Jatropha option for creating energy and livelihood for communities with poor soils

Jatropha option for creating energy and livelihood for communities with poor soils

Photo credits: cbg-transaction.com

Iris Legal and Pedro Walpole

Maria Grotto, a Jesuit parish led by Father Pram is exploring the initial implementation of lumbang daya or the granary power concept in its area to respond to the energy crisis in rural communities, at the same time contribute to developing livelihood options.  The parish is located in Danan village in the Wonogori Regency in Surakarta (Solo), Central Java Province in Indonesia.

The area is known for its miraculous events and many people visit on pilgrimage.  It is situated on limestone rock formation, with high rates of erosion, poor soil quality, and limited top or organic soils that support vegetative growth.  Since limestone is porous in nature, moisture and water are difficult to contain.

The parish was identified as a showcase for the energy self-sufficient village program of ATMI Kreasi Energi (AKE), an operation of the ATMI Business Development and Ethics Center or BizDEC in Surakarta that focuses on finding solutions to the energy crisis in Indonesia.  BizDEC conducts field studies and research on manufacturing biodiesel from Jatropha curcas, utilization of vegetable oil, and detoxification processes of leftover materials.  Its vision is to develop a smart energy for better living and an energy production that brings hope, justice, peace, and sustainable livelihood in rural society.

The AKE concept consists of two related systems: the integrated power plant and the feed processing.  These systems seek to meet the needs of rural communities by providing electricity and animal fodder from locally-grown plant material.  It is grounded on five core values:

  1. Energy is a glorious entity that opens many possibilities and options.
  2. Energy is never lost but is transformed.
  3. It is a human right to get energy for development of one’s life.
  4. Energy does not destroy anything; how people use it is what destroys.
  5. The resent is the product of the past and the future is the product of the present; that is why we have a responsibility for the future.
Simulation of the Lumbang Daya Energi Concept: The system uses the AKREN generator that produces electricity by using biodiesel from self-cultivated, self-processed, and purified jatropha oil, along with by-products from local livestock and jatropha that are usually used as animal fodder. Photo credits: AKE

AKE achieves its goals by cooperating with other organizations in their research and energy programs.  Its business is divided into three units: the Jatropha curcas centre, the oil pressing centre, and the engine modification centre.  The effort is to develop the units simultaneously towards achieving a self-sufficient energy village using jatropha oil.

Since 2009, AKE has focused on fabricating the AKREN generator, a Swiss technology needing minor modifications, just a nozzle and compressor suitable for the jatropha variety to be used.  The effort is to work with a corporation in Jakarta for quality control and marketing of the engine.  AKE also develops a vegetable oil generator that uses vegetable oil as burner material.  This enables agricultural machines and tractors to run on jatropha oil.

There is intense attention given to comprehensively understand jatropha plantations, its oil processing, and detoxification due to its perceived worldwide market opportunities and potential.

In Maria Grotto, about two hectares of land is considered to be unproductive where “not even grass can grow,” as most people would comment.  With this, the parish seeks opportunities to develop the area to sustain livelihood of the community.

AKE works closely with the parish and already collected soil samples in the area.  Initially, the group intends to develop the one-hectare land as a pilot site for the jatropha plantation and production.  The work is grounded on the parish’s goals of providing education for the poor, making the land productive, and creating market opportunities for people.

The group was successful in eliminating the phorbol ester toxin from the jatropha waste.  Curcin, another element found in the cake, needs further laboratory tests to determine if the chemical compositions are good for animal fodder.  Phorbol ester and curcin are toxic constituents found in jatropha seeds and these are eliminated from the seeds by heating, cracking the shells with salt, and soaking in active carbon.  These are then mixed with cassava and water for cattle food while the fishbone and corn are turned into pellets for catfish feeds.

Further research is taking place on how to use the jatropha cake for animal fodder and the group wants to further try the non-toxin cake with different kinds of animals.

On site, the effort is to thin the area planted with Acacia mangium (a fast-growing species used in plantation programs) to maximize the growth of jatropha and prepare the land with compost.  Since less economic value is given to A mangium, the community can easily cut them and use the wood for housing material or for firewood.  A portion of the land is also planted with jati, the Indonesian term for teak (Tectona grandis).  The community recognises the high economic value of jati so they keep the trees and nurture them well, and harvest from time to time.  This poses a great challenge for the jatropha as jati, though good for soil stability, tends to get all the soil nutrients and will compete with jatropha.

Mr Vitus Sugito from the Ministry of Agriculture devotes his time to improve the land in Maria Grotto Parish.

Mr. Vitus Sugito from the Ministry of Agriculture, along with four staff assisting him, is developing the land by initially digging pits and adding compost and organic matter to the soils.  He established small plots of pawpaw or papaya (Carica papaya) and there is a direct buyer for the papaya fruits, generating income for people.  He also established a good local irrigation system for the plots.  He sees the economic viability of planting jatropha in the area and as preparation, he started to thin the area with A mangium, using the chopped wood and branches for housing and firewood.  He will then dig pits and put organic soil for the jatropha planting.

Lumbang daya gives hope to the people of Maria Grotto.  Now that the people are able to grow papaya, they see a good opportunity for the jatropha to survive.  Eventually, the people, together with AKE, seek to establish a centre where other farmers can also learn the production and technology of growing papaya and jatropha.

This initiative shows a powerful link between research and marketing.  There is limited research that connects to the market and AKE is successful in developing the technology that integrates rural livelihoods with marketing strategies.  This is coupled with the support and cooperation from the community to build an alternative technology that sustains livelihood and community life.

This article was drafted during the visit of Pedro Walpole and Iris Legal to Indonesia in January 2012.  Mr Alfonsus Arista Tefa, AKE General Manager of PT ATMI Kreasi Energi, and Ms Sari, AKE technical staff, facilitated the visit.  The report drafted by Ms Lena Breitenmoser, Swiss intern for AKE, was used as reference in developing this article.


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