On Biofuel Crops And Rice Crops

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:25:00 04/25/2008

The statement of Sen. Rodolfo Biazon that we discontinue the biofuels project because it usurps land for food production is a knee-jerk reaction, made without first studying the problem. The crops to be planted for biofuels production, like jatropha and malunggay, will not rob rice and other food crops of land.

Rice needs plenty of water. Jatropha won’t grow where there is too much water. Its roots will rot. Jatropha grows on very poor soil and cogon land, and on denuded mountainsides.

Malunggay, too, can be planted to reforest denuded slopes. It grows easily and fast. Stick a twig into the ground and it grows. It produces plenty of leguminous and very nutritious leaves and elongated fruits with brown winged seeds. When ripe, the fruit pops open and the seeds fly out and when they land they sprout into new malunggay trees.

Jatropha also has brown seeds that drop to the ground and grow. What’s more, if a piece of stem also drops to the ground, it grows. So these two biofuel crops are self-propagating. That’s the beauty of it.

Another beauty is that they grow on poor soil. Thus they don’t have to compete with rice and other food crops for land.

Farmers should not shift from food crops to jatropha, either. They cannot earn as much per hectare from jatropha as from any food crop. The only advantage of jatropha is that it grows on soil where no other food crop will grow.

Malunggay, on the other hand, being a legume, fertilizes the soil while it grows. Its leaves not only make a very nutritious vegetable dish, they also fertilize the soil, being rich in nitrogen. With its oil-rich seeds good for fuel, it deserves the name “miracle tree.”

Cassava, another source of biofuel, also grows easily from cuttings. The tuber is very cheap, being considered a poor man’s food. It can be processed into cassava flour for bread or alcohol for fuel.

Sugar and coconut, also biofuel sources, already have their own acreages. Farmers don’t earn much from them because of less demand due to health reasons (sugar and cholesterol). Thus, the biofuels industry will increase demand for these crops and help coconut farmers and sugar planters to earn more.

In some LGU's (Local Government Units), they conducted mapping and zoning of arable land areas. They found out that there are many land areas not fit for food production but which can be made productive by utilizing them for biofuel crops.

Rice crops and most of the staple crops cannot grow normally on land areas that have high degree of slope (like in the sides of mountainous and hilly places). Many of these type of land areas are now denuded due to rampant cutting of trees for use as firewood. If you extensively tour the countrysides and the rural areas, you can see this idle land areas with only wild grass growing. This is where biofuel crops may be planted.

Jathropa and malunggay plants are not of the type of plants that can be utilized for firewood, therefore they are safe from the local firewood gatherers. And since they are very prolific and require less moisture, they can thrive and flourish in these type of lands even if left alone without much care.

There are always better ways of doing things if only there are determined individuals who are willing to discover them.

Top photos: Jathropa - seeds for biofuel; leaves & bark for herbal medicine; fruit is poisonous

Middle photo: Malunggay - seeds for biofuel; leaves, bark, & roots for herbal medicine; leaves are very nutritious and regularly used as green leafy ingredient in local soups

Bottom photo: rice planted on plain land area, while coconuts are planted on sloped land areas