Jatropha Production Expanded in India, Hindustan Petroleum to Plant 15,000 Hectares

Jatropha plantation in Rajasthan photo

photos courtesy of The Jatropha System

India is one of the world's leading cultivators of jatropha as a feedstock for biodiesel, with over one million hectares planted to date. That figure is set to rise slightly on the news that Hindustan Petroleum and the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) are partnering to plant an additional 15,000 hectares.

Cleantech is reporting that though the exact financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, Hindustan Petroleum will hold 74% of the joint venture and will received the entire harvest of jatropha seeds, which it will then refine into biodiesel for sale at its retail outlets across the state of Chhattisgarh. The land used for cultivation will be wastelands obtained by CREDA.

India has conducted a number of trials using Jatropha-based biodiesel on it public transport systems, both on major train routes and on public buses.

Jatropha 101
For those not up on Jatropha: Jatropha curcas is a long-lived woody shrub or small tree which produces seeds capable of yielding high quantities of oil suitable for biodiesel. Though used as a traditional medicine in small quantities, ingestion of more than four or five seeds is fatally toxic to both animals and humans. This, combined with the claim that it is capable of growing on degraded and arid lands not suitable for crops has given rise to the claim that it will not compete with land needed for food production.

Jatropha seeds in bags photo

While this is true in the broad-stroke, under marginal conditions Jatropha does not reliably produce crop yields of commercial scale. The advantages that Jatropha has on the small scale do not necessarily translate to plantation-scale cultivation. Additionally, if farmers can get more money for Jatropha than they can for food crops, there is nothing to prevent them, from an agricultural perspective, from converting over time part of all of their land from food cultivation to growing Jatropha.

'Wastelands' Not Always Unused
Furthermore, groups such as Navdanya have pointed out that many of the lands called "wastelands" by government actually are used by rural populations for grazing and other agricultural uses. Having no adequate land rights, and vital to these people's survival can be put at risk in the rush to embrace Jatropha cultivation.

Jatropha has great potential promise as a biodiesel feedstock, but care must be taken not to overlook the negative impacts of its cultivation, when the benefits seem so great.

via :: Cleantech
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