Potentials Of Growing Energy Crops For Biotechnology Among Cassava And Jatropha Farmers
1.1 Background Information
Biotechnology in one form or the other has flourished since prehistoric time beginning from when the first human beings realized they could plant their own crops and breed animals. The first bakers were acting as fledging biotechnologists when they found they could make soft bread rather than a firm thin cracker. The discovery that fruit juices fermented into wine or that milk could be converted into cheese or yoghurt or that beer could be made by fermenting solutions of malt and hops began the study of biotechnology (Pamela Peters, 1993).
Biotechnology according to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) is therefore defined as “any technological application that uses biological systems or living derivatives to make or modify products or processes for specific use”. In other terms, “application of scientific and technical advances in life science to develop commercial products” is biotechnology.
Isoun (2005) in an international conference said that it is estimated that by 2020, fifty percent of the global economy would be bio-based. Hence, any economy that does not align itself economically with biotechnology may miss out of the rewards of yet another revolution. Considering the often very high costs of conventional energy supply such as kerosene, charcoal and fuel wood worldwide, scientific interests and efforts in researching in to renewable technologies therefore becomes very essential (Adelekan, 2009). Another reason for its relevance is said that the rampant use of fire wood for domestic and industrial heating in low income countries invariably necessitates the destruction of forests which is harmful to the environment (Adelekan, 2009).
Biotechnology has its applications in four major areas which includes; health care (medical), crop production and agriculture, environment and non-food (industrial) uses of crops and other products. Examples are; biodegraded plastics and bio-fuels. One of the clear examples of biotechnology in the health sector is the home pregnancy test used by most women. Certain types of cancer such as the ovarian and prostate cancer can now rely on biotechnology-based tests for quick diagnosis thus, eliminating the need for expensive surgeries. These tests are not only cheaper, but are more accurate and quicker than other tests prior to the use of biotechnology.
Environmental hazards such as oil spills from oil tankers on land surfaces as well as in seas which not only kill aquatic flora and fauna by destroying the habitat, but also create health problems to those living around can now be effectively removed with biotechnology. Traditionally, chemical dispersants was used to remedy the situation but they proved to be toxic in nature and persisted in the environment for longer periods. But Ananda Chakrabarty (1980), working for General Electric developed a bacterium derived from the pseudomonas genus which he proposed to use in treating oil spills.
The pseudomonas produces a glycolipid emulsifier which reduces the surface tension of the oil-water interface and helps remove the oil. In the industrial or non-food use of crops for biotechnology, the rising demand for biofuels is expected to be good news especially in the United States farming industry to rapidly increase its corn and soybeans supply – the main inputs into biofuels by developing genetically modified seeds which are resistant to pests and drought, boosting farm productivity. Biotechnology therefore plays a crucial role in ensuring that biofuels production targets are met (The Procession List, 2010).
Biofuels are gradually gaining increased public and scientific attention and its driven by factors such as oil price spikes, the need for increased energy security, concern over green house gas emissions from fossil fuels and government subsidies. The production of these biofuels entail the fermentation of sugars derived from crops such as wheat, corn, sugarcane, cassava or from feed stock such as animal fats, vegetable oils, jatropha, cotton seed, millet sunflower, palm oil, soybeans. Collectively, such crops are called energy crops.
Energy crops are plants which are cultivated for the purpose of producing (non-food) energy. They are grown as a low cost and low maintenance harvest used to make biofuels or combusted for its energy content to generate heat or electricity. They are used for firing power plants either alone or co-fired with other fuels. As at 2006, the fastest growing sector of the German bio-farming was in the area of “renewable energy crops”, on nearly 500,000 hectare land (Jatropha Wikipedia, 2011).
Jatropha is a genus from the family Euphorbiaceae. It was derived from the greek word jatros meaning physician and trophe which means nutrition hence, its common name “physic nut”. Goldman Sachs (2007) cited the Jatropha curcas as one of the best energy crops for future biodiesel production (Jatropha plant gains steam in global race for biofuels). This could be attributed to the fact that it is drought and pest resistant and produces seeds that contain 27-40% oil averaging 34.4% (Achten WMJ et al, 2008) which is refined into high quality biodiesel (World Agro forestry centre, 2007). After extraction, the remaining press cake of Jatropha seeds can also be considered for energy production used in powering automobiles and for lightning purpose. The Jatropha plant can be intercropped with other cash crops such as coffee, sugar, fruits and vegetables. The farmer therefore, does not have to look for another land to plant (Jatropha Wikipedia, 2011).
The oil from Jatropha curcas is currently used for making biodiesel fuel in Brazil and Philippines where it grows naturally. The railway line between Mumbai and Delhi is planted with Jatropha and the train itself runs on 15-20% biodiesel (Fairless, 2007). In Africa, the cultivation of Jatropha is being promoted and it is grown successfully in countries such as Mali (Polgreen, 2007). On December 30, 2008, Air New Zealand successfully completed a test flight from Auckland using a 50\50 mixture of Jatropha oil-derived biofuels and jet A1 in one of the four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines of a 747 jumbo jet (Jatropha Wikipedia, 2011). Despite its positive uses on August 1, 2010, a controversy began regarding the actual efficiency and potential dangers Jatropha could offer. Major concerns included that it is an invasive species which could disrupt local bio-diversity as well as create damage to water catchment areas (Biodiesel wonder plant could spell doom for Kenya, 2011). The seed of the Jatropha curcas is also a source of the highly poisonous toxalbumin curcin (www.drugsandpoisons.com\2008). However, when these seeds are roasted, it tends to reduce its toxicity and it is these seeds that contain a high percentage of clean oil used for candles, soap and biofuels production.
Cassava which is a native of South America is a woody shrub of the family Euphorbiaceae. It is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and sub tropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root which is a major source of carbohydrate. It is the third largest source of carbohydrate for meals in the world (FAO, 1990). It is classified as either sweet or bitter depending on the level of toxic cyanogenic glycosides (FAO, 1990). Nevertheless, farmers prefer the bitter varieties because they help to deter pests, animals and thieves (Linley et al, 2002) and they serve in some places as a fall back resource(a food security crop) in times of famine (FAO, 1990). The cassava crop is used for various purposes which includes its use as food- the soft boiled root has a delicate flavor and can replace boiled potatoes; when deeply fried, can replace fried potatoes.
Fufu is made from the starchy root flour. Its leaves can be pounded to fine chaff and used as palaver source as is done in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. There is also the cassava bread made from the cassava root flour which is boiled until it is a thick rubbery ball. The ethanol productivity of cassava was investigated in a laboratory experiment by correlating volumes and masses of the ethanol produced to the masses of samples used. Four samples of the cassava tubers – 5, 15, 25 and 35kg was used. The ethanol yield at the end of the experiment was at an average volume of 0.31, 0.96, 1.61 and 2.21 litres respectively for the selected masses.
1.2 Problem Statement
The combustion of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas releases poisonous gases into the atmosphere. Energy gotten from these gases, power almost two-thirds of present electricity and virtually all of our transport (United States Department of Energy, 2006). But, there are a number of problems associated with fossil fuels most of which stem from by-products created when they are burnt to create energy. Chief among these by-products are carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides – green house gases that are major contributors to global warming. Regarding the coal and petroleum combustion, the amount of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in our environment today are 35% and 18% higher respectively than they were before the industrial era (United States Department of Energy, 2006). The reduction in energy use would cut annual greenhouse gases by 1.1 gigatonnes which is equivalent to taking the entire United States fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the road (Mckinsey, 2009). Other by-products of fossil fuel combustion include sulphur and nitrogen oxides both of which contributes to acid rain and hydrocarbons which can react with nitrogen oxides to form smog. In addition to their environmental harm, the by-products of burning fossil fuels can cause health problems to humans. Nitrogen oxides for example cause irritation to the lungs (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2005) and particulate matter such as soot and dust contributes to respiratory illness and cardiac problems including heart attacks (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).
Fossil fuels are becoming increasingly expensive and according to the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2010), a complete elimination of fossil fuel subsidies would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5.58% by 2020 and also, fossil fuels by their very nature are non renewable meaning that the amounts are limited for us to exploit (Owen et al, 2010). Therefore, an alternative source of energy has to be developed which leads us to biofuels and its usefulness in reducing\eliminating the fossil fuel problems. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that biofuels could provide 27% of total transport fuel and contribute in particular to the replacement of diesel, kerosene and jet fuel avoiding about 2.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions when produced substantially (IEA, 2011). The International Energy Agency also projects that most biofuels could be competitive with fossil fuels by 2020 (IEA, 2011). As for security consideration, renewable such as wind, solar, biomass, hydro – tend to be more widely distributed than fossil fuels, making them potentially less vulnerable to regional instability (PEW charitable trusts, 2010). Thirty (30) million rural households in China that have biogas digesters have been reported to enjoy 12 benefits which include; saves time collecting fuel wood, saves fossil fuels, protects forest, use of crop residue for animal fodder instead of fuel, saves money, saves cooking time, improves hygienic conditions, produces high quality fertilizer, enables local mechanization and electricity production, improves the rural standard of living and reduces air and water pollution (China Biogas, 2010).
The need to grow energy crops such as cassava and Jatropha then becomes necessary primarily because of the quantity and quality of oil derived from them. It is to this end that this research addresses the following questions;
- What are the socio-economic characteristics of the farmers?
- What are their information sources?
- What are their present major energy sources?
- How efficient/cost effective are these energy sources?
- What is the present production level of cassava and Jatropha crops?
- What are the possible uses of these crops?
- What are the benefits of growing these crops?
- How profitable is the growing of these crops?
1.3 Objectives Of The Study
1.3.1 General Objective
The general objective of the study is to access the importance of cassava and Jatropha as energy crops for biotechnology.
1.3.2 Specific Objectives
- To identify the socio economic characteristics of the farmers in the study area.
- To identify the information sources of farmers in the study area.
- To identify the present major energy sources in the study area.
- To estimate the farmers perception on the efficiency/cost effectiveness of the energy sources.
- To estimate the present production level of both the cassava and Jatropha farmers in the study area.
- To assess the problems/challenges associated with growing cassava and Jatropha.
1.4 Justification Of Study
This study was expected to expose the use of energy crops in general and cassava and Jatropha in particular as an alternative in generating electricity for the purposes of cooking and lightning, and explain the advantages of using such crops as against the conventional energy sources. It was also expected to identify the immense benefits in the use of such technology in a country like Nigeria for individuals, research institutes and private organizations to pick up and carry out experiments based on gathered facts, compare the advantages and disadvantages and see how it can be used with little or no negative effects on individuals and the country at large. The rural farmers and dwellers were expected to become enlightened and encouraged by the federal government through the provision of inputs, extension education, credit facilities and other materials required by these farmers in order to cultivate more of these energy crops especially cassava and Jatropha for their vast benefits which is not only in the production of oil for energy production.
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