The deficit of energy supply in Cameroon as well as in many sub-Sahara African countries is well known. However, despite impressive oil and waterpower resources, at national level electricity and fuel is mostly available in main towns only; most other areas are served by diesel-generated electricity or have no electricity at all. The energy situation in rural areas is characterized by poor quality fuel, inefficient use, unreliable supply and limited access. In Cameroon for example the electricity access rate is only 48.7% and in rural Cameroon millions people in rural areas are still without access to modern energy services. Energy needs for the isolated rural communities relies mainly on firewood and charcoal. Uncontrolled use of such biomass causes deforestation which has its negative impacts at local (land degradation), regional (air, water and soil pollution) and global levels (greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change).
In this context decentralized options for a rural energy supply based on renewable energies provide opportunities to enhance economic productivity and income in rural areas, while also improving the sustainable management of natural resources. In the Sahel area of Africa with mostly dry climate, during the last decade Jatropha (Jatrophacurcas) has been presented as a plant with an enormous potential which could easily grow on degraded soil without care or any input and also resist to diseases and drought and however sustain gut productivity. Therefore it was considered as a new chance for poor farmers of the Sahel area who could also on one hand increase their income by selling the oil pressed from the Jatropha seeds, achieve a better utilization of soil (including reutilization of degraded soils and desert); on the other hand oil from Jatropha could be used locally by farmers as a source of energy: biofuel for small machines (generator for electricity supply, engine pump and different machines for harvest and postharvest processing), for lighting (oil in lamps), for cooking (optimized oil cooker); The press-cake of Jatropha kernel could be used as organic fertilizer too. All this could significantly contribute to ameliorate the energy supply and therefore also the live of the small scales farmers of the rural area.
Some farmer and companies in the Sahel region who experimented the culture of Jatropha got very poor results, due mostly to lack of knowledge as the botany of this plant has not yet been completed and due also to absence of improved Jatropha varieties with increased and stabilized seed yields. Therefore it was necessary to implement and follow a selection program which could develop improved and adapted varieties for different agro-climatic areas. Such a program is being conducted in Cameroon by, one of the first private agronomic research company in the country (JatroSelect Cameroun) with promising results. The optimization of the profitability of the culture of Jatropha will be achieved through this work and therefore, with reliable data on Jatropha culture, it will be possible for the farmers to better plan and take decision for land and capacity allocation in small scale farms. The resulting production of Jatropha oil might help to mitigate on a sustainable way the existing energy supply problems in many rural areas.
Contact the author Eulogue Dongmeza for further information