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October 10, 2009

Malawi advocates jatropha as eco-friendly energy source

Malawi is considering creating two new bio-diesel plants to diversify energy resources.

The landlocked southeast African country has launched a multimillion-dollar program focusing on large-scale farming of the jatropha plant, a non-food crop that can be grown on semi-arid land.

The name “jatropha” comes from two Greek words meaning “physician” and “nutrition” and is more commonly known as “physic nut.” Supporters say the plant poses less of a threat to food production than other biofuel feedstocks such as grains and vegetable oils.

It takes about a year for the plant to start producing fruit. Biodiesel is then extracted from the jatropha seeds.

Fyson Chinkhosa, a farmer said, "When I first heard that jatropha seeds are used to make biodiesel, I quickly showed interest and planted. I know it is new in Malawi. Elsewhere I am told they started some time ago. I am very hopeful I will make money through sales."

The Malawi government hopes this project will help alleviate the country's dependence on fossil fuels.

Local entrepreneurs are already jumping on the bandwagon.

Patouma Thunga, a local businesswoman, said, "It is a locally found product and it is environmentally friendly. And also if we can have our own plant to produce more jatropha oil, I think it can be cheaper than the one which we are using from filling stations."

Jatropha yields over 2,000 barrels of oil per square mile planted in a year, versus maize's 200 barrels and 1,000 barrels produced by rice.

Critics say the plant is not easy to grow and takes up to 25 years to mature. But that doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for growing jatropha.

Patouma Thunga, another businesswoman, said, "It can be used in vehicles, it can be used as a lubricant and also we can make a mosquito repellant from the seed cake."

Malawi’s Ministry of Energy and Mines has said the country should be able to mass-produce biodiesel by the end of the year.


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