Jatropha trials planned to help boost rural Panamanian economy

By Erin Voegele | May 01, 2012

Panama Green Fuels, an entity working to establish biodiesel infrastructure within Panama, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the director of the country’s National School of Agriculture (IDIAP) to use the school’s land to trial commercial cultivation of jatropha. Belgium-based Quinvita N.V. will oversee the trials.

In a quid pro quo arrangement, Panama Green Fuels has agreed to transfer agronomy practices and seed technology to the school, and to work with them to ensure knowledge is current and students have access to high-quality information and data. According to Panama Green Fuels CEO Adrian Harvey, his organization is a social enterprise formed specifically to assist low-income rural communities in Panama to grow biodiesel feedstocks.

Under the agreement with IDIAP, Harvey said that four to five separate trial sites will be established; each comprised of 3 to 5 hectares (7.4 to 12.4 acres). The trials are expected to last two years. Although initial trails will be conducted on a total area of approximately 22 hectares (54.4 acres), information released by Panama Green Fuels noted that the organization ultimately aims to establish more than 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of jatropha plantations on marginal lands throughout the country.

Harvey said that Panama Green Fuels has contracted with Quinvita to access its intellectual property related to jatropha agronomy practices. He also stresses that jatropha varieties that his organization is working with are not wild strains. Rather, he said that his organization is working with the very latest strains of commercial varieties mapped to local geographical locations and weather conditions by Quinvita.

“The trials deliberately target suboptimal land for jatropha cultivation,” Harvey said. “We already know that jatropha will yield very healthy economic returns in optimum climate and soil conditions in Panama.  However, the purpose of the trials is to establish if we can get a viable output from land that would be regarded as marginal for jatropha cultivation. Land of this type is plentiful in Panama and if proven would open up significant rural employment opportunities and underpin the biodiesel industry in Panama.”

Under the agreement, Harvey said Panama Green Fuels will work with IDIAP and Quinvita to manage all activities associated with the trials. He also noted that his organization’s employees will be onsite throughout the trial period, and that IDIAP students will also work on the trials. Quinvita will provide the seeds as well as support related to agronomy practices. 


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