The Current State of Affairs in India
A significant number of small farmers in the villages of Hunsur Taluk, Mysore, Southern Karnataka state, make a living by growing tobacco that they export. To most subsistence farmers this is the only crop that brings in some money. The raw tobacco leaves are processed in barns using firewood, which is scarce. The villagers are forced to cut down trees to fuel the curing of tobacco. The destruction of forest is harming regional biodiversity: for example, the agents who supply firewood for villagers are infringing on the boundaries of the Nagarahole (Rajiv Gandhi) National Park, which is a wild animal sanctuary. Consequently, human-animal conflicts have started to become much more common and dangerous. The Indian government recently signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and will aim to cut down tobacco cultivation by half by the year 2020. (Article from 10/11/2008, The Hindu Newspaper) The Indian government is trying to wean the farmers away from growing tobacco by offering a compensation packages. However, this solution will not be sufficient, as the money would run out soon, if no alternative commercial crops are available.
What exactly is Jatropha curcas?
Jatropha curcas is a small, perennial shrub that grows 3-5 meters in height. It was originally native to Central America, and grows well in the tropics. It has many uses, among them biofuel, cosmetics, and fertilizer.
Why use Jatropha?
Jatropha Curcas produces seed that contain an inedible vegetable oil that is used to produce biofuel. Each Jatropha seed produces between 35 to 37% of its mass in oil.
• It is drought resistant.
• It can be grown almost anywhere - even in sandy, saline, or infertile soil.
• It adapts well to marginal soils with low nutrient content.
• It is relatively easy to propagate.
• It is not invasive or damaging.
• It is capable of stabilizing sand dunes, acting as a windbreak or combating desertification.
• It naturally repels insects and animals do not browse it.
• It lives for over 50 years producing seeds all the time.
• It is resilient against the cold.
• It does not exhaust the nutrients in the land; rather, it rejuvenates overused land.
• It does not require expensive crop rotation.
• It does requires minimum fertilizers.
• It grows quickly and establishes itself easily.
• It has a high yield.
• No displacement of food crops is necessary.
• The biodiesel byproduct, glycerin, is profitable in itself.
• The waste plant mass after oil extraction can be used as a fertilizer.
• The plant itself recycles 100% of the CO2 emissions produced by burning the biodiesel; two mature plants can absorb 1 metric ton of carbon every year.
In his book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Thomas L. Friedman gives 4 criterion that any biofuel must meet: It must have a large positive energy input, not destroy biodiversity-rich land, must not release large amounts of carbon dioxide when grown, and must not solve one problem only to create another. Jatropha meets all of these criterion.
Our Jatropha project differs from the ones that are currently in place. The project that we have undertaken starts at the grassroots level. Our "Project Jatropha" mission has two collaborators: Parivarthana and Labland Biotechs. Parivarthana is a non-governmental organization which is involved in rural poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and sustainable rural development. It is located at Hunsur Taluk, Mysore District, Karnataka State. Labland Biotechs is a plant biotechnology company located in Mysore. It has a modern biotechnology lab and a modern green house for mass multiplication of different plants, including Jatropha curcas. This is a cooperative mission between these collaborators. We are the facilitators, the catalysts, who brought the different groups together. The beneficiaries are farmers and women's self help groups (SHGs).
The project's main goal is to enable these farmers to grow Jatropha either as a hedge plant or as an intercrop on a scale that would be economically viable.