly the new EU norms are to be adapted. The present approach, to leave development and capacity building issues in this field to the private sector, but give market-based incentives and loans, appears appropriate. However, framework regulation and cost analysis should remain a Government task to assess and understand the real potential and shortcomings of economies of the overall program.

Plant Oil Market

Globally there are about 100 Mio t plant oil produced per year, with a quarter soybeans, a quarter palm oil followed by sunflower, groundnut, cotton, coconut and olive oil. In India, 6.7 Mio. t are produced (mainly from 14 edible oils led by mustard, groundnut, soja, coconut and rice, 2001). However all oils together produced in India are not sufficient for home consumption, cheaper palm oil has to be imported from the international market. Overall ethanol production for comparison is 1.3 Mio t.

One important reason for the Government preference to use non-edible oils to replace diesel is the lower cost (at present). There is little indication and argument that this low cost can be maintained, as soon as not only the cost for harvesting but also Jatropha production costs have to be accounted for, besides transportation and processing. High price sensitivity and volatility, with higher demand resulting in higher prices, should be expected with the massive market intervention planned.

Institutional Set-up

There is a well thought through institutional structure planned for the program. Coordination of the Program from the National level as foreseen is a good basis to get all relevant public non-government and private stakeholders from Rural Development, Agriculture, Environment, Forestry, Energy and Industry involved. Different micro-missions take national responsibility for different tasksGood interaction and coordination between all active regional and hierarchical levels is necessary, in continuation of the planning phase of the program.

A good and open inter-institutional cooperation during program implementation will be the key to successs. Seminars, including trainer seminars as planned, are needed to establish a basic knowledge on the different levels of intervention. It is hoped, that activities will indeed be open and transparently documented and discussed to allow necessary corrections and synergies immediately~?A focal point to collect all information should be built up and open to the public.

Other Uses of Jatropha

A more detailed analysis however, of use and sales to industries for tanning, candle making, soap manufactures, ship industry (varnish) chemical and cosmetic industry for different non-edible oils should be done and documentedConsidering Jatropha for bio-diesel production only without using synergies from other application is not thought to be wise by any of the stakeholders, even though any practical Use seems to be very limited at present.


Financial support or support in kind for the establishment of the crop, sometimes as well for liquidity to farmers is required during the first year without yield.

Now intense discussions been observed concerning financing mechanism for the present National Indian ProgramTo replace a relevant share of diesel in India, massive investments are requiredTo deal with the high initial capital demand and long period for Jatropha cultivations, until they reach full maturity, Government may have to provide loans for growers directly as wellIt will be necessary to analyze the current prospects, potentialities and constraints of the Jatropha approach for microfinance to rural poor, women, cooperatives and tribal communities, since demand for liquidity will be substantial, if the program is to succeed as well with its social componentTo enable the poor to access credit for activities that generate income, inclusion of micro-finances into the program should be considered to be made obligatory.

In the absence of an operational market, a demand push may as well have to be taken by legislation or by guaranteed buy-back agreements with minimum prices for the harvesting period of the trees - said to be up to 50 years in principle, however the economic optimum will be shorter - backed by Government. Because of its multiple socio-economic and environmental benefits, Government may as well allocate and transfer public lands on a long-term basis. In addition, Government should try at an early stage to qualify for funds from the Global Environmental Facility.

It is important; to discuss and develop a clear set of financial instruments for farmers and for other parts of the industry including rural financial institutions to rely on, beyond present! Subsidized demonstration projects.

Irrigation Issue

Access and availability of clean water need attention as seriously as climatic and energy problemsJatropha is considered an ideal crop for India, better than sugar cane based ethanol, particularly, since "it does not require much water" and the country is facing huge water scarcity for which there is no economic solution as of nowIts drought resistance is one of the key arguments to promote Jatropha. Since in India shortage and low water availability are one of the main factors of those unused lands identified for Jatropha plantations, water use and yield response to droughts are crucial to the success of the planned programThis in particular, since Jatropha not only competes for water with other food crops but sometimes also with drinking water if used instead for irrigation..

Energy crops, in particular perennials, often have a high water use due to their long growing season and deep rooting system. Therefore, aspects of Jatropha water use can be decisive for its sustained introduction for energy utilization. Information on Jatropha?s annual water use structure and respiration losses, its needs in different root zones a. o. seem to be not yet established. All what is known is that Jatropha sheds all its leaves with severe water shortages.

There is a common understanding, however, that green cover to unused lands acts in favour of the overall water balance in respect of soil and microclimate, however effects of this perennial on aquifer and ground water recharge are not that obvious. Erosion control is undoubtedly a positive factor, plantations can be used for rainwater harvesting, and favour watershed management projects at hillocks.

Since there are reports, that droughts and water logging have destroyed young plantations, information that is more detailed needs to be collected on real behaviour at extreme conditions.

Assuming two irrigation per year as assumed in the National Program is hard to go along with, since if irrigation systems are available, then higher frequency should be expected or recommended. This corresponds as well to the information gathered in India on commercial Jatropha use, where all discussion partners assumed that regular irrigation appears to be a precondition for any active and commercial plantation efforts in those areas.

The Nicaraguan and Belizean example, often cited in India as examples for assumed high yields, have mostly much higher rainfalls than the average precipitation in India. It appears therefore most crucial to clarify actual yield prospects on rain-fed areas in India, or discuss cost and effects of irrigation, to avoid further investment failures.


There is no confirmed information that Jatropha indeed fits into reforestation efforts, which combine Jatropha and oil production with other higher growing forestry tree crops. According to the available information, higher crops shade Jatropha to a degree that fruiting becomes marginal

Marginal lands, lands with limited access and infrastructure, tribal and forestry land must be expected to have lower productivity, at least in the initial phases.

Cultivation and Botanical Issues

Jatropha is said to be a drought hardy shrub, non-demanding, tolerant to extremes, suitable to tropical and non-tropical climate and considerable climatic changes, even up to light frost.

Tree borne oil seeds have always been a component of traditional agricultural systems practiced in IndiaHowever, the degree of domestication in tree-borne oilseed species as a whole is at a very early stage compared to most cultivated cropsIncreased domestication and increased inputs might increase pests and diseases, now assumed low in Jatropha. Influence of increased mineral fertilizer and water doses on pests, oil content or yield are not known.. In intensively cultivated areas, irrigated lands might be used for food production, recommending to direct breeding from maximum yields towards reduced input needs for those cases. For forestry projects, possibly as well for farm-based agro-forestry, the shade tolerance might be the key selection criterion to be further developed.

Male flowers dominate the plant; flower visitors needed for the predominant male flowers include bees, ants, thrips and flies. To what extent bees can be produced with positive synergies on Jatropha pollination and honey yields is an open issue.

Researchers from the University of Hohenheim are said to have found particularly resistant high-yield varieties in Mexico and Mali; these are being tested in India.

As well, they have tested survival rates of samples from different regions of India with a wide variability. The University in cooperation with Daimler-Chrysler is planning some systematic research on yield patterns. One hope of improved economies for Jatropha has been for long non-toxic species. One non-toxic specie, without known yields, has been found in Central America.

There has been little genetic improvement, identification of elite germplasms, tissue culture experiments and propagation so far nor a systematic or coordinated capture of genetic resources in seed banks for its regeneration, hybrid production and sustainable cultivation.

As well, preference of cuttings, seedlings (with or without polybags), or other propagation methods, the level of pruning, trimming, to extend the juvenile phase of the plant, and suitable spacing of the plant has barely been optimised so far.

Lifetime under cultivated cbnditions is not known yet.

Plant density recommendations fluctuate between 1000 plants and 5000 plants per ha, with no relation to genotype, cultivation method or soils. As well, there are still a number of open issues to be researched on optimal flowering and fruiting patterns. Timing and degree of pinching, pruning and a closeFor the micro credit schemes, factors influencing time lag until full yield can be achieved on different lands, is of paramount importance, however not yet known. Uses as pesticide, moluscicide and for medicinal purposes might as well require specific selection, breeding and cultivation practices.

Present efforts in the frame of the national program leave the cropping system open. The focus is on underutilized lands, but seems to expect a rapid increase of production through monoculture planting of Jatropha on agricultural fields, and mixed forestry cropping in forestry areas.

Cases where full use of the different benefits was made in an organised manner have not been found reported, besides discussions about potential benefits.

Competing Resources

Jatropha is competing with other food and forest crops for land, water, nutrients, sun, labour, private and public capital and institutions.

It is competing with investments in other non-edible and edible oils, with renewable and non-renewable energy sources with other programs to improve the environment, for employment, rural industrialisation and poverty alleviation.

Different cultivation systems and program designs change the pattern of competition and relative advantages. A thorough economic analysis has to assess opportunity costs of these factors and their sensitivity.

On present markets and within reforestation and renewable energy programs the crop has barely been able to compete successfully so far.

The Indian National Jatropha Program as far as can be seen, is not yet based on an analysis of competing production factors.

There exists some comparison between different crops to replace diesel, and there is a very broad base of field experience from different organizations and from energy and rural development specialists integrated into and influencing the Indian National Program.

In any case, a number of factors are changing in favor of Jatropha.

There is indication that viability of Jatropha, if not attained yet, is a question of time. If this is the case, then broad preparation to be commenced now is well justified. Changing factors are the following:

  • Increased demand and casts for diesel, higher foreign exchange needs for diesel; an increase of non-cultivated, non-forested and eroded lands; higher rural energy demand and energy costs; and, at the same time, a decrease of rain and water availability, as well as decreasing rural incomes.
  • A main concern of the international discussion on bio energies is whether less food is available with increased Jatropha cultivation to the low-income population.
  • In the Indian Government program, officially mainly non-used land is targeted for Jatropha and present price levels do not indicate that Jatropha can directly and successfully compete with agricultural crops and vegetables grown yet.
  • If indeed lands were cultivated, which lay idle so far, employment generation would reach women and low-income groups in the villages.
  • Additionally, Government plans to support an approach, which focuses self-help activities, social forestry, cooperatives and the like, to assist organizations of rural poor to improve their living conditions through increased Jatropha cultivation.
  • Whether it would be more advisable to cultivate other crops cannot be judged on an abstract level; it is assumed and hoped that growers themselves will make a rational investment decision, if conditions and guarantees given are favorable.
  • Here policy has to avoid a negative change and fluctuations in prices and markets, since Jatropha is a long-term investment and can ruin a farmer, if minimum revenue cannot be maintained.
  • If irrigation and fertilization is considered necessary and installed, then obviously other crops could be established in those lands as well and possibly increase benefits.

Compared to other bio energy efforts the nearest comparison goes with the alcohol program from sugar cane molasses meant to replace 5% of the national petrol consumption. Sugar cane fields are normally prime lands, often asking for severe fertilization and irrigation, being grown as a monoculture and not known to improve soil quality. As well, sugar cane, to a lesser extent in India, is often grown on large plantations, which would be well suitable for food cultivation of low-income groups.Hence, from a social and environmental point of view, Jatropha seems to be more recommendable.

Most urgent is the need to collect scientific data on the fruit and oil yield pattern at different sites and their agro-inputs needed. There is undoubtedly a big margin for selecting and breeding crops with higher yields of suitable oil, including the use biotechnology, tissue culture, etc.

In summary, the Jatropha program is felt to compete not directly with food production, however, economic mechanisms are complex to preview the full chain of effects.Positive effects on poverty alleviation are thought to be clearly dominating if compared to many other energy projects. An optimization, however, asks for an analysis that is more detailed.

Nutrient Aspects

The efficient use of nutrients in the production of Jatropha is important to minimise the input needs.

Efficiency of nutrient use of Jatropha and best respective cultivation practices, has not yet been found discussedThe absence of tillage in an established perennial Jatropha crop will furthermore reduce mineralization. Consequently leaching should be limited, apart from during the establishment period, In Nicaragua however mechanical tillage was performed in most fields. The permanent cover can reduce surface run-off of soil, nutrients and organic matter.

Predominant sale of the whole seed, the storage organs, to the oil mill, which then sells on the material in the local market as a fertiliser for higher value crops (at 3-5 RS. per kg), has to be considered critically in respect of long-term yields of Jatropha.

Nutrient and fertilizer needs and best frequency of application for Jatropha in relation to its yield pattern appears to be still largely unknown.

For commercial production purposes, farms and nurseries all assumed a regular fertilization demand, preferably through organic matter. Without fertilization, yields will barely build up to discussed levels according to soil type and other factors. Quantities needed, composition and frequency want to be assessed in detail. Here as well, the use of waste water, sludge or even solid wastes to improve nutrient balance and viability, should be looked into more seriously

The picture in India is contradictory, diverse and complex and thus statements tend to simplify due to the enormous range of situations, statements and institutions involved, In any case, the often cited "Jatropha System", solving environmental energy, import, employment, poverty and gender issues at the same time, needs to be subdivided into different "Jatropha systems" with empirically based reliable cost, yield, social, economic and environmental projections. Time span between policy planning and actual implementation, yields, resulting market prices and needed inputs have to be brought into a realistic balance to secure a sustained program continuation.

(Courtesy " case study" jatropha curcas by GFU)


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