Jatropha for Dummies – Part 1

Non-toxic jatropha fruit cluster
Fruit cluster on a non-toxic breeding plant (Bionic orchard, Ghana)

After lots of painful experience during the first generation of commercial Jatropha projects – attempting to exploit the toxic plants potential for biodiesel – many are skeptical regarding a possible success for this cop. Still, groups of professional plant developers have formed worldwide working to convert the wild species Jatropha curcas into a viable commercial energy crop. Combined with an ever increasing flow of scientific reports exploring all aspects of this promising species it can be seen by now: success will only be a matter of time.


While contemporary reports on Jatropha development usually keep staring at incumbent  farming projects which are still struggling with all the typical generation 1 problems, be it planting material or agronomic practices, Jatropha has long shown its enormous potential in all aspects of planting material improvement. The results are clearly visible in the breeding orchards around the world and in many insider reports.


The future of Jatropha is non-toxic, which will make it one of the most profitable crops for farmers ever planted. After pressing the oil from the seeds the remaining seed cake will be a highly valuable raw material for animal feed mixes exceeding even the protein content of soy meal. Jatropha seed meal was falsely considered inevitably toxic and difficult to detoxify. The solution to the problem is the creating of non-toxic cultivars based on wild accessions from the center of origin as parental material. Here at Bionic Palm we are among the world leaders in this sector of plant development…


Protein rich feed materials are in high demand around the world and increasingly expensive. Therefore non-toxic Jatropha is not only breaking the profitability barrier for Jatropha farming projects but also reversing the feed price squeeze in many tropical regions thus allowing poultry rearing and aquaculture to become good SME businesses ounce again.


There is a wide genetic diversity in Jatropha germplasm formerly unexploited which can be found at the center of origin. This allows successful breeding for improved planting material including the introduction of the non-toxic trait. Interspecific hybridization offers a second route to an increased genetic spread for selection of superior traits. Bionic Palm has been using both aspects systematically from the very beginning of the Jatropha Breeder 3.0 program.


Jatropha is ideal in support of advanced agroforestry concepts helping to reclaim depleted soil formerly used for mining and unsustainable farming. With a growing environmental awareness in developing countries requirements are increasing for mining operations to reduce their environmental impact including carbon emissions. Non-toxic Jatropha offers enormous possibilities to convert growing sustainability budgets from simple cost items into effective investments as mining operations are usually also large energy consumers.


Jatropha alleys for vegetable planting
Alleys of pruned Jatropha prepared for vegetable planting (Bionic test farm, Ghana)

Jatropha can play a major role in adaptation to the effects of climate change in the tropical and sub-tropical regions. Advanced Jatropha cultivars will exhibit an increased drought tolerance and offer capabilities to withstand the expected climatic changes in the tropics. Jatropha hedges planted in combination with food crops under irrigation will help protect the latter from the increasingly harsh environmental situation.