In order to reduce the annual $1 billion cost of importing petroleum the Ethiopian government several years ago began sowing an inedible plant called Jatropha Curcas on plantations in Benishangul, Wolayta, Wollo and Tigrai and some eastern regions of Ethiopia to produce bio-diesel for domestic use.
Regional forestry and agro forestry team leader Tsega ab Teka told VOA, “the plant was introduced in Tigrai and in 2006 more than 1.6 million seedlings were planted in 13 woredas and 80 percent of the seedlings have survived. Moreover, 10 million Jatropha Curcas seedlings are being planted in eight woredas of Tigrai in this Ethiopian summer.”
The government effort follows similar projects in 21 countries including China, India and Zimbabwe. Jatropha Curcas is an inedible plant with an oil content of 37 percent.
The plant is highly drought-resistant and a fast-growing plant that produces the oil-bearing seeds each year for 40 years. It grows in drier regions of the tropics with annual rainfall of 300-1000 mm and temperatures of 20-28 degrees centigrade. It is a highly adaptable species and grows in soils with low nutrient content. The plant produces seeds within its first two years and in some environments can produce two harvests per year, giving off 8 tons per hectare per year. One ton of Jatropha seed can yield 600 liters of bio-diesel.
Recent research indicates that, although vegetable oil can be produced from an estimated 100 plant species, Jatropha Curcas has become the favorite for producing bio-fuel.
“It is a multipurpose plant which can be used mainly to produce bio-diesel. The by-product is used to make a wide range of products including high-quality paper, soap, cosmetics, toothpaste, and the waste by-product of the bio-diesel can be used as a rich organic fertilizer,” said Tsega ab.