Yield and Breeding
JATRO engages in non-food oil crops that offer not only a positive energy balance but also economic prospects for impoverished and disadvantaged rural areas.
JATRO believes jatropha curcas to be the most favorable feedstock and to offer the best opportunity for responsible and sustainable biofuel production without undermining food production and diverting arable farmland.
Jatropha is an underutilized, oil-bearing crop. It produces a seed that can be processed into non-polluting biodiesel and "green" aviation fuel that, if well exploited, can provide opportunities for good returns and rural development. Interest in Jatropha curcas as a source of oil for producing biodiesel and alternative aviation fuel has arisen as a consequence of its perceived ability to grow in semi-arid regions with low nutrient requirements and little care.
Unlike other major biofuel crops, jatropha is not a food crop since the oil is non-edible and is, in fact, poisonous. It is a low growing oil-seed-bearing tree that is common in tropical and subtropical regions. Although optimum ecological conditions for jatropha production are in the warm subhumid tropics and subtropics, jatropha’s ability to grow in dry areas on degraded soils that are marginally suited for agriculture makes it especially attractive. In addition to growing on degraded and marginal lands, this crop has special appeal, in that it grows under drought conditions and animals do not graze on it. However, many of the actual investments and policy decisions on developing jatropha as an oil crop have been made without the backing of sufficient science-based knowledge.
Realizing the true potential of jatropha requires separating facts from the claims and half-truths.
There are many knowledge gaps concerning the best production practices and the potential benefits and risks to the environment. Equally troubling is that the plant is in an early stage of domestication with very few improved varieties. Identifying the true potential of jatropha requires separating the evidence from the hyped claims and half-truths.
Jatropha fruits are ellipsoidal, green and fleshy, turning yellow and then brown as they age. Fruits are mature and ready to harvest around 90 days after flowering which is usually triggered by rainfall. Seeds will be produced following the end of the rainy season. Jatropha is a perennial shrub. Thus, flowering and, therefore, fruiting are continuous, meaning that mature and immature fruits are borne together. Each fruit contains three black seeds, around 2 cm x 1 cm in size. She seeds typically contain 35 – 48 percent of non-edible oil. Jatropha trees are believed to have a lifespan of 30 years.
Back to top
Maximizing oil yield per ha requires:
- breeding for seed size and weight, oil content and quality as well as
- improving all parameters that affect the number of branches,
flowers and ultimately fruits and seeds produced.
The goal for crop improvement is to produce superior cloned material by scaling up tissue culture techniques or, at least, using micro-cuttings. However, due to the genetic-environment interaction, superior performance may not transpose to other growing sites and plantation management regimes. Improved varieties are being developed based on provenance trials, the selection of superior accessions and by breeding inter-specific hybrids for a range of production practices and agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.
Jatro will continue to focus its efforts on optimizing yield to maximize return on investment. Plausible estimates from international institutions for global annual yield increases s in the next decade are 1.7% p.a. for oilseeds and vegetable oils. JATRO is well on track to beat these yield increase forecasts by a substantial multiple.
Back to top
Genetic variation among known Jatropha curcas accessions may be less than previously thought, and breeding inter-specific hybrids may offer a promising route to crop improvement. Jatropha displays considerable genetic–environment interaction, meaning that different clones may appear and perform very differently under different environmental conditions.
Short-term goals should aim at producing superior clonal plants using cuttings and/or cell culture techniques, with longer term goals aimed at developing improved varieties with reliable trait expression and with a seed production system that ensures farmer access to productive and reliable planting materials.
Back to top
Jatropha has a number of strengths: the oil is highly suitable for producing alternative aviation fuel and biodiesel but can also be used directly to power suitably adapted diesel engines and to provide light and heat for cooking, it is fast growing and quick to start bearing fruit, and the seed is storable making it suited to cultivation in remote areas. Jatropha could eventually evolve into a high yielding oil crop and may well be productive on degraded and saline soils in low rainfall areas. 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.
While there are various possibilities for utilizing the by-products of jatropha – which would add value for the producers and reduce the carbon cost of the oil as a biofuel – there is an important trade-off between adding value and utilizing the byproducts as soil ameliorants to reverse land degradation. Local utilization of jatropha oil is one of a number of strategies that may be used to address energy poverty in remote areas.
Back to top