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Environment & Poverty Times No. 5

Fighting poverty and producing environment-friendly energy

Steven Jarona picks his jatropha seeds.
(Photo: Tor Steinar Rafoss)

By Vigdis Francis, Majiwa

When farmers in our part of west Kenya heard through the mass media about Jatropha curcas – a tree with oil producing seeds capable of earning precious income – they decided to give it a try.

Farmer and local leader Steven Jarona, 33 and blind since he was 24, heard about jatropha farming and decided to experiment.

Steven has now grown a lot of jatropha plants which have given very good yields. Since there is no proper market at the moment, he has been selling the seeds to a local environmental research institute called the Kenya Agro Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), being paid KES 3500 to KES 4000 per kg of Jatropha seeds sold. Steven, despite his blindness, is now able to earn his own small income, thanks to jatropha seeds.

Interest grew among local farmers and young people in Steven’s village and they registered a group called Nam Lolwe Jatropha Farmers with the district social services, Bondo. The group is now made up of more than 100 members and has at 6,000 jatropha plants.

All these activities have been initiated by ARC Kenya – a local development NGO – plus local farmers. Green Asembo finance – a local credit scheme is also an important partner in this project. Together with ARC Kenya they have started the Green ARO community SACCO project, managed by Alex Omino. They provide small loans to farmers interested in jatropha farming, with money advanced to be paid back after a certain period.

The district administration from Bondo and Rarieda districts in Kenya have visited the successful plantations. Nam Lolwe Jatropha Farmer’s Group is now an important organization in terms of its skills in jatropha farming.

Some farmers say that since they started growing jatropha plants, interspersed with such crops as maize or beans, they’ve noticed soils have been enriched with an increase in crop yields.

Various experiments on jatropha oil are being carried out by farmers with some using the oil for medicinal purposes. One farmer says his son had a lot of chiggers on his toes but when he applied jatropha oil, the chiggers were reduced. Some farmers have also found that the bark of the jatropha plant can be used as a raw material for dyeing clothes.

Since there is currently no ready market for jatropha oil in Kenya, farmers are accumulating their seeds to increase production further. They are also starting their own oil production and have won an order for 100 litres. If the farmers are successful in their production methods it means they will be able to have a vital source of income.

Meanwhile, a local self-help project in Asembo Bay, Kenya will receive the first tractor with an engine modified specially for jatropha diesel later this year. A Danish farmer’s association, after receiving some Jatropha oil for testing, has been working on modifying the tractor engine.

Successful planting of jatropha has been taking place, production is increasing and poverty is being reduced. We are all working hard to cultivate and experiment with this new source of biodiesel, which is both affordable and environmentally friendly.

Jatropha seeds.
(Photo: Tor Steinar Rafoss)

Jatropha flower.
(Photo: Tor Steinar Rafoss)

Facts about jatropha

  • Jatropha seeds contain 30 per cent oil that can be processed to biodiesel.
  • Jatropha plants don’t require much water and therefore are most appropriate for arid/semi arid areas.
  • The plant is good for intercropping. Therefore, it can be integrated in local agriculture production systems where two or more crops are grown simultaneously in the same field.
    The plant is a nitrogen fixing plant, it has high humus content and prevent high water run off – all this is good for soil conservation. The plant can provide other by-products like glycerine for soap, alternative animal feeds and organic fertilizer.
  • Oil can be squeezed from the seeds manually.

Source: Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species. 2006. Jatropha Curcas L. in Africa.

Jatropha fruits.
(Photo: Tor Steinar Rafoss)