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Jatropha pellets
Jatropha pellets
Environmentally friendly cooking and promotion of Jatropha

The unsustainable cutting of forests for the production of firewood and charcoal is a huge problem in Tanzania. Areas such as Njia Panda outside of Moshi have been thick forests only 30 years ago, and today are not much more than dry deserts on which very little can be grown.

94% of the rural population and 45% of the urban population are cooking with firewood, and 5% in rural areas and 40% in urban areas use charcoal for cooking. Usually, three stones are used on which a cooking pot is placed with a fire in the middle. This is very inefficient as most heat energy is lost on the the sides.

For this reason, in October 2011 we started our project which is about environmentally friendly cooking and the promotion of Jatropha.

Jatropha is a bush that grows in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Oil can be extracted from Jatropha seeds. Only a few years ago, there was a big hype around Jatropha, which was seen as a miracle plant on the market of biofuels. It was thought that the plant can be grown on degraded, dry and unfertile plots where nothing else can be cultivated. It was even predicted that with Jatropha, tropical development countries can produce large amounts of biofuels for the world market.

Many countries of Africa, South America, and also India started large-scale Jatropha plantations. The disillusion set in 3-4 years later, when the bushes were grown and yielded seeds for the first time - only those plants that were supplied with plenty of water carried seeds whose oil content was viable for commercial oil extraction. Elaborate irrigation however makes Jatropha cultivation not ecologically feasible.

A promising concept now is to have small-scale farmers of areas which naturally have high rainfall levels plant Jatropha bushes as hedges and fences. No land is being used that can be employed for the production of edible plants (which have a higher yield for the farmers than Jatropha indeed), but the farmer can generate an extra income through the sales of the seeds of his fences and hedges to the oil mill. The seeds can harvested throughout the year, even during the months when the farmer doesn't have income from any other crops. As neither the Jatropha leaves nor its seeds are edible, fences from Jatropha offer a good protection of other crops against wild animals.

The main commodity of the plant is the oil which can be used for diesel vehicles whose engines are being modified. This makes particular sense if it is done on a local level, as transporting the oil on large distances ruins its positive environmetal record. Even better would be to refine the pure vegetable oil to bio-diesel. The facilities for this process however are expensive and not feasible for the production of a relatively small quantity of bio-diesel. Therefore, currently, the best use of Jatropha biofuel is that for instance farmers or companies on a local level modify their diesel engines for the use with pure Jatropha oil. As Jatropha oil is cheaper than conventional diesel, the investment pays back after a short time for engines which are in heavy use.

A side product of the production of Jatropha oil are pellets and briquettes made from the leftovers of the oil extraction, which are being mixed with saw dust and rice husks. It is considerably cheaper to cook with these pellets and briquettes than with charcoal. An average family in rural Arusha or Moshi at the moment spends around 45,000 Shilling per month for charcoal and firewood. The same amount of energy can be generated from an amount of pellets which is only 11,000 Shilling when buying from the factory. This should be a convincing argument of buyers to choose this alternative burning material instead of charcoal.

Our project now consists in an income-generating activity for NGOs such as women's groups which can purchase pellets and briquettes in large quantities at low price per kilo in order to sell them in small quantities with a profit margin in their communities. For the ideal combustion, special stoves are needed. With the help of our volunteers and interns in the various NGOs we want to train the women in how to use the stoves and pellets to promote the use and sales of this environmentally friendly method of cooking.

A task consists in the development of a cheaper and more energy-efficient stove than the model which is currently on the market. Even though the investment for the stove pays off after only 2 months through the savings when using pellets, the current price of the special stove (40,000 Shilling) appears high compared to the price of a standard charcoal stove (9000 Shilling), which is an obstacle for the acceptance of the new system.

A further task consists in promoting the use of Jatropha oil for diesel vehicles. We want to focus on the tourism industry with its fleet of diesel safari vehicles. The modification of the engines must be explained and modification kits must be easily locally available. It would certainly be easier to sell biodiesel which doesn't require any engine modification, however facilities to produce biodiesel cannot be financed without grants, and at the same time the quantity of Jatropha seeds that can be supplied at the moment is too low to reach the mass market production level that would make investment for a biodiesel plant feasible.

Therefore, the third task is to increase the quantity of cultivation of Jatropha, to be able to establish Jatropha biodiesel and Jatropha pellets/briquettes on the market. The lower altitudes of the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro are humid almost throughout the year because of their springs, streams and high rainfall levels, which makes the area very suitable for the cultivation of Jatropha. Our work will consist in convincing farmers to plant Jatropha hedges and fences from, and to establish an effective system of buying the seeds from them.

Our staff member Themistocles Kweyama is the manager of this project. Volunteers/interns will work with our partners (NGOs in Moshi where we have further volunteers), the producer of the pellets, briquettes and oil, the manufacturer of the stove, as well as external partners such as programs that can provide funds from Carbon Offset Trade, to reach and optimize above mentioned goals.

Info box:

Location: Moshi/Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Duration: Minimum 1 month

Previous experience required: No 

Costs: free of charge (trouble-free package for € 500 is optional)

Accommodation: Not included

Meals: Not included

Included: Placement in the project; if you opt for the trouble-free package the whole range of services which is part of the trouble-free package is included

Not included: Travel, health insurance, visa, work permit

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