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Borneo, Kuching, Malaysia, Sarawak, Sarawak agriculture, Sarawak Economy, Sarawak Environment, Sarawakian

Jatropha in Sarawak – the possible dangers of this introduced plant

JATROPHA has been heralded by some in this State as a miracle plant that can bring great prosperity to the people, particularly rural farmers.

Some have even publicised their dreams to make the state a major producer for jatropha.

Then there are the authorities who say that they have never endorsed its planting in the State, with the latest being Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang.

According to him,  the tedious nature of planting and maintaining jatropha, as well as its potential to irritate human skin, have prompted the state government to discourage farmers here from planting it.

“I hope those involved in jatropha planting will review their plans again,” he said this week.

This got me thinking about some villagers who planted jatropha enthusiastically a few years ago and have since left their fruits to drop on the ground because there are no buyers. They invested a relatively princely sum, but have had to cut their loses.

Not growing the plant myself, I wondered why there are such contrasting statements on it. So I decided to do a little research.

The actual origins of this plant are not very clear although some say it is from Central America and others say Africa.

As early as 2006,  the Australian Department of Agriculture & Food stated that Western Australia had banned jatropha because it is an invasive species.

Director of Invasive Species with the Department of Agriculture & Food, Damian Collopy, said jatropha is invasive and highly toxic to both humans and livestock, causing serious problems to the Queensland cattle industry.

“It is important that we act now to arrest the introduction of these plants, which could be very damaging to our agricultural industries.

“These plants are heavily promoted on the Internet as source plants for biodiesel oil, and are being grown in developing countries. However, we regard the use of these plants to be too risky for Western Australian agriculture and the environment here,” said Collopy.

Last year, in Kenya, conservationists warned of loss of biodiversity, and damage to water catchment areas in an article entitled “Biodiesel wonder plant could spell doom for Kenya” in The East African.

Even a site promoting biofuels called Green Energy News warned: “Generally speaking, transplanting a species from one part of the world to another – either accidentally or on purpose – has, on occasion, had some really negative consequences.

“The world has been bitten many times before by invasive species, it probably should be careful with Jatropha.”

Australia is an island continent that works hard to protect its agriculture industry. We’ve seen how the introduction of invasive species elsewhere in the world has destroyed the native species and also other agricultural crops, so it’s no wonder that the Aussies are extra careful to protect their country and livelihoods.

Little research has been done on the impact of jatropha on our own environment. While we all love the promises of quick cash and in great abundance, we should really take heed of the warnings and work to protect our own shores from a biological invader that could destroy all that we hold dear.

The report from Bernama:

Jatropha planting not good for Sarawak — Jabu

Thursday, October 6, 2011

SARAWAK has reiterated that it has never encouraged or endorsed jatropha planting in the state, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu said yesterday.

Jabu, who is Agriculture Modernisation Minister, said the tedious nature of planting and maintaining jatropha — as well as its potential to irritate human skin — have prompted the state government to discourage farmers here from planting it.

“I hope those involved in jatropha planting will review their plans again,” he told reporters after opening the three-day Sarawak Agriculture Department Research Officers Progress Meeting 2011.

Renowned for its bio-fuel potential, jatropha has become popular among farmers here because of high yield and competitive price in international markets. On another development, Jabu, who is also rural development minister, said a high-yield rubber planting pilot project will start this year. -Bernama

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