BANGKOK - A BIOFUEL experiment in the fertile Mae Lao valley, 60km south-east of Chiang Rai, has produced mixed results.
Sritoy, a sub-district there, is home to around 6,000 people. About 100 households grow jatropha - which produces a nut that is processed into biofuel.
Mr Srituan Wongkammoon, 56, vice-president of the Sritoy Subdistrict Administrative Organisation, has already allocated his own 0.8ha to grow jatropha.
Its office, on a plot the size of half a football field, was converted into a pilot jatropha biofuel operation three years ago after a local politician took farmers to a jatropha research station, and they came back enthused.
They are among the first in Thailand to grow jatropha and convert it into biofuel to meet their own energy needs. But the machinery is basic and the yields are not very high.
One tree yields around 5kg of nuts. About 4kg of nuts produce one litre of oil. The oil works well in tractor engines, and Mr Srituan has modified his own truck engine to run on it.
'We spend so much money, nearly 20,000 baht (S$860) per year for petrol, but I am now able to save,' he said.
Seeing the inherent difficulties in terms of scale and technology, the farmers are willing to persevere, but do not want to grow more jatropha until there is a stable market for it.
Until then, the biofuel will certainly save them money, but will not make them any.
WITH REPORTING BY KRIS DHIRADITYAKUN FROM MAE LAO