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Posted on: 05-10-2012

Hivos jatropha expert meeting

On Wednesday 3d Oct. some 40 people engaged in Jatropha, from private sector to the academic world met in Utrecht. Harrie Oppenoorth of HIVOS  presented the findings of a meta evaluation of the 6 jatropha projects HIVOS has been involved in the period of 2005-2010.

Presentations about actual experience and perspectives of small holder jatropha production were given, by Flemming Nielsen, Kees Kwant, Janske van Eijck, Hugo Verkuil, Marieke Bruins and Ab van Peer.

In the afternoon, 3 groups were formed, which discussed the various aspects of smallholder jatropha production, processing of jatropha into PPO & biodiesel & other products, smallholder ownership and organizational models.

In general it was concluded that the expectations raised in the beginning of the jatropha hype (around 2005) especially of large companies aiming at exporting jatropha oil to Europe and expecting large profits, were far too high. Also for the projects and small companies starting to work with many smallholder outgrowers, the results are meagre, but, contemplating on all inputs, it can be said that there are promising opportunities for local developments for those areas where the fysical conditions are right, land is abundent, labour costs are low. Especially for a part of subsahel africa and some areas in the far east and middle america.

It is clear that only very committed companies (social entrepreneurs)  or organizations , willing and able to wait for about 6 to 8 years before first positive profit occurs, can succeed with large groups of small holder farmers, albeit with a number of conditions.

The general groups opinion was that the feedstock should be expanded from only Jatropha to other oil seeds, and the products should not be restricted to PPO or biodiesel only, but where possible other products should be commercialised or used in the factory to reduce costs, like producing biogas as fuel for diesel engines, driving  presses or electricity generators, soap and fertilizer from the seed cake.

Furthermore farmers should be engaged  from the early beginning and be given training and inputs to increase their food (cash) crop production, rigth from year one, alongside with training in jatropha production. The jatropha part of their total production should not be larger than maximally 40% of their total land area, in order to keep the same food production on a smaller command area. Jatropha can be placed in hedges around their fields with large distances (around 1 m) or in lanes with intercropping of food crops. Much more knowledge about management of jatropha production has become available from in field action research, but further research is still needed to solve remaining questions and improve yield, one of the most important variables.

The scale of jatropha production and products  can be shown in steps, in relation to the level of investment and size and organization  complexity of the project.

The lowest level is 1 farmer family , growing jatropha with a hand press, producing only soap from the oil, which is an economic attractive business for them. Very hard labour is needed and the press efficiency is low. At present practised in Zimbabwe. Investment level around $ 300/farmer (hand press only plus drum for sedimentation)

Next higher level is farmers organized in farmers groups , trained by extension workers from NGO’s or govt, delivering to a central workshop/factory which can process the seeds into PPO or biodiesel of sufficient quailty for use in cars and diesel engines. Diesel or electric driven mechanical strainer presses are used with oil purification by plate filters and/or  candle filters. Laboratory equipment and capable staff should be present to check the quality on a regular basis.The central workshop delivers also a range of other products, when there is a local market available. The smallholder farmers should prefarably have a share in the central workshop and receive income from it in divident, in addition to income from seeds. Typical investments in a central workshop, between 20-50.000 $ (except building), for production by 500-5000 farmers. Oil production  (pressing plus cleaning) efficiency around 18 %. (clean oil/seeds weigth).

Technical, social and environmental viability has been proven in a number of HIVOS projects, in Honduras, Mozambique, and with local entreprises like Diligent, Tanzania, MBSA in Mali.

Economic viability until now only proven by MBSA (positive results after 6 years) , and depends much on fossil oil price. It has been calculated,  that in general  projects become profitable when world oil price exceeds $ 105/barrel as long as harvesting and de-hulling is done manually and the main product is PPO or biodiesel.

The  following step up in volume and complexity  comes from a change from pressing technology to solvent extraction and esterification of crushed oil seeds into biodiesel . These costly equipment (in the order of  $ 0,5 million for a 20 tons/day unit) requires a larger operation volume, diversifying in oil feedstock species instead of only jatropha, and delivering a number of products. The oil extracted however can be over 90% of the oil contents of the seeds. The beginning of experiments with extracting components from the oil for high value products are starting for jatropha, but have proven their value already in the Castor industry for example, which is also a potential oil seed besides jatropha. Scale of organised farmers minimally around 12000 small holder farmers. MBSA has invested in such equipped and is planning to scale up with units in neighbouring countries in Burkina Faso, Senegal etc. with a total upscaling plan of having 6 million live jatropha plants in 2015.

There are at least some decided enthousiast entrepreneurs and organizations active in this  still promising option for development of remote rural areas. But in all fields of this sectors; in the agricultural, processing and value adding  fields, as well as organisational and political, including CO2 credits and other potential financing schemes (climate mitigation?) further efforts, research and investments are still needed for years to come, before this option is ready for wide scale replication in  suitable regions. We hope that  HIVOS will keep up its role as a forefront player in this field.