I don’t like Malawi’s overdependence on tobacco as a source of foreign exchange. Tobacco is a very destructive crop not only to the smoker but also to the environment. A list of dangers associated with tobacco smoking can be found here.

During my undergraduate days, I remember attending one Student Christian Organization of Malawi (SCOM) meeting where a preacher was denouncing tobacco smoking from a biblical perspective. In his sermon, among other things, he said that if God intended human beings to be tobacco smokers, he would have created a chimney on top of our heads. With due respect to all tobacco smokers, I agree with that preacher 100%. Imagine staying in a house without a chimney or driving a car without an exhaust pipe.

The burning of tobacco has been reported to be the main source of indoor air pollution in the developed world. It is further reported that tobacco smoke contains about 4,000 chemicals, including 50 that are known to cause cancer. Besides that, cigarettes and other smoking-related materials (matches, etc.) are also a common cause of fires. Apart from causing tremendous harm to human health, the tobacco industry also causes a lot of damage to the environment. Trees are cut down so that they can be used as fuel for curing tobacco leaves.

It has been pointed out that for every 300 cigarettes manufactured, one tree is cut down for curing. As a result, almost nine million acres of forests are lost each year.I do not have to go into the environmental effects of all this.I am sure you know them. If not, just google them out.Nowadays, I get very excited when I hear news about the global anti-tobacco policies, although the masses in Malawi and other developing countries are not happy.

In my case, I see this as an opportunity for Malawi to look into other useful crops to replace the destructive tobacco. Jatropha is said to be one of those dream crops. Jatropha is a perenial shrub suited to tropical climates with 50 years life span. It starts bearing seeds after two years of planting. Seeds with shell have an oil content of 32%-35%. This oil can be used for the production of biodiesel, soap, mosquito repellent, organic fertiliser etc. Jatropha has a number of advantages which include:

  • Low cost seeds;
  • High oil content;
  • Increased safety due to higher flash point;
  • Small gestation period;
  • Growth on good and degraded soil;
  • Growth in low and high rainfall areas;
  • Does not require special expertise to farm;
  • Seeds can be harvested in non-rainy season;
  • Plant size makes collection of seeds more convenient;

India is one of the countries that has embarked on a massive Jatropha farming promotion. In Malawi, a similar promotion was reported in 2005. The Biodiesel Association of Malawi, led by Osman Ibrahim was busy encouraging farmers to abandon tobacco and switch to Jatropha as a cash crop. Now, almost two years down the line, I do not hear much about the Biodiesel Association of Malawi and jatropha farming in Malawi in general.When I searched the Internet, I only managed to unearth old news reports. Nothing current! Actually, by now, the Biodiesel Association of Malawi should have put up their own website (like the Indians are doing) where all those interested in this seemingly lucrative crop would get information easily.

Personally, I am really interested in jatropha.That’s why I have this burning desire to know the progress on jatropha farming in Malawi.Has there been any progress? Can someone out there help me?

Update(20/07/2007) : A $12 Million Biodiesel plant, which will be producing biodiesel from jatropha, will be established in Lilongwe, Malawi by next year. For more details, follow this this link!