Farmers have been urged to invest more in castor bean production as it can boost the economic fortunes of the country through biodiesel production.
Biodiesel is a liquid mixture of free fatty acids with similar properties to diesel. The name comes from the fact that the diesel is produced from renewable oils and not from fossil crude oil.
Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, head of chemistry at Oil Caster Zimbabwe Mr Takudzwa Chifamba said castor seed, which is used to extract vegetable oil, was vital in biodiesel production and in earning foreign currency for the country.
He said castor bean production was one of the solutions to fuel challenges being experienced in the country.
"After having witnessed and experienced the fuel situation in our country currently characterised by high prices, we came up with a solution and it was biodiesel production.
"As Oil Castor's chemistry department, we have developed a formula to produce B100 biodiesel from the castor bean seed," he said.
Mr Chifamba said globally, biofuels from castor bean had been increasingly considered as an alternative energy source that could help to tackle fuel challenges.
"The castor bean at Oil Castor is a hybrid seed with an oil content of between 65-80 percent.
"This implies that from 1 000 kilogrammes of castor bean, we can easily produce 800 litres of castor oil. From that, 800 litres of castor oil of the formula, we come up with produces of approximately 680 litres of biodiesel.
"This simply means that we are in great need of our farmers to come board so that we can scale up and produce as much biodiesel as we can in order to help eliminate the fuel crisis we are facing as a nation.
"For instance, just 1,7 kilogrammes of castor seed (5 000 seeds) will produce approximately 42 tonnes of castor bean in its lifetime and that converts to 28 000 litres of biodiesel," said Mr Chifamba.
He said investing in crops like castor bean would help in cutting the fuel import bill that was weighing heavily on the country's economic shoulders.
The castor bean plant has an incredible industrial value, low demand for water and prolific growth even in harsh conditions of the marginal land.
"The most precious thing about the hybrid castor seed is that it can grow almost everywhere so farmers from areas with both low and high rainfall are able to grow it.
"Surely, this will help our country in a long way in alleviating fuel shortages as well as bringing in foreign currency for our country."
The castor bean plant is easy to cultivate and is resistant to drought. It has low production costs and is easy to handle.
All these features make it one of the few options for the arid underdeveloped regions of the country.