FAO report: jatropha a promising crop

By Luke Geiver | July 13, 2010
Posted Aug. 3, 2010

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has joined the supporters of jatropha as a possible feedstock for biodiesel production. In conjunction with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the FAO has published a report that outlines the benefits and uses of the crop, titled, "Jatropha: A Smallholder Bioenergy Crop." The report states, "Jatropha is an underutilized, oil-bearing crop. It produces a seed that can be processed into non-polluting biodiesel that, if well exploited, can provide opportunities for good returns and rural development."

Although most jatropha currently available remains toxic, the report said that jatropha could eventually, "evolve into a high yielding crop and may well be productive on degraded and saline soils in low rainfall areas," adding, "Its by-products may possibly be valuable as fertilizer, livestock feed, or as a biogas feedstock, its oil can have other markets such as for soap, pesticides and medicines, and jatropha can help reverse land degradation."

By 2015, the report estimates that 12.8 million hectacres of jatropha will be planted. Indonesia will be the largest producing country in Asia. In Africa, Ghana and Madagascar will be the largest, and in Latin America, Brazil will produce the most jatropha. The chief weakness of the plant however, is that it has "undergone little crop improvement," according to the report. Along with seed yield and oil quality variability, the toxicity of the plant, knowledge of the agronomy of jatropha "is generally lacking," the report said.

Increased investments and policy decisions on the use of jatropha as an energy crop are happening, the report notes, but they have been based on a small amount of evidence-based information. "There are many knowledgeable gaps concerning the best production practices and the potential benefits and risks to the environment," the report said, adding, "Identifying the true potential of jatropha requires separating the evidence from the hyped claims and half-truths." Although another potential biodiesel feedstock, palm oil, is currently being analyzed by the U.S. EPA and an expected pathway modeling assessment should come in the next few months, according to Cathy Milbourn, EPA's senior press officer, "EPA has not initiated any assessment of the lifecycle impacts of producing biofuel from jatropha oil."
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