Banking on Castor Oil for Kenya’s Arid Lands

ENI’s Agrihub in Makueni County

Farmers in Kenya’s arid areas could benefit from cultivation of the castor-oil plant as a source of biofuel in a bid to mitigate climate change effects caused by carbon emissions from the transport sector.

The castor-oil plant is a low-maintenance, drought-resistant crop that has low environmental impact unlike alternatives such as palm oil the use of which leads to deforestation and subsequently desertification of fertile land.

The oil extracted from the castor beans already has a growing international market, given the numerous uses that range from medication and cosmetics to substituting petroleum in the production of biodiesel, plastics and lubricants.

Giovanni Boschin (left) from ENI Italy and Pietro De Marinis from the University of Milan during the training

This has prompted many European countries to switch to environment-friendly options such as castor oil, a strategy that scientists are optimistic will reduce carbon emissions.

It is worth noting that the castor bean plant does not flourish in overly fertile soils, and yet grows well in soils that are unsuitable for other staple conventional crops. This means that the plant does not compete with other food crops, thereby ensuring food security.

To promote uptake of castor oil plant in Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology together with ENI-Italy, the second largest oil producer in Europe; and E4Impact Foundation Kenya are currently undertaking a sensitization as well as baseline survey that has since reached 26,000 farmers in 10 counties.

Speaking during a training session for students from the College of Agriculture JKUAT who will be involved in the baseline survey, for the project, Pietro De Marini from University of Milan said that Kenya was selected based on its high agricultural productivity among other countries in the continent.

The land identified for castor oil cultivation in the target counties is mostly abandoned or degraded due to desertification, erosion, drought, and pollution. Through such projects, the land may regenerate, while spawning a viable income and better living conditions for the farmers.

Students and Staff from JKUAT Land Resource Department, ENI, E4Impact and University of Milan pose for a group photo

 

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