Jatropha is a plant native to Central America that was taken to India 400 years ago by Portuguese sailors to be planted there as “living fences.”
The plant is very thick and hearty, drought tolerant, grows in marginal soil, and is not palatable to insects or animals or suitable for human consumption. It therefore served perfectly as an inexpensive fence to keep insects and animals out of crop land. The Indian farmers also found that the nuts of the jatropha could be ground up to provide a source of lamp oil.
Over a period of 400 years, the Indian farmers selectively bred higher oil yielding varieties.
Today jatropha has been cloned and cultivated to create high-yielding, disease resistant strains that grow fast on low grade soil and live for 40 years or more, making for a highly desirable and profitable crop.