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Using jatropha to fight desertification, alleviate poverty

By EBELE ORAKPO

Desertification, poverty, poor soil quality, high unemployment level and more, are some of the problems a group of students led by their lecturer, Professor Raith at the Yola-based American University of Nigeria (AUN), are trying to solve. Unemployment is unarguably one of the causes of youth restiveness and insecurity in the country. As someone rightly said, if a university is not affecting its immediate environment positively, then it has no business being a university.

No wonder then that the AUN through its jatropha project, tries to impact its environment and the country at large. In this chat with Vaguard Learningm, one of the students, Yasmine Abdulkadir, a year two Petroleum Chemistry and Mining Economics student of AUN said the aim is to provide a cleaner energy source while providing jobs for the populace, improving the soil quality and fighting desertification. Talk of killing many birds with one stone!
Excerpts:

The project:
According to Yasmine Abdulkadir, the idea behind the project was to create something innovative to solve a social problem because AUN is a development university. “We are very interested in improving the lives of the population in Yola because two thirds of them are in poverty so our aim is basically to identify what we could do to engage the poor people of the community so they can improve their personal lives. We came up with the idea of producing biodiesel using jatropha as a means of generating the oil.”

Jatropha plant and seeds
Jatropha plant and seeds

About jatropha:
Research has shown that apart from its ability to thrive in arid regions, jatropha can also be used to improve the quality of the soil because the seed coat, flesh and seed cake are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Said Abdulkadir; “When you drive around, you see lots and lots of acres of land that nothing is growing on or with very few trees; what is really great about jatropha is that it can thrive in arid conditions and on almost any soil so it can be used to fight desertification and control soil erosion.

“The plant is poisonous so it is non-edible and animals do not graze on it because they are disturbed by it. As a result, it has been used for fencing for so long by farmers who know about it. We believe that growing jatropha can actually improve the quality of the soil which is great because desertification is a big problem in Nigeria.”

Oil from jatropha:
“We are trying to make biodiesel from jatropha. It started off as a student project in which we had five groups and each group has five – six students. We have been working on it for a semester. “The jatropha project has been implemented in India and it has been a huge success. It is to be part of a global phenomenon which says that the petroleum industry is not sustainable, biofuel and other renewable energy sources are the way to go for a greener world,” she said.

Involving communities and creating jobs:
“We have been engaged with a couple of communities at the moment and the farmers are fully engaged and they want to participate in what we are doing.  Job creation is what we definitely want to do. We want to create jobs for these people. The main market will of course be the AUN and the idea is that the revenue goes back to the farmers to improve their social lives because AUN is all about improving the lives of people,” Abdulkadir stated.


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