May 2008. Jatropha is a plant that is being grown in large areas in Chhattisgarh, India as a biofuel. But a scientist has claimed that it can harm the soil and aquatic life, cause skin cancer and even affect the brain of children if accidentally consumed. This statement produced considerable discussion. Apart from its use as a biofuel, it is used as a support for vanilla.
For the cancer link, see:
Other reports for its harmful affects can be found as follows:
And for some recent cases of Jatropha poisoning in children around the world, see:
However, there were many replies that challenged these assumptions. In Uganda, Jatropha has been used in vanilla farming systems since the 1960s. The soil in these areas is still very productive. There are people who have also used Jatropha seed for deworming, even in schools, but no negative report has ever been reported. Jatropha is also used in healing wounds, and one writer noted that he had used it for this purpose since an early age. None of the parts where it was applied has ever developed any symptoms of cancer!
In India, other, indigenous trees have the potential to be used as a biofuel. For instance, Karanj (Pongamia) has been used by traditional healers as a medicine for generations. In Karnataka, government buses are running by Karanj biodiesel. Jatropha is not native to India. Environmentalists and weed experts were not consulted when the biofuel project was being planned. Now there are plans to plant Jatropha in 84,000 hectares. Instead of this monoculture, indigenous alternatives, like Karanj, should be supported.
The Cook Islands has Jatropha curcas, although it is now uncommon. The following link shows the 35 toxic plants listed in the Cook Islands Biodiversity database:
In the list there are some highly toxic plants such as Ricinus communis (Castor-bean tree), Cascabela thevetia (Be-still tree), and Nerium oleander (Oleander), which are common near or within villages. While people should be wary of allowing any other highly toxic plants to be imported, it would be very difficult to convince the community to eradicate such beautiful plants as the Oleander. More information to the public would probably lead to some families with young children removing the highly toxic plants from their property or, at least, keeping a better eye on their children’s scavenging activities.
Jatropha is a very common in Bangladesh, it grows everywhere in the wild. People use it as a hedge plant, fresh twigs are used as a tooth-brush, dried shoots as fuel and seeds as lamp-oil. There are no reports of its ill effects. It was reported from the University of Rajshahi that students this year have done a comprehensive survey of this and other biodiesel plants in a large number of villages and have collected ethnobotanical information. No harmful effects were reported. There are two different species, caracus and gossipifolia.
Samoa has not reported any problems from the use of the plant, but in Tonga some children have been taken to hospital after eating the seeds and vomiting, but there have been no deaths. Fiji reported its use as an insecticide.
Further information on its detrimental effects was presented from India:
In India, accidental poisoning cases are increasing at alarming rates. Recently in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu 13 children consumed it (www.thehindu.com/2008/05/02/stories/2008050252950600.htm), and there have been other reports of poisoning elsewhere in the country (www.gmanews.tv/story/104071/Jatropha-downs-5-kids-in-Batangas—; www.deccanherald.com/Content/Jun272008/city2008062775645.asp); timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Chandigarh/36_students_fall_ill_after_eating_ fruit/articleshow/3216431.cms.
Death is rare in Jatropha poisoning but its consumption affects the nervous system of affected person. One death due to Jatropha poisoning has been reported from Burma where Jatropha plantation is in full swing.
The Purdue website reports that “The poisoning is irritant, with acute abdominal pain and nausea about 1/2 hour following ingestion. Diarrhea and nausea continue but are not usually serious. Depression and collapse may occur, especially in children. Two seeds are strong purgative. Four to five seed are said to have caused death, but the roasted seed is said to be nearly innocuous. Bark, fruit, leaf, root, and wood are all reported to contain HCN (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Seeds contain the dangerous toxalbumin curcin, rendering them potentially fatally toxic.”
In India, the Jatropha seeds are used as a means of suicide.
Climical information and case stufies can be found at: www.inchem.org/documents/pims/plant/jcurc.htm
But also, it was reported that in India, in the State of Kerala, Jatropha has been grown as a live fence for generations for reasons such as easy propagation, quick establishment, requiring little attention and being unpalatable to cattle. Jatropha is also locally used in herbal medicine. People in those villages seem fully aware that Jatropha plant parts are not meant for human consumption despite the fact that the plant is seen everywhere, even along the perimeter of primary schools. There are also reports of poisoning of cattle.
Poisoning of children who ate Jatropha seeds in the Philippines is also reported:
A Weed Risk Assement form was sent to PestNet by the CABI Southeast & East Asia Senior Scientist, and it was suggested that if members were planning to import the species, then they should use it to make an assessmen of its invasiveness. A response was received from Zambia, who considered that it had the potentail to become naturalised and invasavie under local conditions.
There was also a short disucssion on the drought resistance of the crop, with most members who commented, doubting that it was; if yields are wanted, irrigation is required.