Jatropha seed processing pays dividends for small-scale farmers

MUDZI - Jatropha, a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree native to Latin America, was introduced to Zimbabwe in the 1940s. It is found in many parts of the country, with concentrations in the North Eastern districts of Mutoko, Wedza, Chiweshe, Mudzi, Nynaga North, Guruve and Binga. Research has shown that the oil the seeds produce can be used for a number of purposes. The plant is also used for hedging and as livestock fence.

Environment Africa worked with the farming communities in Mudzi and through an educational and facilitation process, they are now successfully processing the oil from the Jatropha seed and using the oil and its by products in an economically viable manner. This self sustaining community upliftment project was initiated and implemented by EA through its Support for Innovative Approaches to Livelihood Improvement through Energy Provision and Income Generating Projects.

When the project was first introduced to the people of Mudzi, many put their names down during the beneficiary identification and registration phase, thinking that a truck load of maize and cooking oil would be given out later. However, the project training showed them how to propagate the plant, harvest and store the seed and extract the jatropha oil. When they were shown the multitude of by products that could be made from the oil, such as soaps, jatropha cake composting and household illumination, using jatropha oil in lamps instead of paraffin, the community realized the real economic benefit this had for them and how it could uplift their lives.

The farmers also received training on governance issues where the Environmental Action Group (EAG) management committees were trained in leadership and action planning. On the business side, they were trained in project management and financial governance and product development, quality control and marketing.

Jatropha Products

The community is now manufacturing various products from jatropha that they sell locally and in Harare. A major product is jatropha soap. It is natural, gentle on the skin, has a large amount of natural glycerin and the quality easily surpasses commercially produced soaps. Jatropha soap is cheaper compared when compared to other competing soaps. The farmers say that the soap normally outlasts commercial products and has a ‘creaminess’ that just can’t be duplicated by any of the soaps you find in stores. It is used to clean just about everything from greases to saddling.

Before Environment Africas initiative, the farmers used to burn the peeled dry Jatropha seed beaded on a thin wire that had been left in the sun during the day to assist in liquefying the oil contained in the seed making it easier to burn. The Jatropha candle as they called it burns from the top downwards one seed lighting the other. The introduction of the manual oil pressing machines brought relief to the farmers as they are now able to extract the oil from jatropha seeds and use it in simple wick lamps which burn safely and with less smoke. They also say that the smoke from the lamps acts as mosquito repellent. The use of the oil for lighting has brought other benefits like allowing children to study at night, while the woman are able to do other projects like crocheting and weaving.

Jatropha cake is a by-product from oil pressing and is being be used as an organic manure. Tests show that the cake is better than cattle and chicken manure in Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and organic matter.

Economic Viability

Studies carried out by Environment Africa together with WWF Zimbabwe showed that it is highly economic to process the Jatropha seed at local level. When compared to selling the seed to outside buyers, local level processing brings better overall economic benefits to the community.

Having seen the benefits, since the project started in May 2009, the farmers have to date planted 70,000 Jatropha trees as hedges and mini plantations from cuttings, truncheons or seedlings.

On the business front, the farmers have formed a marketing association at local level that will assist in the marketing of their products especially the soaps. By pooling their produce and resources, they can accommodate larger orders and can also carry out extensive market research, hire lawyers where needed and can purchase more project materials.

Post published in: Economy

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