Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S bio-technology firm, Oil Castor, has this year spent nearly US$180 000 buying castor beans from local farmers under its engineered seed programme.
The company has said it is targeting spending US$700 000 this year in buying castor beans from rural farmers across four Sadc countries. These include Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique to which the firm availed engineered seed. However, the projected spending is likely to be missed on the back of the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Responding to written questions Oil Castor co-founder, Mr Alvaro Arellano, said about 580 farmers from the above countries were this year supported with engineered castor bean seed. After harvest, the bio-technology company buys back the crop from the farmers as feed stock.
“Due to Covid-19 situation close to US$250 000 was paid to farmers this year. Most farmers in Zimbabwe were paid.
We had the cash available, however, our cross-border purchases really suffered,” he said.
“Between US$150 000 and US$180 000 was paid to Zimbabwe farmers. Total farmers were around 580 and about 400 are from Zimbabwe.”
Last year, Oil Castor paid out US$230 000 to rural farmers across Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique. Of the above figure, US$160 000 was spent on local farmers. Recently, Oil Castor has been encouraging more local farmers to venture into castor bean production under the firm’s engineered seed initiative.
On the quality of the crop delivered, Mr Arellano said the harvest was decent despite the drought.
“With the rains starting this month we are expecting a lot more harvests in the last quarter of the year,” he said.
The bio-technology firm uses castor bean to produce motor oil or hydraulic oil, bio-diesel as well as a wide range of products such as cosmetic oils and soaps, which it exports around the globe. Castor bean seed has also been touted as a ready jatropha alternative in producing bio-diesel and if more farmers venture into growing the crop, this would be an effective solution to Zimbabwe’s fuel situation. Zimbabwe’s import bill is partly driven by fuel as the country spends about US$1 billion per year importing diesel and petrol. Meanwhile, research indicates that castor oil bio-diesel has a very low cloud and pour points, which makes it the best alternative in winter conditions.
It can be used as an additive for petroleum diesel to improve on endurance.
In addition, castor oil bio-diesel reportedly lowers the cloud point value although it may increase the viscosity of bio-diesel blends. The viscosity, though, makes castor oil biodiesel with its very low cloud and pour points, suitable for use in extreme winter temperatures. The Second Republic, under President Mnangagwa has instituted the National Bio-Fuels Policy to govern the sector in complementing the country’s thrust on renewable energy production. — @okazunga