Jatropha cultivation won’t be at expense of food crops
The cultivation of Jatropha for the production of biodiesel will not be done at the expense of food crops, assured the Sabah Land Development Board (SLDB). At the same time, research into the feasibility of Jatropha must be stepped up, as fossil fuel (petrol and diesel) is a quickly diminishing resource with substantially increasing cost, said SLDB General Manager Mr Jhuvarri Majid. Briefing Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman when he visited the SLDB’sJatropha centre booth in conjunction with the State Farmer’s Day on, Saturday, Jhuvarri said the setting up of the Agro Research and Development (R&D) Complex in Nabawan is a priority. “While this Complex will remain focused on the research and development of Jatropha, it will also include research into food crops such as paddy, fruits and cash crops so as to make Sabah self reliant in food production,” he said. According to Jhuvarri, initial results from SLDB’s Jatropha trial plot in Binakaan, Nabawan was very encouraging, thus prompting the agency to go into its second phase - that is to set up the R&D Complex as well as plant Jatropha on a large scale basis. “We are in the process of acquiring some 2,000 acres of land in Nabawan for this purpose and we hope to start within the shortest time possible,” he said. “There can be no denying that we need to research further into Jatropha as we are confident that it can be the most suitable feedstock for biodiesel as it is a non-edible oil and can be grown on marginal land.” Jhuvarri described marginal land as land that is not suitable for the planting of food crops such as paddy, vegetables and fruits and even oil palm, and would otherwise be left idle. But Jatropha is a hardy crop that can thrive on such land conditions. It requires little fertilisers and pesticides and can be grown in arid zones as well as in high rainfall zones and on land with thin soil cover. In logged-over land or forests damaged by fire or overcultivation, Jatropha can be a good plantation material for ecorestoration. It also contributes greatly to the carbon credits (points gained by reducing carbon emission into the atmosphere). Parts of the Jatropha plant have medicinal value; the bark contains tannin, the flowers attract bees thus playing a role in honey production, and could also spawn sivil-cuiture as a cottage industry. According to Jhuvarri, together with its technology provider, Borneo Alam Ria Sdn Bhd, it is pertinent to find the best technology to address plant growth and yield enhancements to ensure the feasibility of cultivating Jatropha on a plantation scale for coinmercial production. “Together we will plant some 2,000 acres of land in Nabawan with Jatropha seeds sourced from various countries to determine which would be most suitable for planting in Sabah,” said Jhuvarri. He also said that investors from Japan and the United States are very keen to start large-scale plantations in joint ventures with SLDB. He said there were sizeable areas of marginal land which could be developed for Jatropha plantations, and given the current scenario, Sabah could be a major player in the production of crude Jatropha oil in the world. Touching on food production. Jhuvarri said that SLDB hoped to open up some 6,000 hectares of land for the cultivation of fast- growing, high-yield paddy and suitable land had been identified in the Sook region. “We are hopeful that the land can be alienated to SLDB soon so that soil tests can be carried out and land preparation done. There is also a need to work out irrigation matters so that water is available for year-round cultivation,” he said. He said that SLDB would use higfr-yield paddy seeds for growing so that the tonnage of paddy per planted acre could be higher than normal production, and with the latest planting methods, it is hoped that five harvests can be achieved every two years. Commenting further on the Agro R&D Complex, Jhuvarri said it was vital for more research on paddy to be carried out locally so that local farmers too could produce better yields. “In short, with our own research facilities, we can advance further the agriculture sector in the State, especially with the Government’s s ire to be more self-reliant in food production,” he added.