Size does matter

The possibilities of cultivating Jatropha curcas for biofuel production in developing countries.

December 2006
Levien van Zon, Brechje Asselbergs, Loes Wijnen, Corine ten Velden, Laura van der Noort, Ruben Harms, Richard Vervuurt, Jupijn van Hemert, Jochem Bokhorst
Expertise Centrum voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling (ECDO), University of Amsterdam

Download the full report:

Executive summary

This report explores the possibilities of cultivating the energy crop Jatropha curcas L. in developing countries (with an emphasis on Cambodia), for the production of vegetable oil and biodiesel. Our aim is to determine how this can be done while improving the situation of the poorest and without putting food security at risk.

We have evaluated existing projects in a number of countries. Projects have been divided into three broad categories: national scale biofuel production (in which the national government is the main initiator), plantation scale production (in which farmers or farmer cooperatives produce biofuel as their primary source of income) and community scale production (whereby communities produce biofuel as an extra source of income or energy).

Producing biofuels on a national scale can decrease dependency on fossil fuel imports, create job opportunities, reduce air pollution in cities and possibly increase income per capita. However, when the production process is highly centralised, the rural poor will not benefit from these advantages. Also, it can lead to deforestation, erosion and water pollution. Besides this, national scale production seems unsuitable for a relatively small country like Cambodia, at least in the short term.

It is hard to find successful examples of Jatropha cultivation on a plantation scale. This is mainly due to low profit margins, low yields and unrealistic expectations. Although Jatropha curcas can grow on many kinds of soil, including marginal lands, it needs sufficient light, water and nutrients in order to produce an acceptable fruit yield. Other causes of failure are three to five year gestation period before the seeds can be harvested, the relatively large investments needed to establish a plantation, and the uncertain market prospects and prices.

Projects on a community provide the most opportunities for sustainable development. Although until now only moderate successes have been booked, this type of production seems to create the most positive benefits. An integrated participative approach with a relatively decentralised, bottom-up organisation improves commitment of those involved in the process. Jatropha curcas hedges planted around fields can decrease water and wind erosion. The seeds can be harvested and the oil used for local applications, such as replacing firewood for cooking and lighting, and driving pumps, oil expellers, mills and generators.

The current version (revision 2, 2007-03-27):

The original report (revision 1, 2006-12-15):

Slides used for presentation of the report:

Last revision of this page: 2007-03-27
For comments or questions, please contact Levien van Zon (