Jatropha is a tree-like bush that has enormous potential for solving many of the world's energy problems. The former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, urged his country's residents in 2008 to plant the crop in order to provide jobs and combat desertification. China and Brazil are following India's lead in promoting Jatropha farming. In the United States, a demonostrative farm was planted in Florida to raise awareness of the benefits of Jatropha farming
The Jatrohpa tree is believed to have originated in Mexico or Central America. It has subsequently been introduced to Asia, Africa, India, Europe and the United States. The plant is an ideal crop in areas that receive minimal rainfall, or where the soil is too poor to produce other crops. For this reason, Jatropha is grown mainly in tropical or desert climates.
Jatropha trees are planted by hand. When planting large numbers of the seedlings, a tractor with a post-hole digger attachment may be used. Even though the holes may be dug by a machine, the plants will nonetheless be placed into the ground by hand no matter what region they are being planted in. Seedlings that are from one to three months old are ideal for planting. They should be spaced four to five feet apart with rows also being four to five feet apart in width. Around 1,000 to 1,200 plants can be grown in a hectare (roughly 2.5 acres) of land.
The farming of Jatropha is highly labor-intensive the first two years. The tree will require pruning by hand two or three times during the first year of growth. After the trees are well-established, they are easy to maintain. A typical acre of Jatropha trees will require only one worker the second year after planting.
The seeds of the Jatropha tree are ready for harvesting when the greed seed pods turn yellow. This is normally two to four months after the flowers are fertilized. The pods are harvested by hand and placed into an expeller. This machine has a hand-crank that will expel the oil from the seeds inside the pod.
Scientists have taken a special interest in the Jatropha tree because of its oily seeds, which are very useful in the production of biodiesel fuel. The seeds of the plant have an oil content of around 37%. An acre of Jatropha plants could produce between 600 and 1,000 gallons of oil for the production of biodiesel fuel each year.
In India, massive efforts are underway to plant and harvest this crop for production of biofuel. India has between 50 and 130 million hectares of wasteland along with the fastest-growing population on earth. These factors make Jatropha farming especially appealing because it reduces the need for fossil fuels, stimulates the local economy and prevents desertification. China and Brazil have followed India's lead and are investing heavily in Jatropha
The outlook for Jatropha farming is very positive. Efforts are underway in Florida to encourage farmers whose land is unsuitable for growing conventional crops to consider Jatropha farming. Because Jatropha can be grown in dry, arid conditions and does not need to be planted in good soil, it is an excellent choice for landowners in desert regions who might otherwise be unable to produce crops. The plant lives an average of 50 years, so seedlings planted today could continue to provide a harvest well into the next generation.