Company generates US$28 million from castor bean exports

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the herald

Oliver Kazunga Senior Business Reporter

Oil Castor, a Zimbabwean biotech company, says it now generates $28 million a year from the export of castor bean in the region, a few years after it started operations.

The Harare-based company runs a program where rural castor bean growers across the country buy modified seeds from the company and, after harvest, sell the products back to the company.

In an interview, Oil Castor co-founder Alvaro Arellano said his organization, which also manufactures and exports health oils from castor beans, exports its products to Africa.

“We have exported castor beans not only from farmers in Zimbabwe, but now we have farmers in Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa. In total, the export value of castor beans in the last fiscal year was US$28 million,” he said.

Castor bean is used to produce biodiesel and a wide range of products such as cosmetic oils and soaps, industrial, lubricating and health oils.

The crop, which has also been identified as an easy alternative to jatropha for biodiesel production, is doing well in Zimbabwe’s climatic conditions.

A few years ago, Zimbabwe embarked on a jatropha biodiesel project, a joint effort between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and Korean investors.

However, the project, which was the first of its kind on the continent and one of the few in the world, hit a brick wall due to financial constraints.

Castor is tolerant to the two main abiotic stresses, salinity and drought, which makes it possible to grow it on marginal lands that are not conducive to food crops.

Oil Castor began exporting from Zimbabwe in 2018, while exports from other countries began last year after the company struck a similar deal with farmers in other countries.

“We mainly export petroleum jelly, castor oil, medical (healing) creams, castor beans for processing into oils, and modified castor beans for growing plants.

“Our modified castor beans are grafted plants that help plants germinate and grow evenly to avoid the wild seed situation that has brought down Jatropha,” Arellano said.

“At Oil Castor, we have been hard hit by the economic situation like everyone else.

“The key to our success is ensuring the quality of the castor beans grown, the consistency of the products we sell to our consumers, and the bitcoin or US dollar transfers we pay out to our farmers.”

Most tobacco growers, he said, were looking to get into running biodiesel plants, adding that for growers who plant 10 hectares or more, Oil Castor is building them a biodiesel plant for 2,000. USD (half off the ticket price).

Locally, the biotech company has engaged more than 1,000 farmers in the provinces of Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Matabeleland North, among others.

“We offer our farmers a free biodiesel plant when they order 12 ha of castor bean or spend $6,000,” Arellano said.

Biodiesel is a liquid mixture of free fatty acids with properties similar to those of diesel.

The name comes from the fact that diesel is produced from renewable oils, not from fossil crude oil.

Experts say that castor seed biodiesel has a number of advantages over conventional diesel and some of the advantages are that biodiesel is biodegradable, non-toxic and renewable, and low in greenhouse gas emissions. , among others.

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