By CHIPA GONDITII
The Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) has partnered with Life Brand Agricultural Services to support castor bean production.
Under the partnership, ZWMB is disbursing loans to women with a minimum of one hectare, to acquire farming inputs such as seed, fertilisers and chemicals from Life Brand Agric services.
Speaking after signing an MoU between the bank and Lifebrand, ZWMB chief executive Mandas Marikanda said the partnership was the gateway to financial liberation for women.
“There is no other bank which has come through which is able to do what we have done. We are here to serve women because they have been excluded for a very long time. We believe that through the loans we are offering, women will now be able to tap into this gold mine of castor bean production, because it is helping women get money, henceforth, making them independent.”
“We are also encouraging women to go into farming, so that they produce better yields through this partnership with Lifebrands. We know that there are crops that women have been toiling on without much profit, but that is not the case with castor beans, because it enables one to do other things and still come back and harvest after three months.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Lifebrand chief operating officer lsrael Kembo explained the versatility of castor beans and the value it brings to the farmers’ pocket.
“The stock of the castor beans plant can be used for bio-diesel, the leaves can be used for agro-chemicals and fertilisers and the roots can be used for pharmaceuticals, so this in turn adds value to the castor beans. We have done an outgrower scheme for seed propgation, so we are buying it from our contracted farmers at $8/kilogramme. We are paying farmers 100% in foreign currency, seeing that we are doing the project for export. We want farmers to get value for their money, so that they are motivated and also help revitalise our economy” he said.
Kembo also stressed the importance of further processing castor beans as a means of value addition.
“The country has lost so much by selling raw products, so for us selling unprocessed castor beans is just a no-brainer. We are looking at products like Castrol engine oil, which is derived from castor beans and sells at $22 per five litres. We are currently exporting castor crude, which is currently going for US$7/litre and for you to have one litre of castor crude you need two kilogrammes of castor seeds.
Castor bean farmer Charity Manase from Chikomba district also spoke of the commercial viability of growing castor beans saying that easy access to ZWMB funds will enable her to grow her business.
“Castor beans is a crop I plant once for the next five years, I do not have to plant every season. The cost of inputs is reasonable when you look at the returns. I have delivered some seed already and Lifebrand has faithfully paid me in United States dollars. The risk of theft is minimum because no-one can cook them for relish nor sell it to Lifebrand without a contract. ZWMB has enabled me to access loans which are tailor-made for women and this will help me to grow my business, make more money and create employment for others.”
Castor bean, which is known as pfuta in Shona, is known as the only source of hydroxylated fatty acid and is in great demand as feed stock.
The castor plant has more than 350 uses raging from pharmaceutical industries, lubrication, fuel, personal care, food, beverages and many others.