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  ENERGY PLANTATION - PROBLEMS AND PROGRESS

Dr. Sudheer A. Shetty

Managing Director
Labland Biotech Private Limited
Plant Tissue Culture and Biofuel Division
8th K.M., K.R.S. Main Road, Mysore 570 016 India
E-mail: info@lablandbiotechs.com

Abstract
Widely fluctuating global oil prices and the depleting resources of fossil fuel have started to destabilize India's dependence on fossil fuel. This has forced the Indian Government to look into alternative energy sources and consider a national biodiesel policy.

Biodiesel derived out of Jatropha is fast emerging as a viable alternative to fossil fuel. With its potential to grow in any type of soil and weather conditions, Jatropha is gaining universally accepted as an energy crop. The inherent properties of Jatropha curcas - weather-enduring tree that produces oil producing seeds over a 50-year life span - has advantage over other energy crops. Among the positive strengths of Jatropha is its promotion as better use of Land.

The basic need of any successful plantation is quality planting material. In the rush to increase acreage under Jatropha plantation quality is taking backseat. Besides, the lack of knowledge among the growers on the importance of the crop and its maintenance in order to exploit the total yield potential of Jatropha is a matter of concern. In the meantime confusion among the financial institutions to find out means to support Jatropha plantation is another impediment in the progress.

Labland's capabilities and involvement in developing high yielding and high quality clones of Jatropha curcas through the application of plant tissue culture have been elaborated in the paper. The programmes being visualized and adopted by Labland in educating the farming community, establishment of Jatropha Information and Dissemination Centers (JIDC), involvement of government departments and financial institutions in promoting energy plantation is discussed in detail.

Introduction
Now-a-days everyone is talking about and concerned with the depleting fossil fuel reserves. There is lot of speculation about the availability of "Black stuff" and the price. The price is at its height now. The world is working out on alternate renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, water, hydrogen, nuclear, plant-based oil etc. Clearly, plant-based oils, commonly referred as biodiesel, have become the buzzword of the day.

The current diesel demand in India is about 50 million tonnes for 2005-06. Considering a 10% blending of bio-diesel with the regular diesel, a supply of about 5 million tonnes of bio-diesel is required.

Among the many contenders that are studied for field cultivation, Jatropha curcas is the forerunner for obtaining bio-diesel. The plant is able to establish in any kind of soil. It grows well in any type of weather conditions as well, except for areas of heavy rainfall (more than 4000mm annual rainfall).

Under the perspective, a number of players have come to the scene promoting Jatropha cultivation, including the State and the Central Governments, the NGOs and individuals. Each State Government has set certain target to cover land under Jatropha. Sincere efforts from everybody attempting to promote Jatropha plantations would result in a minimum coverage of one million hectares in the next two years. Considering a minimum of 2500 plant density per hectare, the planting material requirement is about 2500 million numbers. Are we suitably geared up to supply this huge quantity of quality planting material?

What do we mean by quality planting material?

  1. Genetic uniformity: Jatropha is multiplied through seeds and cuttings. Since the crop is highly cross pollinated, seeds collected from the wild will not be genetically uniform.

  2. Region-specific selection: When supplying the planting material, the adaptability of the selection is not being considered in most of the cases.

  3. Seed germinability: Whenever seeds are being distributed, the seed vigour and the seed viability are not tested before distributing them for plantation.

  4. Seed-borne diseases: So far no efforts have been made to study the importance of seed-borne diseases of Jatropha and the transmission of diseases from seeds to seedlings to plants and to seeds.

  5. Diseases in the plantation: No database is available so far on the plant pathogens of Jatropha curcas - fungal, bacterial, viral and insects, that cause economic losses in Jatropha plantation.

  6. Seed certification methodology: There is a need to evolve a clear protocol so that seed certification agencies are entrusted with the purity and quality certification of Jatropha seeds.

  7. Seed oil content/seed yield potential: No systematic efforts are being made to test the oil content of the seeds before they are distributed for plantation. We need to develop strategies and facilities to check the seed yielding potential and oil content of the seeds by taking proper samples of the seed lots.

In the absence of the above quality parameters implemented at the stages of seed or seedling distribution, we will be creating millions of hectares of plantations with uncertainties largely looming over the future of farmers/growers. We will end up in un-yielding or low seed-yielding plantations, disease susceptible plants in the field, low oil containing seeds from such plantations and so on. Sincere efforts should be made in distributing quality planting materials so that the farmer grows Jatropha curcas without any apprehensions and with confidence. If the growers' interests are taken care of, the entire supply chain of seed to crude oil to refined oil will be stronger and longer.

Role of Financial Institutions 
Progress in successful cultivation of Jatropha curcas is also dependent on the financial support provided by the Financial Institutions such as NABARD, National Banks, Private Banks, Co-operative Banks etc. Non-availability of a clear financial model for the banks has created lots of confusion in understanding the whole project. Varied data available on the yield potential, plant density per unit area, oil content and the amount of investment and the returns have become impediment in the involvement of these Financial Institutions for the successful implementation of the project.

Role of Labland in producing quality planting material
Labland Biotechs is a professionally managed 10-year-old Company having production capacity of about 5 million plants per year. The Company's products include Foliages, Ornamentals, Agro-forestry species, Plantation crops, Bio-diesel crop - Jatropha curcas and medicinal plants. The plants are exported to Australia, Canada, Europe, Korea and U.S.A. and are also domestically marketed. Labland offers professional consultancy to develop plantations and set up floriculture units for high value crops like Banana, Vanilla, Jatropha, Anthuriums, Orchids and Gerberas.

Tissue Culture is aseptic culturing of a wide range of excised plant parts, in vitro, under high degree of controlled environment.

None other technique has made such a profound impact as Plant Micropropagation in translating the breakthroughs of laboratories into products for the consumer. The current technology holds promise of newer achievements when applied to herbaceous ornamentals, plantation crops, forage grasses, grain legumes, elite tree species, medicinal and aromatic plants. The term micropropagation is used specifically to refer to the application of tissue culture techniques to the propagation of plants starting with very small plant parts, known as explants, grown aseptically in a test tube or a glass container.

Tissue Culture is based on the concept of Totipotency, that every living cell has the genetic potential to reproduce the entire organism

The Advantages of Micropropagation in Jatropha

  • Availability of planting materials irrespective of the seasonal fluctuation
    o Supply of high quality planting materials, based on the selection of explants from highly reliable good mother plants

  • Supply of disease-free plants

  • If the selected mother plant is disease resistant, progenies supplied are also disease-resistant plants

  • Production of large number of plants (seed stock) in relatively smaller area. For example, in half an acre land it is possible to produce and supply about 5 million plants per year

  • Preservation and maintenance of germplasm in germplasm bank

Commercial micropropagation of Jatropha
Plants are produced in large numbers mainly through a series of distinct stages. 
Generally all crops undergo the following stages to reach the ultimate end product.

Stage 0 : Selection and preparation of explants
Stage 1 : Culture establishment
Stage 2 : Multiplication
Stage 3 : Rooting
Stage 4 : Transplanting and Acclimation

All culturing activities are carried out in 100 % clean rooms in sterile cabinets. The tissues are placed in sterile jars containing chemically defined medium. Such cultures are incubated in specially designed, culture growth rooms where temperature and light are controlled as per the requirement of the growing tissues/plants. Completely grown plants are sent out of the laboratory for greenhouse acclimatization. Finally these plants go to the end user to be planted in the open land.

Role of Labland in promotion of Jatropha cultivation
In order to disseminate information on the importance of Jatropha, Labland has taken up a mission mode approach in establishing Jatropha Information Dissemination Centers (JIDC) at Taluk levels. These Institutions are acting as Nodal Centers of Labland in training farmers on various aspects of Jatropha curcas and its successful cultivation. Labland has targeted establishing 175 JIDCs in the state of Karnataka. The total area targeted for Jatropha cultivation is 125,000 hectares over the next five years.

Conclusion
Labland strongly feels and recommends that supply of quality planting materials and proper training to the growers are the basic necessity for the successful implementation of Jatropha cultivation for deriving Biodiesel. As long as the policy makers, the refinery people, the dealers, the growers and the promoters understand these two important parameters, the vision of growing Jatropha curcas as an energy crop is going to be a successful story.

 

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