Mali’s Farmers Discover a Weed’s Potential Power

— When Suleiman Diarra Banani’s brother said that the
poisonous black seeds dropping from the seemingly worthless weed that
had grown around his family farm for decades could be used to run a
generator, or even a car, Mr. Banani did not believe him. When he
suggested that they intersperse the plant, until now used as a natural
fence between rows of their regular crops — edible millet,
peanuts, corn and beans — he thought his older brother, Dadjo,
was crazy.

“I thought it was a plant for old ladies to make soap,” he said.

But now that a plant called jatropha is being hailed by scientists and
policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that
can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a
lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre
planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of
jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double
his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual
yield from his field.


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