Jatropha grow to all different sizes, but most are grown as small vines or hedges.
Jatropha is a genus of plant containing around 175 unique species of succulent plants, shrubs and trees. Native to Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, many of these plants have been shipped overseas and are now cultivated in China, India, and Africa. These flowering plants bear both male and female flowers when they bloom, although mature trees do not stand more than a few feet high. Like many of its relatives, several species of jatropha can be toxic; some specimens may contain toxins such as lectin, saponin, carcinogenic phorbol and its sap is a known skin irritant. The main jatropha species grown for agriculture use are small vine-like species similar to soybeans.
Jatropha has been cultivated by the people of the Americas for centuries. For years before Europeans first arrived, several species of jatropha had been used as medicines; its apparently has an excellent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal applications. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Portuguese traders began spreading the plant to Africa and later India and Asia as they toured the opening trade routes with the Far-East. Among other things, species of jatropha plants could be made into soaps, candles, and many colored dyes. Since they are toxic, jatropha plants must be prepared before they can be eaten; indigenous peoples would roast the seeds and eat them or extract the oil from them to cook with. Jatropha can also be easily intercropped or planted along side with many other cash crops like coffee, sugar and many fruit species, making it an even more attractive option for biofuel production.
Jatropha has been hailed as a miracle crop because of its amazing ability to survive; it is apparently both drought resistant and pest resistant and can grow in most soil types. This has also caught the eye of savvy investors who are looking to get into the biofuel industry. Many elite financial minds and institutions have eyed jatropha as a potential cash crop in the biofuel marketplace and countries like India have begun growing jatropha for investors on a massive scale.
Jatropha seeds like those above contain far more oil than the seeds of most other crops.
Jatropha plants come in many different shapes and sizes; however they all produce seeds that are typically between 25 and 40 percent oil, making them ideal for the production of biofuel. Nevertheless distinct species, mainly Jatropha curcas have been targeted by farmers to be grown as a major cash crop for biofuel production. Jatropha has caught the eye of scientists and researchers because it can produce four and ten times more oil per hectare than soybeans and corn respectively. In fact, a single hectare of jatropha can yield more than 1800 liters of biofuel per harvest.
Interestingly enough, biofuels are commonly substituted for conventional gasoline in many large airplanes. On December 30th, 2008, Air New Zealand completed the first successful flight of the Boeing 747 with jatropha biofuel, a huge step forward if it is to be used a major substitute for petroleum. Jatropha is also an attractive fuel because of its price. While oil has remained relatively expensive, jatropha oil has remained relatively stable at about $40 a barrel, about one third of what oil averaged over the same period.
Many countries such as India which were contracted to grow jatropha as a potential biofuel are now suffering because of it. British Oil giant BP recently pulled out more than $30 million worth of funding from jatropha plantations in the developing nations because they failed to see profitable yields, leaving entire communities bankrupt. There are also criticisms about the science behind jatropha and its potential use as a biofuel..
One major drawback to jatropha is the water needed to grow the plant requiring more than five times as much water to grow per unit as sugarcane and corn. As water becomes even scarcer, it will be harder to justify growing jatropha at the expense of necessary food crops. Still others bring up that jatropha has not been fully domesticated by farmers and plant breeders which causes inefficient growing, unpredictable mutations and variable yields. Many countries that grow jatropha like India, who once forecasted harvests of more than three tons of seeds per hectare are now harvests of less than two tons per hectare. With all these variables and variations, it is impossible to speculate in jatropha will continue to be potential biofuel cash crop, or if we should look for better alternatives.
Jatropha is a species of plants from the Euphorbiaceae family. It’s name was derived from the Green iatros which means physician and trophe which means nutrition. It is native to Central America and has been spread to many tropical and subtropical areas such as Indian, Aftrica, and North America. It’s origin is of the Caribbeans and was spread to Africa and Asia by Portuguese traders.
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