The Jatropha Organisation of South Africa                         

              Jatropha Myths in South Africa


Jatropha Myths

Jatropha Plantations: Although Jatropha is currently considered as an alien species in South Africa, Jatropha is not listed as a plant in our (a) Category 1 plants, or declared weeds (b) Plant invaders of Category 2 or (c) Plant invaders of Category 3. We are yet to come across any piece of legislation, statute, act, ordinance or moratorium declaring Jatropha illegal or specifying why a permit would be required to establish a plantation. Please click here if you have any information that could direct us to any act or ordinance outlining the legal status of Jatropha in South Africa. We would be grateful to hear from you and immediately amend the content of this page to incorporate the appropriate status of Jatropha. Notwithstanding the aforementioned, according to Bernd Schmidt of Biodieselafrica, there are to his knowledge 200 farmers in Kwa-Zulu Natal already growing Jatropha.

The only decision Iím aware of is that of the Biofuels Task Team (comprising 13 government departments) including the Department of Agriculture. Their decision to exclude the use of Jatropha as a feedstock for biodiesel production in South Africa was due to 'the need for further research to test the usability in the country'. This however does not constitute a law, act or ordinance as the level at which this decision was made does not imply that it is illegal to plant a Jatropha tree or establish a plantation.

Jatropha Biodiesel: Maize and Jatropha are not permitted crops from which biofuels may be manufactured in South Africa. . The main decision to advance the use of Jatropha for the manufacture of biodiesel lies with The Minister of Agriculture. There is however a stupendous international demand for Jatropha Oil because of its superiority and use for products such as chain saw oil, two stroke and Jet Fuel. We receive daily enquiries from abroad for the supply of refined crude Jatropha Oil.

Various departments have carried out their own research and come up with the same conclusion about insufficient local evidence. The net effect of this is that nobody seems to be able to make a decision or to formulate policy or a Jatropha strategy in the interests of the country as a whole. The current status of Jatropha in South Africa is therefore in limbo while people in decentralized rural communities lose out from a plant with the potential to raise them out of abject poverty. These people know about Jatropha but are unaware of the international demand sitting on their doorstep. We do not expect them to be too happy when they find out that an opportunity waiting has been denied.

I find it really disappointing that although our Biofuels Strategy refers to support for rural communities living on under utilised semi arid land, it recommends Bioethanol from sugar cane and sugar beet and Biodiesel from sunflower, canola and soya beans. The entry level investment required for these crops or enterprises is way beyond the reach of people who earn less than R800 per month each and besides the climate in their semi arid locations is not suitable. In essence a strategy well written with good intentions doesnít apply to people who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries, a typical catch 22 situation. If Jatropha were included in our biofuel strategy, decentralized rural communities would be able to start earning a living in the short term because Jatropha that's currently growing very well in their areas could be exploited to their benefit.

      The above pictures exemplify the type of land where rural folk are compelled  to make pathetic and futile attempts to plant food crops in arid parched soil instead of planting Jatropha that would bring new life to their soil and to the environment.

We are currently assisting a Christian group in Somalia who are using Jatropha to replenish thread bare land. They've started the plantation off by using drip feeders to irrigate the Jatropha saplings. Once the saplings have taken the long tap roots penetrate the soil and draw water from deep below the ground to sustain the tree.

If  the countries patrolling the pirated coastline of Somalia spent the cost of sending only one patrol ship on Jatropha land replenishment instead, it would bring food and employment to the misery of these people thus curtailing piracy and other negative aspects of poverty. The picture above demonstrates that which can be achieved by intercropping Jatropha with edible crops on land that was previously arid.


                      Myths regarding the invasive dispersal of Jatropha Seed.

        Jatropha Seeds are not dispersed by conventional means such as;

  1. Wind dispersal
  2. Water dispersal
  3. Animal dispersal and
  4. Mechanical dispersal
  1. Wind Dispersal: Jatropha seeds are about the same size and weight as coffee beans. Plants that use the wind to disperse their seeds are usually very light or covered in feathery materials that act like parachutes when caught in the wind. Some Seeds look and act like helicopter rotors such that the wind can carry them easily. There are also seeds that may spin and fly in the wind. It is highly unlikely that a Jatropha seed can be transported from one location to another by using wind dispersal as the seeds are heavy and not aerodynamic.
  2. Water dispersal: Plants that use water to disperse their seeds usually grow near rivers or the sea. The seeds float allowing them to be carried away from the mother plant by water. Jatropha grows in semi arid locations where there is hardly any water, few rivers or away from the sea. When Jatropha seeds are soaked, they sink to the bottom when immersed in water. Water dispersal is therefore not one of the most likely means of Jatropha seed dispersal.   
  3. Animal dispersal: Plants using animals to disperse their seed are fleshy and edible. The fruit is consumed and the seed passed out or discarded at another location. Animals do not browse Jatropha neither is it consumed by birds. Other seeds are sticky or cling and attach themselves to passing animals only to be dislodged at another location where they germinate thereby spreading the plant around. This is not the case with Jatropha as the seed is smooth and inedible meaning that animal dispersal can be ruled out as a means of dispersal.
  4. Mechanical or Self Dispersal: Plants that use mechanical means to disperse their seeds split or shatter suddenly throwing their seeds away from the mother plant. Jatropha seeds remain in their pods which have to be pried open to remove the seed from the hulls. A Jatropha plant does not disperse seed by mechanical means.

Jatropha has been dispersed mainly by mankind and few seeds that have enjoyed ideal conditions around the mother plant (gravity). The seeds require 24 to 26 degrees centigrade to germinate and are often attacked by mites if they havenít germinated within four to ten days of propagation. They mostly fall to the ground within their pods, become moist then rot because the moisture retained by the hull compromises the seeds within.

Hereís a picture of a 15 year old isolated Jatropha tree in the North West Province. If the seed were invasive there would be numerous young plants growing around it.

Ample research exists and has been carried out in countries on similar latitudes, parallels and climatic conditions as Southern Africa. We have access to in depth studies that already substantiate that Jatropha is neither invasive nor harmful to the environment.

There are in excess of 200 different Jatropha species widely distributed throughout the tropics. Some of these may or may not be invasive but I assure you that Jatropha Curcas L, which is the most popular species for use as a biodiesel feedstock, is NOT invasive.

The initial way forward for the Government could be to support Jatropha plantations in the north of South Africa from say the 29th degree south parallel up towards our most northern borders. (Thatís a line drawn across South Africa from the bottom of South West Africa, through Kimberley and Ladysmith through to the east coast of Northern Natal)

The reason I write about these myths is that whenever I speak to people about Jatropha Farming Opportunities in South Africa they often come up with the same concerns. This is understandable because we are all aware of the South African love and concern for nature and the environment.

On the other hand Europe, America, Asia and Latin America have all embraced Jatropha having identified it as the number one biodiesel feedstock. Air New Zealand is already flying passenger aircraft using a blend of Jatropha Jet Fuel  while we are  deliberating  the relative merits of Jatropha.

If the following issues were of concern to the rest of the world I assure you they wouldnít be investing millions of dollars in Jatropha plantations worldwide. So letís explore some of these concerns:

The Water Misunderstanding: There is concern about the amount of water the plant needs in case of high water consumption. Thereís also talk around South Africa that the plant will ďsuck up far more of the countryís precious water than the indigenous vegetationĒ The fact of the matter is that Jatropha requires significantly less water than most commercial crops grown in South Africa. It is well known to thrive in semi-arid regions. The plant is amazingly adaptive and can grow in poor soils that are not suitable for food production. One has only to surf the internet for pictures of Jatropha farms to see that wherever Jatropha is grown it is dry, almost arid.

Notice the two pictures at the top of this web page. Its the same picture of an undeveloped waste land where in the next picture you see the established location of the same Jatropha plantation with edible crops growing in between. This demonstrates how well the plant is suitable for the rehabilitation of waste lands and establishment of food crops.

Iíve done extensive Jatropha trials and I assure you that the plant doesnít like or take up too much water. In wet soil it looses its leaves and then dies of stem rot. Before that the roots become stunted then stop growing because of little need to search for water. A characteristic of the plant is its long tap root with lateral roots. Without this thereís also the danger of being blown over. So concern for water consumption should be dismissed because Jatropha prefers very low rainfall conditions making it an ideal commercial crop for most of Southern Africa where other commercial crops are unable to survive without irrigation. 

The above pictures are taken of a few of the many thousands of Jatropha trees growing in and around the North West Province of South Africa. These trees are  well established and produce an abundance of seed throughout the year that fall to the ground without spreading like a weed. If you notice the area surrounding these well established trees, there's absolutely no sign of invasiveness or spreading out of control or taking over the environment.

The Invasive Misunderstanding: My contention is that plums would be considered invasive if they had no commercial value. Many of the vegetables we eat on a daily basis are alien species so what's the big fuss about Jatropha. It makes no sense to "red flag" only renewable technologies and to conveniently ignore established agricultural practices and other bad industrial habits.

In rural areas the natives cook under the Jatropha  tree, sit in the shade of the tree, reap the tree and use the seed for fuel, medicine and fertilizer. They rake the leaves for compost and generally use the plant as one of their means of sustenance. If given the opportunity they would sell every last seed without giving the plant even the slightest chance of becoming invasive.

Besides Jatropha has been around for generations and if invasiveness was the case there would be Jatropha trees growing in everyoneís backyard. Countries like Australia who have declared Jatropha noxious donít actually need Jatropha for commercial and socio economic purposes. They are rich enough and donít have people around who would be remotely bothered about reaping it or using it as a constructive means of livelihood. There are Jatropha trees currently growing around Australia but thereís no sign of them getting or going out of control. There is, however, a Jatropha lobby group in Australia and their invasive or noxious idea may soon become something of the past because of advanced degradation of land caused by climate change.

In countries where there are massive commercial Jatropha plantations the plant has not posed any threat to their environment. 

Investment in Jatropha worldwide has reached in excess 1billion dollars per annum while we in South Africa are still debating the same old issues. Even Arab countries are buying Jatropha seed  from us and starting to establish plantations, meaning that we will soon be buying Jatropha oil from abroad unless we embark on an ambitious program to catch up with the rest of the world.  

Toxicity: Yes Jatropha is toxic but so are 70% of the plants in your flower garden. A simple solution is to wear gloves when handling the seed and this is what nursery workers normally do. In order to be poisoned by Jatropha, one would have to pry the hull open to release the seed and then crush the seed to remove the seed coat to expose the contents which are hardly palatable. It would therefore require some effort to infect oneself with Jatropha toxicity. Animals on the other hand know instinctively not to browse Jatropha whereas humans know better than to eat Jatropha seeds.  

Cancer Promoter: Iím yet to find a documented case of someone dying of Cancer as a result of exposure to Jatropha. This is absolute conjecture promoted by Jatropha scaremongers who use controversial issues to sell other products on the internet.

Oil-Producing Abilities: This is well documented. Please read the articles Iíve provided under Knowledge Base and Reading Materials. Investment in comparative biofuel plant sources wonít bring about the level of decentralized employment as Jatropha can and neither will they serve to alleviate poverty and food shortages while contributing to climate change.


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  Today's Date: 01/10/2015 02:38

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