Jatropha plant is indigenous to Central America. It is now grown in many subtropical areas, including India, Africa and North America. Jatropha is a hardy plant that grows in conditions where most other plants do not survive. It is a nonfood crop because of its highly toxic nature. Consumption of as few as two or three jatropha nuts is fatal to humans and animals. In recent times, Jatropha has been explored as a source of bio-fuel and energy, apart from exhibiting a number of other advantages.
Jatropha produces seeds within 12 months of planting. The seeds then are used to produce oil. Oil production and income starts within the first year itself. The oil is used for purposes where use of other oils has become prohibitive due to high cost. An example is to use it to light lamps and in the manufacture of soaps, where high cost has made use of conventional edible oils, like palm oil, uneconomical. The oil can also be used as it is in power-generating stations.
Jatropha seeds produce 37 percent oil while the kernels produce another 60 percent. Also, the plant is a perennial and continues to yield for up to 50 years. Jatropha can be cultivated on arid, semi-arid or nonagricultural land. It does not compete with other essential food crops for cultivation. There is no loss of income as there would be if it had to be cultivated on fertile land. Also, the plant requires very little water. Because of this, the cost of cultivating jatropha is very low, while the yield is very high. It can produce up to two tons of bio-diesel per hectare. This is nearly 10 times the output of oil as other sources of bio-diesel.
When oil is extracted from jatropha seeds, what is left over of the seeds in the form of "cakes" has a very high nitrogen content. This natural organic fertilizer can be used to fertilize semi-arid and nonfertile land. Treatment of up to five years with this "cake" makes the soil suitable for plantation of food crops and trees.
Since jatropha can be grown on wastelands, arid and semi-arid as well as nonagricultural land, this leads to utilization of land that would otherwise have lain waste. Jatropha plants form a taproot to go deep into the soil to look for water. This is beneficial to the land as it prevents soil erosion, and keeps the plant secure in times of droughts and cyclones. Use of noncultivable land means creation of jobs in areas where there would have been no other means of employment. This reduces the need for migration toward urban areas.