Can Yemen replace qat with the bio-diesel producing Jatropha tree?
The World Bank says Yemen may run out of oil by 2018 if no new oil explorations are made. However, this tree may alleviate the problem only if Yemenis consider replacing the qat plant, which occupies around 141,000 hectares of land - ten percent of Yemen’s arable land.
The Jatropha Tree does not require more than 250 mm of water per a year and, as it can produce fuel, presents one such possibility for Yemen’s growing demand on diesel.
Farmers in west Yemen’s Tehama region - the country’s food basket - told the Yemen Times that ongoing fuel shortages translate into a food crisis for Yemen.
In the second half of 2011, hundreds of farms were shut down or damaged due to a lack of diesel, a basic requirement for crops irrigated by water pumped up using wells.
Jatropha Curcas is an inedible, oil seed-bearing tree that is often used to produce bio-diesel fuel. Originating in South America and in dry, tropical areas, the Jatropha Tree is a hardy shrub that grows well in semi-arid conditions, in areas with low rainfall and dry soil. Its seeds contain an inedible oil that can be converted into bio-diesel fuel. One ton of Jatropha Curcas seeds from a properly-managed tree can produce up to 600 liters of bio-diesel fuel.
The past year of revolution and crisis in Yemen led to a rise both in fuel prices and demand. Oil minister Hisham Sharaf said, “Yemen consumes 260 thousand tons of diesel per month, at a cost of $280 million.”
Mahbub Hadi, a farmer and consultant for Hail Agricultural Center in Hodeida, said “there are some lands which can be utilized for planting this tree particulry the eastern region such as Marib.”
Hadi continued, “The Jatropha Tree suits this land; rather than leaving the land to remain useless and unused, we can plant this tree and invest it correctly without taking advantage of agricultural land for food products. As important as simply planting the tree is the presence of plants and factories to extract vital oils from it, and this is where the role of the government and other organizations comes in. The use of Jatropha oil as an alternative to bio-diesel would represent a significant and positive shift in Yemen’s economy,” he added “Personally, I asked one Sudanese farmer friend to bring me seeds from this tree. Once I get the seed, I will start to plant it in Hodeidah’s western dry area.”
The deputy minister of Agriculture for Production Development , Abdulamlik Al-Thor said, “This tree poses a threat to the world because it will enter into competition with the cultivation of food products. For Yemen in particular, the Jatropha Tree will not repair the Yemeni economy; in Yemen, we need to grow food products first.” Althor added,
“Our people suffer from poverty and food insecurity on a large scale; they need agricultural products that can raise the level of available food for people.
As for the development of strategic plans to plant the Jatropha Tree in the future, there are no plans to support such projects in the Ministry of Agriculture development sector because, as I mentioned, previously we only focused on the development of agriculture that could meet the demands of citizens - not the demand of the western countries.”
The spread of Jatropha
Malaysia was the first state in the world to invest in the Jatropha Tree and extract oil from it. It then spread to the United States of America, Canada, Europe, India and the rest of the world’s countries.
North Sudan is an Arab country seeking to produce bio-diesel from Jatropha seeds, and has turned the effort into a national project. The general director of the country’s National Research Center, Mohmaed Jalal, told Al Jazeera that his country is currently seeking to plant one million Jatropha trees, to be increased to one billion trees over the next six years.
With proper management, one ton of Jatropha Curcas seeds can produce up to 600 liters of bio-diesel.
Extracted oil can be directly used in diesel engines after being blended with conventional diesel fuel.