Bio — TECHNOLOGY firm, Oil Castor, says it has spent US$550 000 out of the US$1,2 million it set aside to pay local castor bean farmers for their deliveries.

The firm runs a programme where rural castor bean farmers buy engineered seed and upon harvesting their crop, Oil Castor buys back the produce.

In an interview, Oil Castor co-founder Mr Alvaro Arellano, said Zimbabwe produces average quality of castor bean and the best quality was coming from Karoi, Mashonaland West province.

“We’re at about US$550 000 and we are looking at US$650 000 by end of May in payments to farmers,” he said.

“We hope to spend between US$1 million and US$1,2 million paying the farmers this year.

“The best quality is coming from Karoi. Very hot and humid areas do well. However, other areas like Marondera and Gweru are producing acceptable quality beans.”

Last year, Oil Castor paid castor bean producers about US$500 000 against a target of US$700 000.

The target was missed due to the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Alvaro Arellano said his Harare-based organisation has not been spared from the detriment effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It (Covid-19) has taken an emotional toll on farmers.

“Many farmers who lost a loved one, just gave up on farming, or had no will to do it anymore.

“For us, we had a worker who had Covid, so, we shut down for a month, and now we are only working through distributors.

“We are slowly eliminating dealing with direct public,” he said.

The firm has in recent years been encouraging local farmers to venture into castor bean production under its engineered seed initiative.

The company uses castor bean to produce motor oil or hydraulic oil, bio-diesel and a wide range of products such as cosmetic oils and soaps, which it exports around the globe.

The crop has also been identified as a ready jatropha alternative in producing bio-diesel.

It is hoped that if more farmers venture into castor bean production, this would be an effective solution to Zimbabwe’s fuel situation.

Research has proved that castor oil bio-diesel has a very low cloud and pour points, which makes it the best alternative in winter conditions.

Furthermore, 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.

Under President Mnangagwa, the Second Republic, has instituted the National Bio-Fuels Policy to govern the sector in complementing the country’s thrust on renewable energy production.