Background Information about Jatropha

Appearance and Botanical Characteristics

Jatropha curcas L. or physic nut is commonly referred to simply as "Jatropha" although there are more than 100 other known Jatropha species within the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). Jatropha is a perennial large shrub or small tree with a robust nature, which is highly adapted to drouhts. It can grow up to a height of 6 to 8 meters but is usually kept at 2 to 3 meters for plantation management. The plant can live up to 50 years. Jatropha fruits usually contain 3 toxic, non-edible seeds that are rich in oil and nutrients. The residues after oil extraction thus provide an excellent organic fertiliser. Due to its toxicity in all plant parts, Jatropha is not browsed by animals and protects itself from major pests.

Climate and Soil Requirements

Jatropha is adapted to a very wide range of climatic and soil conditions and grows well even in hot and arid regions and on marginal soils with low nutrient content and high acidity. Jatropha, with its strong root system, has the capability to reclaim degraded soils, thus countering erosion and desertification. While the plant's climatic optimum is a mean annual temperature of 22-28 °C and mean annual rainfall of 800-1200 mm, Jatropha has been known to withstand light frost and survive severe droughts, albeit at reduced productivity. In fine, Jatropha is suitable for the reclamation of degraded land which cannot be used for agricultural production. The total amount of such degraded areas in the tropics is estimated at 2 billion hectares worldwide.

Origin and Distribution

Jatropha's centre of origin is believed to be in Mexico and Central America. Traditionally, Jatropha oil has been used for illuminating streets and homes, as a feedstock for the production of soap and for medicinal purposes. Jatropha was introduced into Africa and Asia during colonial times and is now grown in the tropics worldwide. In spite of its hardiness it has never shown invasive tendencies.

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