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Script 80.7

Notes to broadcasters

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With all the concerns about global warming caused by burning fossil fuels like coal and petroleum, there is a rush to find alternative and environmentally friendly sources of energy. Much attention is being given to “biofuels”, which are fuels produced from living plants. Corn, sugar cane and other food plants are being turned into biofuels in the United States and elsewhere. There is a lot of excitement about African crops that might be used to produce biofuel. One crop that is getting a lot of attention is jatropha. In this script, we look at the benefits of jatropha to small-scale farmers.

It is unlikely at present that small-scale farmers will grow jatropha for processing into biofuel unless they are part of a larger scheme to do so, or unless there is a jatropha processing unit near their farm. But there are plenty of other reasons for small-scale farmers to grow jatropha, all of which are detailed in the script.

DCFRN is not taking a position on whether jatropha or any other biofuel crop is a good response to global warming, because the science and economics of this question are too complex at present to take a definite position. As a broadcaster whose audience is small-scale farmers, it is a good idea to orient your programming towards their needs. Thus, this script talks about the benefits of jatropha to small-scale farmers.

Script

Host:
Good morning to all! Lots of people have been talking about jatropha, a plant that produces oil for bio-fuel. With all the concern about global warming, jatropha and other biofuel crops are getting a lot of attention, and a lot of “hype”. Biofuels might provide an alternative to burning “fossil fuels” such as coal and petroleum. Whether or not jatropha is the “magic” solution to global warming that people are hoping for is not the question we will answer today. Can it help small-scale farmers, or is it only suitable to large-scale farming? This is the question we will address in this program. We will tell you what jatropha is, and how it can be used by small-scale farmers to protect their soil, produce fuel for oil lamps, manufacture soap, and create new sources of cash income. Stay tuned. We will be back in a minute to speak to a jatropha expert.

Short musical break.

Host:
Yes, today we are talking about jatropha. We are fortunate to have with us an experienced jatropha grower who will tell us how jatropha can benefit small-scale farmers. Welcome, Mr. Z.

Mr. Z:
Thank you for inviting me. I look forward to passing on some good information on this interesting and useful plant.

Host:
Can you start out by telling me about the plant itself, and where it can be grown?

Mr. Z:
Jatropha is a perennial plant that lives up to 50 years and produces seeds for its whole lifetime. It is resistant to drought and grows on fairly infertile soils. It is a small tree or shrub which grows between three and five meters in height, but can grow up to eight or ten meters under favourable conditions. It is a good plant to interplant with food plants. It is more successful in drier parts of Africa, where annual rainfall is between 60 and 100 centimetres. It prefers average annual temperatures above 20° but can grow at higher altitudes and tolerates slight frost.

Host:
We’ve heard a lot of news lately about large plantations of jatropha being grown in different parts of Africa to produce biofuel. This biofuel would replace fossil fuels such as oil and gas for cars and trucks and other uses. People have talked about how these plantations could generate a lot of money for African countries and African farmers. But can jatropha benefit small-scale growers as well?

Mr. Z:
This big focus on growing jatropha for biofuel is relatively new. The fact is that jatropha is not a new plant to Africa, and it has been benefiting small farmers all over Africa for many years. For example, farmers in Mali and other West African countries have planted jatropha hedges for many years to stop soil erosion and the shifting of sand dunes, and to stabilize small dams. Jatropha oil cake is also an excellent organic fertilizer.

Host:
Does jatropha have other uses?

Mr. Z:
Certainly. Traditionally, rural women used Jatropha as a medicine and to produce soap. The traditional soap-making process is very labour-intensive, and produces small amounts of relatively poor-quality soap. But when Jatropha oil is used, either alone or in combination with other local plant oils such as shea butter, larger amounts of better soap are produced. Women can sell this soap in local markets and nearby towns, and increase their income by using local resources.

Host:
Soap-making sounds like a good idea to increase rural incomes. Does jatropha have other benefits for small scale farmers?

Mr. Z:
Livestock do not like jatropha leaves or stems, so they don’t browse on jatropha hedges. Because of this, jatropha hedges can act as a living fence, protecting food crops from livestock. And of course the oil is very valuable.

Host:
Tell us about jatropha oil.

Mr. Z:
Well, about 1/3 of the jatropha seed is made up of oil, and five kilograms of seeds produce about one litre of oil. Also, a one-metre hedge will produce about one kilogram of seed. As well as making a very good soap, the oil is used as fuel. Traditionally, it’s been used to fuel grain mills and water pumps. Also, it’s very good for lamps and lanterns because it burns without emitting smoke. It is even said that the oil kills the vector snails that cause Schistosomiasis!

Host:
I have heard that some people are warning that growing jatropha and other non-food crops for biofuel in Africa may not be a sustainable strategy and could cause problems. What do you think about this?

Mr. Z:
If small-scale farmers can grow jatropha for biofuel and use it, for example, as fuel for lamps, stoves or mills and water pumps, this I think is a good thing. In many African countries, deforestation is a big issue. We are cutting down our forests for fuel wood and charcoal. If jatropha and other plants can be used for fuel, then we can stop cutting down our forests. But it is difficult to predict what would happen if a lot of African land was planted to grow biofuel crops such as jatropha. Some people are worried that, with the current high prices for oil, farmers might plant biofuel crops on land they had used for food crops. This is particularly worrying in areas of Africa where high food prices are the most immediate reason why people go hungry.

Host:
But you would recommend that small-scale farmers grow jatropha not because it’s a biofuel crop, but because of its many uses – is that correct?

Mr. Z:
Yes, that is correct. Jatropha can increase family income, provide some of the home energy costs, help combat soil erosion and increase fertility. All this and it’s easy to grow, even in dry areas that don’t easily support food crops! I have an important warning for a village that wants to increase jatropha production and perhaps do local processing or jatropha fencing on a larger scale. The warning is that care must be taken to ensure that women retain their traditional responsibilities for harvesting and processing the seeds. If not, then the financial situation of the village will not benefit.

Host:
That sounds like good advice, Mr. Z. I appreciate you speaking to us about jatropha today and helping us to understand the benefits of jatropha for small-scale farmers.

Mr. Z:
You are most welcome.

Host:
Thanks to our listeners for tuning in today. If you have any questions about the subject of jatropha, biofuels or anything else, please don’t hesitate to phone the station at (phone number). We may not have the answer to your questions, but we will try to find someone who does! Goodbye for now.

Signature theme up for 10 seconds, then fade.

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, managing director, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.
Reviewed by: Reinhard Henning, Bagani, a consulting firm specializing on renewable energies in developing countries, Rothkreuz 11, D-88138 Weissensberg, Germany.

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