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Belize Agriculture News: Jatropha Diesel processing center at Central Farm

A national two year project titled: “Jatropha Innovation Center for Community-Adopted Technologies and Development in Belize” was approved for funding by the OAS, with plans for execution by MAF.

The Central Farm Research and Development Department, MAF, is responsible for the establishment of a Jatropha curcas Oil Extraction and Utilization Centre that will provide processing  and also demonstrate use of jatropha oil as an energy option.

Jatropha (Jatropha curcas L.) (Euphorbiaceae) commonly known as physic nut is an oil plant that is found in sub-tropic and tropical regions of the world. According to Punia, (2007), it is known to have more than 200 common names and is found to grow wild or as a hedge specifically as live fencing by cattle farmers. Currently it is cultivated for its oil and production of bio-fuel for use in diesel engines. Jatropha is believed to have its  origin in Central America. According to OFI-CATIE, (2005) its use also goes back to World War II, when the oil was utilized in motors by military teams.

Several development organizations and international cooperation, such as the World Bank, OAS and some NGO’s  are developing similar projects based on the cultivation of the physic nut and uses of its fuel by small farmers in zones with unfavorable agro-ecological conditions.  The economy of Belize has traditionally depended on agriculture, ( bananas, sugar and citrus) which accounted for 12.7% of GDP and close to half of exports in 2005.

While significant progress has been achieved, the alleviation of poverty continues to be a major challenge for Belize. Poverty levels based on the 2002 Living Standard Measurement Survey were unchanged at 33.5 percent compared to the 1996 survey. As mentioned by Raswant (2008), many poor farmers can benefit from the production of bio-fuel, especially on lands not suitable for food production.

The general purpose of this project is to establish a Jatropha Innovation Centre to utilize Jatropha curcas and its oil for community development. This will generate income, rehabilitate degraded land and reduce Green House Emissions. Furthermore, the Centre  plans to produce information and educational material on the management of commercial jatropha production.

The implementation of the program has three pillars: institutional, regulatory, and human capacity building and pivots around the transfer of knowledge from the centre and its regional/local partners to Belizeans. Activities will include provision of hands-on workshops in grove cultivation, processing of diesel and using it in small machinery.

Targeted concerns  for the project include but are not limited to the following :

•  Identifying characteristics such as adaptability, pests & disease tolerance, homogeneous flowering and high oil production, which is necessary before  establishment  of groves and creation of a cost effective processing unit.

•  Addressing  farmers’ concerns that labor costs for manual harvesting may challenge profitability

•  Watching the prices for fossil fuel, as a fall in the future could affect farmers with large scale investments

•  Increasing local awareness in the benefits of renewable  energy

International advances in jatropha diesel have allowed for more efficient  and mobile  equipment to be available; however, these  advances are customized for conditions in various  domestic and regional markets.

Previously, a lack of  availability of seed, technical assistance  and information about management and use of Jatropha curcas  hindered  its adoption by small farmers.  A promotional video and brochures were recently produced and distributed to the six agricultural district offices. The Jatropha Innovation Centre  will additionally function for the production, storage and processing of jatropha oil.

A five acre jatropha grove is being established at Central Farm and will serve as a training and data collection facility for interested farmers, researchers and scientists. Certain zones have had high production performances while other regions of the world including Belize have seen much variation in production.

Although the subject of renewable energy isn’t new to Belize, bio-diesel and agro-fuel adaptability by small farmers is a fresh and growing concept. Central Farms’ collaborative efforts plan to identify  factors and make recommendations for  promotion of  bio-fuel production for small scale farmers which will assist  in the alleviation of rural poverty.

Written by:

Clifford Martinez Jr.

Contributed by:

Belize Ag Report

Category/ies:Belize News.
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