In December 2009, the Union government launched the National Biodiesel Mission (NBM), identifying Jatropha as the most suitable tree-borne oilseed for biodiesel production to help achieve a proposed biodiesel blend of 20 per cent with conventional diesel by 2017. Biodiesel procurement started in 2014, and the pilot programme subsequently started in August 2015. It was then extended to six states.
It was Raman Singh, Chief Minister, Chhattisgarh, who launched a campaign way back in 2003 to promote jatropha cultivation with the intent of making the state the hub of biofuel in India.
What is Jatropha?
Jatropha curcas is a flowering plant species, which is native to American tropics, most likely Mexico and Central America. Since this plant can grow in wastelands across India, and the oil is considered to be an excellent source of bio-diesel, its cultivation is being promoted.
What’s interesting is that the cultivation of Jatropha can provide farmers with an added income since it can be grown in dry-marginal, no agricultural lands.
13-years ago, a plantation drive for Jatropha (a.k.a. Ratanjyot) was launched in Ghatbhera, a village in Bilaspur. Forming a part of India’s goal to achieve energy independence by 2018, this initiative shot to prominence with the country’s first biofuel-powered aircraft completing its maiden flight from Dehradun to Delhi.
How is the oil processed?
Seeds from the fields in Ghatbhera are sent to a biofuel plant in Raipur, where the oil is extracted and sent to the Indian Institute of Petroleum, based in Dehradun. According to a report published in The Times of India, Sohraj Singh Kanwar, who has been growing the Jatropha seeds for over a decade now, said, “We heard that a plane flew on jatropha oil. The seeds came from these fields.”
Benefits of cultivating jatropha:
1. The jatropha plants are hardy and can tolerate water scarcity, making it easy to maintain.
2. These plants can grow in various soil and climatic conditions: dry, low rainfall, drought areas, and even poor soil conditions.
3. Cultivating these plants is also known to be helpful in curbing soil erosion.
4. Once cultivated, these plants generate returns for about 30 years.
5. Jatropha cultivation boosts the rural economy and also provides employment and an alternate source of income to the farmers.
6. The jatropha crop does not compete with any other crop, but in turn, helps supplement the income of the farmer.
7. Besides being one of the best sources of biofuel, jatropha is also known for its medicinal value.
8. On an average, from the fourth year of being planted, one can expect between Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per acre of cultivation
9. The jatropha crop is not affected by pests and diseases as much as other crops.
10. The cultivation of jatropha can also be used as fencing to protect crops since livestock does not eat this crop.
With India’s first aircraft powered by biofuel taking off successfully, jatropha cultivation and production seems like a lucrative crop option for farmers.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)