GVEP International investigates the potential of Jatropha to improve livelihoods in Zambia where 96% of rural households survive on less than 1 USD per day.
The Jatropha Curcas is a useful shrub. It is drought-resistant, requires less intensive management and can live for 50 years. It grows up to 5 metres in height and its leaves are toxic which means it makes a good hedge to keep animals out.
Yet another use attracted the attention of hundreds of people at the Agricultural and Commercial Show of Zambia in Lusaka earlier this year. Using oil from the seeds of the Jatropha, a women’s club from the district of Chibombo demonstrated how they have succeeded in powering a hammer mill to grind maize. Discovering that using diesel to fuel their machinery was costly and inconvenient, the women took part in a project learning how to cultivate the Jatropha plant and use its oil, in conjunction with diesel, in a dual fuel engine system where the engine starts and stops on diesel, but otherwise runs on the plant oil. The beauty of the system is that the oil can be used directly without the need for further processing so farmers can produce their own fuel locally. In Chibombo they can produce 400 litres of biofuel a day from about 2 tons of seeds.
The project in which these women participated was part of a community generated power project run by Development Aid from People to People in Zambia (DAPP), the GAIA Movement and GVEP-International. Funded initially through the GVEP GAP Fund and a second phase financing through USAID, the project aimed to reduce local dependency on imported energy sources and improve the local and global environment by increasing options for income generation. DAPP believes Jatropha has the potential to do this and hopes that additional funding can be secured to continue the project.
Much has been done to spread the word about Jatropha oil and interest has been widespread. Pamphlets entitled “Growing Jatropha” were distributed at the Lusaka fair and dozens of representatives from foreign and local NGOs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Zambian agricultural producers received this, too, along with “Soil to Oil”, at a conference organized by “Agro Pro Forum”. A Community Generated Power Conference offered a further opportunity to disseminate information to a range of participants, including representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, USAID and the Zambian Biofuel Association as well as local village leaders and farmers.
Interest in the project among farmers has been such that about 800 smallholders have now been trained in Jatropha-growing and currently there are about 80,000 plants being cultivated. A large number of farmers have also been taught how to produce soap and how to use the oil in a simple lamp in order to cut down their washing and lighting costs.
Although it is still undergoing endurance testing at Delhi College of Engineering, the dual fuel system appears to be giving promising results and the possibilities for its adaptation for use with other plant oils such as cotton seed oil and even waste oil from restaurants have already attracted a great deal of attention. As part of the project, 400 litres of biodiesel were donated to selected members of the community for use in their various vehicles and engines in order to further highlight its use.
This project has brought a local community and numerous organizations and individuals together in an effort to improve and refine a renewable energy source which, in the long-term, has the potential to make a huge impact upon the provision of locally-generated energy to rural communities world-wide. Much has been learned, not only from a scientific and technical point of view, but also in terms of the value of the cooperation with and the contribution from the different sectors of the DAPP network. The success of this project to date and the hope that Jatropha-oil and the dual fuel system offer as another means to fight poverty is ample motivation to continue work in this field.