MOU signed to develop jatropha plantations in West Africa

By Ron Kotrba | March 11, 2013

Jatropha developer JOil Pte. Ltd. has signed a memorandum of understanding with West Africa alternative energy grower and jatropha processor Agritech Faso SA. JOil and Agritech will explore the development of more than 600,000 acres of jatropha plantations intercropped with food crops using JOil’s elite, high-yielding jatropha varieties. Field trials will be carried out using JOil’s growing materials at Agritech’s plantations in Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. The two parties will enter into a formal business arrangement based on the results of the trials.

The planned plantations are expected to be located in Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin, and will include not only jatropha crops but also a refinery to produce biofuels, the companies stated, in addition to Agritech’s existing high-efficiency processing plant located in Boni, nearly 150 miles from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. The footprint is expected to be around 618,000 acres (250,000 hectares) when in full operation. All planting materials will be supplied by JOil, which will also provide technical consultation for the field trials and subsequent development of the plantation.

Agritech’s founding members started to work on biofuel projects in 2007 and the company has identified West Africa as a promising region for cultivation of jatropha, using its proprietary intercropping models. In Sub-Saharan Africa where vegetative cover is scarce, intercropping food crops with jatropha helps to stop soil erosion and restores degraded lands providing a significant increase and sustainability on food crops yields.

“Currently, Agritech and our affiliates in West Africa have planted 4,000 hectares of Jatropha curcas intercropped with food crops and have access to over 100,000 hectares of land,” said William Kwende, chairman and CEO of Agritech. “We have the data from JOil’s jatropha plant science and the performance of their trials in India. Given the yields they are achieving of more than 2.2 tons in the first year, which is about twice that achieved elsewhere, we plan to use JOil’s enhanced jatropha varieties and methods on our plantations. They have solid science and a strong intellectual property portfolio. We expect that the partnership with JOil will rapidly broaden to areas such as agro technologies, processing and renewable energies applications much needed for the development of West Africa.”

Peter Chia, director of JOil, said, “Agritech has established a significant presence in West Africa in the bioenergy space by promoting a community based intercropping model along with Jatropha. Agritech has recently commissioned a high-performance 20-ton-per-day jatropha oil production plant designed for expansion to 120 tons per day. This MOU will demonstrate how high-yielding jatropha varieties can impact large-scale commercial projects and make jatropha a feedstock of choice for biofuel production in West Africa and other areas.”

JOil stated that, over the past six years, it has been conducting a comprehensive breeding program with accessions from all over the world to generate improved jatropha varieties using the diversity already present in the natural germplasm. The firm said its trials in India and other regions have demonstrated better uniformity, improved self-branching, early flowering and high productivity (seed yield of more than 2.2 tons in first year, more than 3.5 tons in second year and expected to exceed 5 tons of mature yield) compared to other varieties and wild accessions of jatropha planted in similar conditions.

JOil is a joint venture company incorporated by Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory Ltd., Tata Chemicals, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Tata Chemicals Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, Toyota Tsusho Corp., and other investors in 2008. Its main business include the development, propagation and sale of elite jatropha seedlings and improved genetically modified seedlings for commercial cultivation as well as to engage in agronomy research and provision of agronomy advisory. It has operations in India, Indonesia, China, Kenya, Thailand and the Philippines. In 2011, JOil completed the acquisition of PT Monfori Nusantara, a leading tissue culture facility in Indonesia. JOil is an active member of Jatropha Working Group of Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels.

Founded in 2007, Agritech’s mission is to power and empower sustainable development in West Africa by marshaling world-class technology and mobilizing rural communities in agroindustrial efforts centered upon the creation and commercialization of bioenergy products and solar energy. After fast growth between 2007 and 2011, Agritech is now managing projects in Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast. It grows and processes Jatropha curcas in Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Agritech aims to plant a total of 250,000 hectares of jatropha intercropped with sesame, corn, sunflower, soybean and vegetables within the next 10 years and process the harvests from these fields.

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