By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The very first big consignment of Jatropha seeds, used to produce bio-diesel, arrived in Namibia from India last week. The 10-tonne container load was ordered by Agra to provide would-be producers who have been enquiring about where they might obtain the seeds for cultivation. Farmers all over the country and as far and Kakamas in South Africa want to grow the plant, which several countries are growing to make themselves less dependent on fossil fuels. Having looked at a number of options including plants oils like sunflower, canola, soy, cotton and others that yield plant oil seeds and seed cake, the country has come to the conclusion that Jatropha carcus is the most viable option that Namibia could use. Suitable areas for the plant are those that receive between 450 mm and 500 mm of rainfall, which include the Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, Kavango and Caprivi regions. Although the plant could also be irrigated, the country has opted for dry land production because irrigation water is earmarked for crop production under the Green Scheme. The Research Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry said Thursday that trial fields have been planted to establish the yield and survival pattern of the plant. The ministry officials were present when the container was opened to take samples for scientific testing, whose objective is to ensure that the seeds have no disease and also to do germination tests to confirm a 60 percent germination rate. Agra will be the sole distributor for the seeds through its branches in the country. Agra’s agronomist, Francois Wahl, told New Era last week that once the seed has been launched, more people will plant it, which will widen the trial area. Jatropha seems well suited for the Namibian climate as the plant thrives under hot conditions and is able to survive long periods of drought. Agra said the plant bears fruit after the second rainy season after the seedlings are transplanted, while fruits are produced in winter when the shrub is leafless. Each plant can produce several crops during the year if soil moisture is good, growing a capsule of about 2.5 to 4 cm, splitting into halves after the seeds mature and the fleshy exocarp dries. It is envisaged that approximately 63 000 hectares of the Jatropha will be planted in Namibia by the year 2013, which would contribute N$189 million to GDP. The oil is likely to be used in the bio-energy sector for blending into commercial diesel, decentralized on farms blending the product into agricultural diesel, for exports to niche markets, running envisaged 12 small 1MW decentralized power stations, and others uses such as soap making and substitution for paraffin. Last month, a National Bio-Energy Roadmap workshop recommended that Jatropha carcus, the most feasible bio-oil crop for Namibia, be gazetted under the Agronomic Industry Act of 1992. It also recommended that appropriate regulations of liquid fuel standards in terms of the Petroleum Products Act should be gazetted.
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