, Volume 87, Issue 4, pp 729-746
Date: 19 Dec 2012

Productivity of Jatropha curcas under smallholder farm conditions in Kenya

Abstract

With the global bioenergy boom, the planting of jatropha (Jatropha curcas) was widely promoted by the private sector and non-government organizations as one of the candidate tree species for bioenergy in Kenya. This was motivated by the belief that it grows easily with minimal management requirements. The present study attempts to determine whether management practices by smallholder farmers, which are heterogeneous, are optimal for jatropha yields in Kenya. A survey conducted in different agro-ecological zones showed that yields are very low under Kenyan farm conditions. Regardless of the age and management condition, 41 % of the farmers obtained no seed yield, while 79 % obtained up to 0.1 kg/tree. This is dismal in comparison with the figures (up to 2.0 kg/tree) reported from elsewhere for 1–5 year old trees grown under similar conditions. Examination of farmer management practices indicated that irrigation, manuring and weeding, in order to maximize yields, could be offset by misapplication of other components especially, selection of planting materials, timing of planting and choice of intercrops during the establishment phases. This indicates that the anticipated high yields have not been achieved partly because growers are still using unimproved germplasm, management practices are sub-optimal, and the biophysical boundaries of high jatropha yield are poorly defined. Thus at the current stage, jatropha should not be grown by smallholder farmers in Kenya because of low or dismal productivity. If jatropha is to play a role in the pro-poor bioenergy development, future projects need to identify management recommendations that optimize yields. This also needs to take into consideration the preferences and constraints of farm households on labor and land allocation to other farm and livelihood activities.