NEWS ANALYSIS: Diversifying economy via jatropha’s cultivation

The Ministry of Environment recently organised international conference in Abuja entitled: “Diversification of the economy: The role of jatropha.’’

The Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed, said at the conference that the aim was to develop a national strategy for the production, processing and marketing of jatropha.

Jatropha is an environmental and economic plant called binidazugu, lapalapa and Okwa Ekpu in Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo respectively.

Environmentalists observe that jatropha is drought-tolerant and has more than 175 species and it is used to produce bio-fuel.

It also serves as wind breakers and shelter belts to curb flooding, desertification and erosion.

To exploit its benefits optimally, Mohammed said the Jatropha Initiative would be facilitated and implemented through the National Agency for the Great Green Wall.

“I hope that by the end of this conference, we would have been able to come to terms on solutions to tackle the present and future problems.

“For us, our new narrative is couched in the Change Agenda and reflects the need to empower people, take climate action and protect the environment,’’ she said.

Similarly, the Minister of State for Environment, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril, said the ministry would embark on the jatropha value chain project aimed at producing a viable green alternative to fossil fuels.

He said the project would provide an additional means of livelihood for local communities that were losing ground water and vegetation every year to desertification.

He said the project would diversify the Nigerian economy by empowering people, fighting desertification, reducing poverty and enhancing the nation’s socio-economic growth.

“Jatropha has been identified by the Nigerian Biofuel Policy and Incentives of 2007 as the most preferred non-food plant for bio-fuel feedstock for production in the country.

“The policy is set out to promote job creation, technology acquisition and foreign investment in the bio-fuel industry,’’ he said.

Reiterating government’s determination to boost jathropha’s cultivation, Senate President Bukola Saraki said the National Assembly would make laws that would transform the country into a greener and cleaner economy.

Saraki reiterated the commitment of the National Assembly to reinvigorating Nigerian biofuel policies to reduce dependence on imported fuel.

Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, said the jatropha project would provide alternative farming strategies and create multiple income streams for farmers.

Dogara appealed to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bank of Industry and Agriculture to be part of the project.

In the same vein, Gov. Kashim Shettima of Borno commended the efforts of the Federal Government on the project.

He said the project would tackle desertification, drought and deforestation, especially in the northern parts of the country.

Further to this, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele advised farmers who were interested in producing jatropha plant to access loans through the Nigeria Export Import Bank.

Also, Mr Ike Ubaka, the National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, appealed to farmers to cultivate the plant to enhance their incomes.

He listed some jatropha plant derivatives to include glycerine, crude oil and biodiesel.

He also urged the Federal Government to empower community farmers to cultivate large scale jatropha plants to boost the nation’s economy.

He said the Federal Government should make its diversification agenda to be community-based, stressing that the plantation of jatropha could assist in creating jobs and empowering women in rural communities.

Ubaka, who said jatropha’s seed could be processed to biodiesel the way palm kernel was processed to red oil, explained that he was using jatropha’s biodiesel to power his plant in his farm.

“Presently, Lufthansa Airline uses jatropha’s biodiesels for its aircraft,’’ he said.

Ubaka urged the Federal Government to encourage small and large scale farmers to go into mechanised farming of jatropha.

According to him, this will enhance job creation, poverty reduction and also assist in stopping rural migration in the country.

However, the Secretary, Jetropha Farmers Association in Plateau, Mr Luka Kefas, urged the Federal Government to subsidise farm inputs for them to enable them to increase production of the plant.

Kefas said the subsidy of farm inputs such as fertiliser and agro-chemicals would encourage more farmers to cultivate the plant on a large scale.

“Jetropha can diversify our economy if we are serious and if the government can give us support to do the production

“We are appealing to the Federal Government to give us support in terms of subsidy in the area of inputs, fertiliser, the agro chemicals and even the seeds.

“We need improved varieties to step up our production and at the national level also, we should have more of those that will buy our seeds,’’ he said.

Kefas said crude oil used in producing diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene and petrol as well organic fertiliser, livestock feeds and soap were derivatives of jetropha.

“There are more than 175 species of jetropha all of which are found to be of significant economic importance,’’ he noted.

He said the production of the crop was cheaper when compared with food crops and could easily be managed.

Kefas, who explained that the association had more than 100 members in Plateau, said that each of them cultivated nearly half hectare of the plant annually.

He appealed to young farmers in the rural areas to take advantage of the vast land in their respective localities to cultivate the plant and generate additional income.