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Jatropha, a wonder plant

March 14, 2010

Jatropha, a wonder plant

By Ernesto Ordoñez
First Posted 21:01:00 12/28/2006

THE WORD “serendipity” means to discover beneficial things by accident.

In some ways, this happened to Ramon Tan and jatropha.

From urban to rural

Tan is the president of Carica Livelihood and Entrepreneur Assistance Program. He now focuses his attention on rural rather that urban areas. But this was not always the case. He started out following the commonly desired yuppie route of working for large urban-based corporations.

For most of his career, he occupied positions in firms like SGV, Colgate-Palmolive and Pfizer. He then decided to quit the corporate world and is now one of the leading advocates of jatropha, known as “tuba-tuba” in Tagalog, “tagatagumbao” in Ilocano, “galumbang” in Pampanga and “kasla” in the Visayas.

This common hedge plant has always been known for its curative and medicinal properties.

But recently, it became the focus of much attention when it was cited as an alternative fuel source because of the recently passed Biofuels Act.

An accident

Tan went from the corporate world to the herbal-medicinal-health area by accident, but he nevertheless become one of the biggest jatropha advocates.

In the November 2006 MARID Agribusiness Digest, Ronald Mangubat quotes Tan: “Everything happened by accident. There were people who said the plant is good for arthritis and healing of wounds. So at first, we got into it for the herbal value. Then one time, I was having dinner with Neda Secretary Romy Neri and he asked me, ‘Ramon, do you know jatropha’s used for diesel?’ I said yes, but I clarified, we don’t have many jatropha for commercial production. That’s how I started my research.”

That research has provided the impetus for what could be a massive job generation program for the country. The recently passed law sponsored by Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Miriam Santiago mandates the use of biodiesel as transport fuel.

Aside from averting a looming price crisis because of skyrocketing fuel prices, the economic benefits from this law are significant: Generating 300,000 new jobs; yielding foreign exchange savings of $825 billion over a 10-year period, and guaranteeing demand of an average 300 million liters of biofuel annually.

With jatropha as a feasible raw material source for biofuel, the market demand for this wonder plant has grown tremendously.

In a recent interview with Tan, he said: “I’m still a finance man at heart. I know that jatropha’s expected profitability is very attractive. For a total project investment of only P20,000 per hectare, you can get a two and a half-year payback period with an ROI increasing to 176 percent in the fourth year.”

Hereis a table which shows jatropha’s financial feasibility for one hectare:

Other benefits

Aside from profitability, a jatropha enterprise offers other benefits.

It is labor intensive and requires two full-time farmers working year-round. It can be planted in areas considered not fertile for most crops, and therefore provides livelihood opportunities in idle lands as well as achieving ecological balance.

A number of individuals are already investing in a big way in jatropha plantations.

Fr. Edwin Mercado has started a 20-ha plantation in Puerto Princesa, Palawan while former Gov. Antonio Leviste is expanding his 10-ha jatropha farm to 400 ha in Calatagan, Batangas.

Tan himself is spearheading an initial planting and oil milling project in Catanauan, Quezon with an initial planting program of 1,000 ha and and initial capacity of 10,000 kg a day.

Perhaps the escalating fuel prices, passage of the Biofuels Act into law, increasingly felt need for creating jobs in our poor rural areas, and the new emphasis on natural, non-chemical based cures that have combined to help us discover jatropha as a wonder plant.

For more information on this, please call or text Tan at 0917-623-2330 or email

(The author is Agriwatch chair; former Cabinet secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects and former undersecretary of agriculture, and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email or telefax 02-8522112)

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 14, 2011 6:38 pm


    Great to hear about how jatropha helps poor farmers! I wondered if you could comment on this article about Jatropha Plantations for Bio Fuel?

    Here is my basic method for refining Crude Jatropha Oil (CJO) Any Comments on this method greatly appreciated!

    Warm Regards


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