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Well, I am not too much into corn (except when I dip my hands into the popping variety), but an article in The Economic Times on corn hybridsgiving much higher yields caught my attention, and for a reason: The biofuels industry is in the doldrums, and the main reason is the non-availability of feedstock in large quantities and in terms of reasonable prices.

And one of the main reasons for the non-availability of feedstocks is the low yield. To give you a heads-up, when Jatropha was introduced about 10 years back, it was hailed as a miracle crop that will make every farmer an oil baron. Ten years later, these are promises that still remain those. Jatropha does grow well in marginal lands, but the crop needs adequate inputs (water, fertilizer, pesticides), even though the inputs required are less than what are required for other energy crops – palm, soy, whatever. Where Jatropha was grown with little of these inputs, its yields have been pathetically low – sometimes as low as 10% of what was expected (a five year old Jatropha tree is expected to give about 5 T of seeds per year per hectare, and that would be about 2 T of oil).

Is there a way Jatropha can grow with fewer amounts of inputs and still provide the expected yields? Right now, I do not have a firm answer, but the answer could lie in hybrids. I am glad to note that research in happening both in hybridisation and genetic engineering of Jatropha and let’s hope that we are able to achieve the kind of growth in yields for Jatropha that the newspaper reported has been achieved for corn.

Some useful resources I found while searching for Jatropha hybrids:

1. Hybrid Progenies in Jatropha – A New Development – Link – excellent, detailed paper

2. JATROPHA CURCAS HYBRID NANDAN-1 FOR HIGH SEED YIELD AND CONSTRUCTION OF MOLECULAR MARKERS SPECIFIC TO IT – Link

3. Jatropha curcas – From Potential to Kinetic Energy – Some numbers look overly optimistic, but interesting stuff – Link