Castor beans to oil the future

Zimbabwe could soon join India as one of the leading producers of castor bean, if plans by Life Brand Agric Services get the necessary financial and material support.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, the chief operations officer of Life Brand Agric Services, Mr Israel Isdory Kembo, said his company has embarked on an aggressive roll-out of castor bean production.

“Currently we are propagating 800 hectares under irrigation to produce seeds which will then be distributed for dry planting in the 2018/2019 season,” said Mr Kembo.

Of the propagated seed, the company is targeting to reach out to about 80 000 households, which works out to about roughly 150 000 hectares, assuming each household takes up about two hectares.

“Castor bean production is a trillion-dollar industry globally and the production scale is skewed in the favour of India and we are working on competing with them in its farming and processing,” Mr Kembo.

Castor bean, which is known as pfuta in Shona, is known to be the only source of hydroxylated fatty acid and hence, has a great amount of demand as feed stock in different related industries. The castor plant has more than 300 uses raging from pharmaceutical industries, lubrication, fuel, personal care, food, beverages and many others.

“Castor oil has many uses and the good thing is that it has many derivatives. And even more, not only is the seed precious, even the stem, leaves and roots of the tree has many uses,” explained Mr Kembo.

Castor oil is considered the best biofuel available in terms of per capita yield in the market and it is mainly used as fuel additive. Castor oil of non-edible grade is renowned the world over with global demand of over one trillion dollars.

Mr Kembo added that the promotion of non-edible agriculture crops for industrial use will stimulate our economy by over $5 billion within a calendar year.

“We are engaging youths and women in various farming districts throughout the country to grow castor beans under contract.

‘‘For each hectare planted, a farmer will earn an average of $25 000. We will be buying the seed, leaf, stem, and roots since all castor plant properties have multiple uses.

“We have entered into various partnerships and off-take agreements. About 52 castor value addition companies are going to open in the various provinces for processing of the castor bean, hence employment creation. This value chain from farming to processing will create employment for over 500 000 people.”

Said Mr Kembo: “Castor is more valuable, easier to grow and it needs less labour and has more by-products as compared to jatropha. Added to that, its maturity period is a 120-day cycle.”

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