Maputo — Companies involved in cultivating the shrub jatropha in Mozambique want to set up an association of producers of this oilseed, which is used to produce biofuel.
The purpose of such an association would be to share challenges and technologies and capitalise on the gains.
Currently each company grows jatropha, or purchases the seeds from peasant farmers, in isolation.
Heinrich van der Merwe of the company Niquel, which is currently growing jatropha on 1,500 hectares in Chibabava district in the central province of Sofala, believes the companies can easily cooperate because "this is not yet a competitive market. Even in 20 years time we will not be able to meet all the demand for biofuels".
He thought that a great deal of information should be shared between the producers, which would only be possible through the interchange promoted by an association. "This is a new crop, and the information is emerging bit by bit, which holds back perception of the importance of this plant", said van der Merwe.
Joao Gomes, of GalpBuzi, which grows jatropha in Buzi district, also in Sofala, agrees that experiences, particularly of good practices in how to cultivate jatropha, should be shared. This might help combat the current skepticism about the potential contribution of biofuels to the life of communities and their impact on the environment.
Bachir Afonso, of the company Agro-Negocio, which is undertaking projects to grow and process jatropha in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, promises to do everything in his power to ensure that the creation of an association is a success.
"Jatropha producers don't know each other, and so each company has its own approach", he said. "But I believe that, with an association of jatropha producers, a lot can change positively".
"I have already tried to contact other stakeholders so that this association can be set up", he added.
One of the great challenges is to publicise sustainable technologies for the cultivation of jatropha.
Emvest grows jatropha in Taninga, in Maputo province, and has decided to grow the oilseed alongside vegetables and other food crops. The company also allow cattle to graze in the jatropha fields, since they eat the leaves of the plant, but not the oil-bearing seeds.
Although Emvest is just at an initial stage, the company says it is making 7,000 meticais (about 260 US dollars) a day, just in the sale of vegetables.
President Armando Guebuza challenged farmers in 2005 to grow jatropha. Despite initial skepticism (and outright hostility from the main opposition party, Renamo), several companies are now successfully cultivating the shrub.
Jatropha has the great advantage that it can be grown on marginal land, and does not necessarily replace food crops. The rising price of fossil fuels suggests that the market for jatropha and other biofuels can only expand.