The County Government of Nakuru has partnered with ENI Kenya Business Venture to boost castor oil crop farming through training farmers on proper agronomical practices and sensitizing them on export rules.
The devolved unit has rolled out cultivation of the non-edible oil crop on pilot basis in Naivasha, Bahati, Njoro, Rongai, Nakuru West, Subukia and Gilgil Sub counties incorporating more than 1,700 farmers.
County Director of Agriculture Mr Fredrick Owino says castor oil plant is a commercially viable crop as its derivatives, besides being important ingredients in pharmaceutical products, are used in a wide range of sectors including agriculture, textile and paper industries.
Mr Owino states that there has been a steady increase in the demand of castor oil and its products in the world market due to their renewable nature, biodegradability and eco-friendliness.
ENI Kenya Business Venture formerly Agip, with headquarters in Rome, Italy has been focusing on development of sustainable oil crop cultivation of croton and castor oil in Kenyan Counties.
The firm, which has been partnering with the Kenyan Government to promote decarbonization by strengthening cooperation in the sustainable bio-fuel value chain, has also been supporting activities in oil and gas exploration, mining and quarrying in the country.
Mr Owino notes that lack of information on better farming techniques and acute shortage of quality seeds hinder a wider adoption of castor oil crop farming in the country.
He adds, “to ensure that the venture is a success, over 50 Sub County and Ward Agricultural Officers have been taken through the Castor Agronomic Training Program (CATP) at the Agriculture Training Center (ATC) in Nakuru on proper castor farming techniques and available opportunities in the castor value chain so that they can pass on the knowledge to farmers in the hugely unexploited sector,”.
While indicating that local demand for castor oil pods is currently low, the Director explains that internationally, the oil extracted from castor plant is used as emollient and skin softener, treatment for gastro-intestinal problems, lacerations and other skin disorders. It is also suitable for the manufacture of high grade lubricants, soap, printing inks, textile dyes and as a leather preservative.
Stating that the small holder farmers in the pilot program had received high quality castor oil seed planting material Mr Owino says the venture is also designed to decrease the dependence on imports by local industries on castor oil derivatives while fostering the economic competitiveness of domestic manufacturing firms and creating new jobs.
Globally, castor is assuming priority as it is an undemanding non-edible oilseed crop which can thrive well in a variety of climatic, rainfall and soil conditions besides being renewable and completely biodegradable and is easily adaptable for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions.
“Demand in the local market is not appealing since there are no industries that process castor products in bulk. However, for investors that are looking for lucrative market abroad, the crop is ideal,” notes the Director.
He states that farmers in the targeted sub-counties are also being encouraged to form cooperatives to help market the crop to the major castor oil importers in the world that include the European Union, the United States and Japan.
“This crop that grows as a shrub should not be ignored since the world market demand for the oil is growing every year between five and seven percent. Further castor beans are attractive in the sense that one harvests thrice a year for up to seven years, making the investment worthwhile,” says Mr Owino.
The major world producers and exporters of castor oil are India, China and Brazil. He singles out lack of information on better farming techniques and quality seeds, as major factors hindering a wider adoption of castor oil crop farming in Africa.
For good harvest, Mr Owino observes weed control and soil fertility improvement are necessary. He says the crop does well in well-drained soils. The annual crop matures in four to five months.
“It is not labour intensive to grow castor oil plants and the benefits are many. It has a future in the international market. The use of castor oil as biodiesel has proven to have technical and ecological benefits and provides opportunities for development in arid and semi-arid regions,” the Director states
The plant he explains is available in a wide genetic variability, does not compete for nutrients with food crops, is not foraged by animals including birds, is easy to establish on the field, drought-resistant, tolerates different soil types, even arid soil, and yields 350 to 900kg oil per hectare.
“The most important task we have now is to sensitize Kenyans on the unique opportunities this crop presents. Investing in castor seed production, marketing and oil- processing business are feasible agribusiness for this country. It has the potential to lift millions of people out of extreme poverty, create jobs, and boost the economy of Kenya,”
According to him, castor is not prone to theft like other crops and that its leaves are highly toxic thus, herdsmen avoid it because their cattle would die after eating the crop.
“It is a tropical crop and so the world comes to Africa to look for it. It has over 3,000 uses,” he says.