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Productivity of Jatropha curcas under smallholder farm conditions in Kenya

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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.

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This study was commissioned by GTZ as part of the Kenya oilseed baseline study, and we sincerely appreciate the financial and technical support provided for its implementation. We are also grateful to EU, the Japanese and Norwegian Governments for the additional financial support. We thank colleagues at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), many farmers, District Agricultural Officers, Forestry Officers, NGOs and CBO staffs who supported us in one way or another, along with the local enumerators and coordinators involved in the fieldworks. Special thanks go to Dr. Joseph Ogutu (formerly of ILRI) for the data analysis and the estimation of yield. We also greatly benefitted from interactions with Kenyan bioenergy stakeholders, including Ministry of Energy, as well as members of Bioenergy in Africa (BIA) consortium, and some individuals. The two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments for the manuscript. Finally, the authors are solely responsible for the contents of the study.

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Correspondence to Miyuki Iiyama.

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Iiyama, M., Newman, D., Munster, C. et al. Productivity of Jatropha curcas under smallholder farm conditions in Kenya. Agroforest Syst 87, 729–746 (2013).

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