Jatropha cultivation in southern India: assessing farmers' experiences



Together with 106 farmers who started growing Jatropha (Jatropha curcas L.) in 2004–2006, this research sought to increase the knowledge around the real-life experience of Jatropha farming in the southern India states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Launched as an alternative for diesel in India, Jatropha has been promoted as a non-edible plant that could grow on poor soils, yield oil-rich seeds for production of bio-diesel, and not compete directly with food production. Through interviews with the farmers, information was gathered regarding their socio-economic situation, the implementation and performance of their Jatropha plantations, and their reasons for continuing or discontinuing Jatropha cultivation. Results reveal that 82% of the farmers had substituted former cropland for their Jatropha cultivation. By 2010, 85% (n = 90) of the farmers who cultivated Jatropha in 2004 had stopped. Cultivating the crop did not give the economic returns the farmers anticipated, mainly due to a lack of information about the crop and its maintenance during cultivation and due to water scarcity. A majority of the farmers irrigated and applied fertilizer, and even pesticides. Many problems experienced by the farmers were due to limited knowledge about cultivating Jatropha caused by poor planning and implementation of the national Jatropha program. Extension services, subsidies, and other support were not provided as promised. The farmers who continued cultivation had means of income other than Jatropha and held hopes of a future Jatropha market. The lack of market structures, such as purchase agreements and buyers, as well as a low retail price for the seeds, were frequently stated as barriers to Jatropha cultivation. For Jatropha biodiesel to perform well, efforts are needed to improve yield levels and stability through genetic improvements and drought tolerance, as well as agriculture extension services to support adoption of the crop. Government programs will -probably be more effective if implementing biodiesel production is conjoined with stimulating the demand for Jatropha biodiesel. To avoid food-biofuel competition, additional measures may be needed such as land-use restrictions for Jatropha producers and taxes on biofuels or biofuel feedstocks to improve the competitiveness of the food sector compared to the bioenergy sector. © 2012 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd