A multi-factor evaluation of Jatropha as a feedstock for biofuels: the case of sub-Saharan Africa

Document Type : Review Paper


Chinhoyi University of Technology, School of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, P. Bag 7724, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe


Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is a geographical region consisting of 49 countries, out of which, 39 countries have experiences with the cultivation of Jatropha curcas L. Since the year 2000 Jatropha production escalated in the region and peaked in around 2007/2008. The major drivers of this trend were claims made about Jatropha including include its ability to grow on marginal lands, high seed and oil yields, and drought tolerant, amongst other attributes. However, the reality has shown that these attributes have not been realised.  The objective of the present paper is to analyse the performance of Jatropha as a biofuel feedstock in SSA based on agronomic, economic, social and environmental factors involved in its production. Evidences in SSA show that the major challenge with Jatropha cultivation has been low seed yields, ranging between 0.1 and 2 t/ha. This in turn has led to oil yields which are not sufficiently viable for use in production of biofuels such as biodiesel. There have also been reported challenges with production on wastelands, low use of inputs, unimproved planting materials and vulnerability to pests and diseases. These have negatively affected the performance of Jatropha causing the original claims made about this energy crop not materialised in the SSA.

Graphical Abstract

A multi-factor evaluation of Jatropha as a feedstock for biofuels: the case of sub-Saharan Africa


Achten, W.M.J., Verchot, L., Franken, Y.J., Mathijs, E., Singh, V.P., Aerts, R., Muys, B., 2008. Jatropha biodiesel production and use. Biomass Bioenergy. 32(12), 1063-1084.
Brittaine, R., Lutaladio, N., 2010. Jatropha: A smallholder bioenergy crop: The potential for pro-poor pevelopment. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy.
FACT Foundation, 2006. Handbook on Jatropha curcas. First Draft. FACT Foundation, Eindhoven. Available at http://www.jatropha-alliance.org/fileadmin/documents/knowledgepool/Rijssenbeek_Jatropha_Handbook.pdf (accessed on 20 March 2015).
Gasparatos, A., Lee, L.Y., von Maltitz, G.P., Mathai, M.V., Puppim de Oliveira, J.A., Willis, K.J., 2012. Biofuels in Africa: Impacts on Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity and Human Well-Being; United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies: Tokyo, Japan.
German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), 2009. Jatrophareality check, a field assessment of the agronomic and economic viability of Jatrophaand other oilseed crops in Kenya, Endelevu Energy, World Agroforestry Centre, Kenya Forestry Research Institute.
Renner, A., Zelt, T., Gerteiser, S., 2008. Global market study on Jatropha. Final Report Prepared for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), GEXSI, London.
Heller, J., 1996. Physic nut. Jatropha curcas L. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilised and neglected crops. 1. Gatersleben, Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop and Plant Research.
Henning, R.K., 2003. Jatropha curcas L. in Africa: Assessment of the impact of the dissemination of ‘the JatrophaSystem’ on the ecology of the rural area and the social and economic situation of the rural population (target group) in selected countries in Africa. Available at http://www.underutilized-species.org/Documents/PUBLICATIONS/jatropha_curcas_africa.pdf (accessed on 27 March 2015).
Iiyama, M., Newman, D., Munster, C., Nyabenge, M., Sileshi, G.W., Moraa V., Onchieku, J., Mowo, J.G., Jamnadass, R., 2013. Productivity of Jatropha curcas under smallholder farm conditions in Kenya. Agrofor. Syst. 87, 729-746.
Ismail, M., Rossi, A., 2010. A compilation of bioenergy sustainability initiatives. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), Rome, Italy.
Jimu, L., Nyakudya, I.W., Katsvanga, C.A.T., 2009. Establishment and Early Field Performance of Jatropha curcas L at Bindura University Farm, Zimbabwe. J. Sust. Dev. Afr. 10(4), 445-469.
Jingura, R.M., 2012. Socio-economy, agro-ecological zones, agronomic practices and farming system of Jatropha curcas L. in sub-Saharan Africa, in: Carels, N., Sujatha, M., Bahadar, B. (Eds.), Jatropha, Challenges for a New Energy Crop: Volume 1: Farming, Economics and Biofuel, New York: Springer Science + Business Media, pp. 311- 331.
Justica Ambiental (JA) and União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC), 2009. Jatropha! A socio-economic pitfall for Mozambique. Available at http://www.viacampesina.net/downloads/PDF/Report-Jatropha-JA-and-UNAC.pdf (accessed on 26 March 2015).
Kant, P., Wu, S., 2011. The extraordinary collapse of Jatropha as a global biofuel. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 7114-7115.
Maes, W.H., Trabucco, A., Achten, W.M.J., Muys, B., 2009. Climatic growing conditions of Jatropha curcas L. Biomass Bioenergy. 9(33), 1481-1485.
Openshaw, K., 2000. A review of Jatropha curcas: An oil plant of unfulfilled promise. Biomass Bioenergy. 19, 1-15.
Ouwens, D.K., Francis, G., Franken, Y.J., Rijssenbeek, W., Riedacker, A., Foidl, N., Jongschaap, R., Bindraban, P., 2007. Position Paper on Jatropha curcas: State of the Art, Small and Large Scale Project Development, Wageningen, FACT Foundation.
Pohl, C., 2010. Jatropha: Money doesn’t Grow on Trees Ten Reasons Why Jatropha is Neither a Profitable nor Sustainable Investment; Friends of the earth: Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Available at: http://www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/publications/jatropha_FoEIreport_Jan2011.pdf (accessed on 25 March 2015).
Sale, N.A.C., Dewes, H., 2009. Opportunities and challenges for the international trade of Jatropha curcas derived biofuel from developing countries. Afr. J. Biotechnol. 8(4), 515-523.
Trabucco, A., Achten, W.M.J., Bowe, C., Aerts, R., van Orshoven, J., Norgrove, L., Muys, B., 2010. Global mapping of Jatropha curcas yield based on response of fitness to present and future climate. GCB Bioenergy. 2, 139-151.
Von Maltitz, G., Gasparatos, A., Fabricius, C., 2014. The Rise, Fall and Potential Resilience Benefits of Jatropha in Southern Africa.  Sustainability. 6, 3615-3643.
Wahl, N., Jamnadass, R., Baur, H., Munster, C., Iiyama, M., 2009. Economic viability of Jatropha curcas L. Plantations in Northern Tanzania – Assessing farmers prospects via cost-benefit analysis, World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi.