Is India's Jatropha Biodiesel Push a Good Thing? Here's a Quick Overview of Some of the Problems

jatropha plant photo

photo: Mission New Energy

Though Jatropha-based biodiesel usage continues to expand in India, there are many issues surrounding it which aren't all good: Despite claims of growing on marginal lands, good yields require watering; and, those 'marginal lands' aren't always acquired for growing Jatropha under the best of circumstances. IPS News is running a good summary of these issues, which is worth checking out if you're interested in biofuels but aren't up to speed on Jatropha. Here are some excerpts:Jatropha Toxicity & Cattle, Marginalization of Communities, More

In 2008, the government expected 11 million ha of plantations on the country’s degraded lands, aiming to blend 20 percent biodiesel into diesel supplies by 2010.

The consequence of this has been large scale ventures into jatropha plantations in at least ten states of India, with a confusing array of mixed reports from the field.

There are also reports of misuse of non-operative oil-expelling plants availing the government tax rebates to write off expenses in their other operations.

In Chhattisgarh, central India, government partnerships with industry covered 1.6 million ha of ‘fallow’ lands with approximately 290 million jatropha saplings in 2005-06. Less than half have survived and oil-producing units are now scrounging for seeds.


In Rajasthan’s Udaipur district farmers became hostile to jatropha after seeing their cattle die from eating the toxic leaves of the plant. ’'We were encouraged to grow jatropha by agents who sold us saplings at Rs ten (five US cents) each and extolled the virtues of jatropha,’’ Sukh Ram, a farmer, told IPS.

‘’We were told that jatropha, being unpalatable to cattle, the saplings would stay safe. But no one told us what would happen to the cattle,’’ said Sukh Ram. ‘’In the end, we not only lost what we paid for the saplings but also possible earnings from three hectares of land, three years in a row. We are not prepared to take such risks again.’’


"Our experimentation with jatropha shows us that it is unsuitable for Indian small farmers due to its need for watering, manuring and its long gestation period," says Srinivas Ghatty of Tree Oils.

Intercropping: The Better Way to Grow Jatropha
The New Delhi-based The Energy Research Institute (TERI), working in a partnership with British Petroleum on 8,000 hectares in Andhra Pradesh, advocates growing jatropha in an integrated manner with other crops in the field. "We are developing in a scientific fashion, taking advantage of good natural resource management and a buy-back guarantee system with local farmers,’’ says Alok Adholeya, director of biotechnology and management of bioresources at TERI.

Read the entire original article, Energy India: Biofuelling Confusion, for more on Jatropha, as well as other crops which are may be better alternatives in India.

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