Growing Jatropha Curcas


A recent discussion on Linkedin group The Jatropha Project

“We are working together with a number of small scale farmers in Central Province Kenya. They are very interested in growing Jatropha Curcas. We like to assist them but the information regarding the possibilities and yields is often contradictory. Are there any projects in Kenya or Tanzania that are really up and running and harvesting Jathropa Curcas that are willing to share there experiences with us. Prefereably small scale projects.”

Some comments thus far:
I’ve been consulting to a project in Mali and I believe that an average of 1 ton of oil/ha can be achieved with a minimum correct agricultural mangement. Even with some water stress.

We’ve also developped the planting of soybeans in between the lines straight from the first years. The reason being 1) fixation of Nitrogen from the soybean and 2) good management from the farmers waiting for the jatropha to grow (they really want the soybeans). we used seeds from Brazil (I’m brazilian) as we discovered certain seeds perfectly adapted to the daylight cicles / temperatures / rainfalls.

We are up and running in Meru Kenya and ARcAid are harvesting in Kisumu. We also have a large farm with over 400 outgrowers in Uganda. We are hopefully buying a factory in Nairobi in the near futire with a press, filetering machine and a refinery. Please take contact and we can cooperate, since we have local people which has been attending training in Arusha in Tanzania and ae starting to get a good knowledge of what works.

Crushing the beans and segregating the kernel from the cast seems to be THE challenge. I’ve discussing with a Brazilian manufacturer of crushing plants (medium to large size i.e. 300 to 1000 tons/day) and the oil end up with lot of dust in it. Which is potentialy harmfull to engines.
They said recently, they have found the solution. I did not implement the solution.
We are working with specific very fine high speed filters.

ndeed you should be very cautious to assist small scale farmers, because their expectations regarding Jatropha might be way to optimistic.

I am working with a fair trade organization (Max Havelaar) in Tanzania on a feasibility study to find out if and how small scale coffee farmers could make some extra bucks with Jatropha curcas.

First of all we tell them that Jatropha just offers some additional income or additional oil, if the crush the seeds themselves or via a co-operative. We also tell them that Jatropha needs a lot of sun, so intercropping with Banana or Coffee or other trees will not work. In general intercropping only works in the long run. People tend to forget that Jatropha takes at least 3 years to produce a reasonable yield and that Jatropha takes space as well

I made a calculation and compared Jatropha with beans, maize and pigeonpeas
In een intercroppingfield with 40% Jatropha (1000 plants per ha) and 60 % intercrop
You have to wait till the 4e year before the combination of crops yields or pays more than the single crop.

referring to the Diligent project you have to know that right now they are just collecting existing wild seeds. There initial plan to set up a country wide distribution system stranded because of lack of money. Since they are producing JC oil right now, they might be able to start up an agronomical support and distribution system in the near future. Lesson: When working with small farmers you do not have to invest in land, but you have to invest a lot in people and logistics.

I agree with Ab Van Peer’s position on intercroping and return on investment.
However, I believe that you must think of Jatropha as an “oil” product for output to calculate any profit to be reverted down the line to the farmers. I.e. using Jatropha locally will likelly not bring profitability. However, if you plan to “export” (or sale locally to buyers) large oil quantities, you can index your future income on soybean oil board of trade (chicago) as soybean oil is the only largely available oil globally for biodiesel. If your quantities are enough, large biodiesel users will buy your oil FOB and pay a premium over CBOT as it comes from small agriculture. All you have to do is produce at least 100.000 to 150.000 tons of Jatropha seeds which will justify a professionnal crushing plant (for 50.000 tons of oil/year) and thus serious export.
Starting from that, you can guarantee a minimum future price to your farmers and share the premium you will get later with them.
Finding investors to build a crushing plant almost anywhere isn’t very complicated.

Inter cropping Jatropha is an ideal method to fill up land which is now not being used for producing food, due too low prices for the food or too high price for fertilizers. The same reason for not planting Jatropha, because the return is not high enough. Planting Jatropha on semi-arid lands is always possible but takes a lot of care (if any fruits are to be expected). Even in the case it takes longer to fruit for the Jatropha, the land is there to use, farmers do have crop, no penalty on not being able to use the land for food, just a bit more ground is in use.
Like Nicolas says, the (excess) oil produced is the export product. But there are enough small crushing professional devices available to start: no need to wait for a 50.000 tons of oil plant right away. Bringing in such an amount of seed will introduce a lot of logistics. And the seed cake is a good fertilizer: keep it in the vicinity where plants are grown, do not drag around.
One thing small scaled factories do need is power. A part of the oil can be used to drive the power generators and the oil is not the only fuel: any (dry) biomass of a kind can be used, any wet bio-residue can be digested to produce gas.
A part of any project should be the energy generation. Since Jatropha is a energy crop, providing energy through the Jatropha to the community is not that far fetched.

About large scale: With the WWW, cloud computing we do not need super-computers to calculate very difficult problems. With “Smart Grid” for electricity we do not need large coal-, nuclear-electricity power plants. Small distributed power generation will work better. That will apply just as well for almost any type of production where the finished product is a small unit. Distributed pressing seems to me just as viable.

indeed Diligent is producing Jatropha oil commercially in Tanzania. This year we expect to produce about 100 tons – so indeed small scale still. BBC World made a brief docu about our approach recently, see . Other than what Ab van Peer writes, we do collect seeds also from Jatropha planted by farmers with our support (not only from wild plants). His comment about the need for people and logistics is entirely correct, however. We”ll be pleased to discuss with you if we can be of any help.

Regarding the crushing, can I remind everyone that a standard “small scale crusher” leaves 8 to 10% oil in the cake after pressing. 8% for the best press. And with aging, the leftout is more around 14/15%.
These amounts are larger than any industrial margin. This is the reason why you should worry about the industrialization process BEFORE planting.
Refering to Ab’s comment, the initial investment is on people and collection systems. We planned a solidarity group “a la Grameen” to build up the system.
Every farmer enters a group of 6 to 10 people. Every village counts several groups (usually 20 to 30) and is organized in a cooperative (we wrote the social contract).
We lended the original seeds, the agronomical support and the farmers / groups / coops have to deliver the seeds to us.
30.000 farmers x ~1,5ha each =~ 50,000 ha total = ~50,000 tons of oil
In 4 years, we can start building our crushing plant taking a 2% cake out of it… and plenty of oil.

Using cold pressing crushers: 27% (standard taby based 70 press), large scale (cold) 33%. This gives you the oil you want to use for transportation fuel directly. Hot crushing gives more, maybe up to the 40% but including the fats and higher phosphates.
You do not want to age the seeds: oil content will be lower. One processes the seeds as soon as possible. Crushing 3 month old seeds gives a lower oil result anyway, large scale or small scale.

Yes one should take care of the processing before planting anyway: the price of your seeds is determined by the one who turns it into a useful product. Add as much value to the product as possible, even if you lose due to inefficiencies. Besides that, the oil and fat in the press cake is not really lost if you have a plan to use the seed cake as well. That should be included as well.

What are you going to do with the harvest before there is a crushing plant? What about the logistics of bringing in the seeds to the factory? What about the logistics of returning the press cake again?
Those parameters should also be calculated in the pressing results for selection.

there is a balance in oild deteoration in the seeds or in the storage tank after expelling. The oil quality in the seeds deteriorates much slower than in the tank. You can store seeds easily half a year (for crushing, not for seeding). You certainly can not store the oil for half a year because it starts to oxidate right after crushing.

Besides that, your oil figures after pressing are pretty optimistic. With cold pressing you will not be able to get more tha 30% oil out of a seed that contains 34%, which is the oil content of the majority of seeds.. It is a trade off between quantity and quality. You will not find jatropha seeds with 40% oilo, unless you talk about jatropha seed kernel.

any body thought of waste to energy/fuel for the rest of the fruit to get even more oil.
We get it from biomass and MSW or tires so fruits should be good to, no dust after that system.

The rest of the fruit, the seedcake and any other material produced by small farmers are an excellent source for biogas on a local scale. It will probably not enough or logistically to expensive to turn it into fuel.

we do use all of the biomass to generate energy. Leaving some oil and fat in the press cake is ok that energy is not lost. That is for local energy generation. Moving around low content energy mass is not interesting.
Ab, neutralizing the oil will take away most of the aging problem. It depends how long you want to store it. If long time, stored cold and in a dark place. Up to 10 months can be done. Depending on the purpose of the oil, which is not for long storage in general.