The Miracle Of "The Useless" Tree

Benefits are many when nothing is wasted

One of the articles in The Ecology Of Justice (IC#38)
Originally published in Spring 1994 on page 7
Copyright (c)1994, 1997 by Context Institute

Tempate is an apparently useless and ugly tree. It’s not a good shade tree, because in the summer the leaves fall off. Nor is it appropriate for firewood, because it does not burn well. This is how it was viewed by Nicaraguans.

Then, from Africa, came word that tempate seeds could be pressed to produce oil usable for cooking and lighting. By the time this news arrived, however, there were almost no tempate trees left in Nicaragua.

Two engineers, Maritza Sanchez and Josefina Romo, headed up the search for the lost tree. They collected tempate seeds and planted an experimental plot in which they tested the feasibility of extracting fuel oil and harvested seeds to expand planting areas.

Tempate is a tree with a Third World calling. It prefers to grow on marginal and eroded lands. It produces profitably one year after it’s planted, and production increases for five years before stabilizing for the 30 to 50 remaining years of its life.

In the tradition of the Third World nothing is wasted. The peel can be made into biogas or liquid fertilizer. The husk can be used as fuel.

The seed, when pressed, yields two products: the first is oil that can be used for human consumption or turned into motor oil. The technology to convert the oil to a usable fuel is relatively simple and can be implemented in Nicaragua without difficulty. The oil has combustion characteristics similar to diesel, is purer, produces less residues, and can be used in existing motors. And the fuel can be produced where it is to be consumed, resulting in tremendous savings.

The seed cake left behind after the oil is extracted can be made into well-balanced cattle feed, with a protein content of over 50 percent. This product could help displace some of the 10,000 tons of cattle feed Nicaragua imports annually.

A number of cooperatives located on the poor, clay soils of Telica, department of Leon, have begun to plant tempate. Of the nearly 25,000 inhabitants in Leon, 80 percent are unemployed. This year’s crop of tempate created 80 jobs, but in the next cycle, the cooperatives plan to increase the planted area to as much as 2,300 acres, generating more than 1,200 new jobs.

Those promoting tempate are hoping the tree will help ensure that the co-ops that formed on these unwanted lands are able to remain there, planting, harvesting and processing tempate from beginning to end, so that the benefits stay in their hands. For now, that is happening.

Adapted from an article in Enviro, Managua, Nicaragua, December 1993.

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