Castor Evolution: What are the key areas that need attention?
Castor oil is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world known to mankind. As per the statistics, the global castor oil and derivatives market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1% from 2019 to 2025 (source).
Castor oil with time has gained its importance due to its versatile applications. It has a high level of ricinoleic acid and is the only source of hydroxylated fatty acid. If we look closely at the timeline, the usage of castor oil has changed over the period of time. In earlier times, it was used as lamp oil and medicinal purposes and later on as an industrial lubricant. Today there are various purposes of castor oil derivatives.
The unique chemical structure of castor oil makes it a prominent candidate in the bio-chemical sector as well. Today several castor oil companies and other industries are looking at castor oil as an alternative to replace petroleum-based organic chemicals. As new applications are being discovered with time in the areas of telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, bioplastics/biopolymers, the market of castor oil derivatives is going to expand extensively in the future.
Despite the great potential of the castor crops, it is still not modernized up to its capacity. It only represents 0.15% of the total vegetable oil produced in the world. Let us understand what are the challenges that need to be overcome in the next evolution of castor oil products and derivatives in the business.
In the past decade, different countries have realized the potential of castor oil. There is a rise in the demand for castor oil and its derivatives due to the expanding applications. This has created a huge gap between demand and supply. There have been many initiatives taken like increasing the castor oil productivity but there is still a lot more scope to explore. The potential of castor oil is far more than we have realized. There are certain areas that need more focus in order to evolve the castor oil business. Let us understand them one at a time.
A Need for Extensive Research
We need a higher amount of research on how to improve the demand-supply gap. The more the research, the more the areas of improvement. With new strategies evolving to work on the areas of improvement it will help to upscale the castor productivity.
Enhancing the Productivity
The better varieties of the hybrid have a big share in increasing the product demand. But there are certain limitations like the low yields and limited economic returns due to which there are many countries reluctant to adopt castor crops.
There are many factors associated with productivity like bio-physical and socio-economic factors. Castor crops that are good for arid and semi-arid regions are grown in marginal and sub-marginal lands. This reduces crop productivity and further decreases profits. The problem of growing castor crops in a different setting can be due to nutrient imbalance, frost, heat, drought and other region-specific problems.
An exhaustive amount of research is needed to address these problems. Understanding the important constraints to productivity and the requirements for a crop to grow in a certain region must be evaluated. Relevant breeding strategies should be carried out that aim at the genetic variations and its trait in different targeted environment settings.
The countries should provide financial support to researchers in order to discover the available genetic purposes. Along with it, a feeding mechanism should also be built, where farmers can share their experience post cultivating the hybridized breeds and later work should be carried out on the shortcoming to enhance the productivity of the crop.
Searching a High Producing Castor
Castor is one of the few plants with the highest oil yield. The improvements in genetics have increased the demand for castor oil content from 24 to 48% according to researchers. Constantly improving the oil content in the seeds can lead to many benefits; Castor oil products have a lower environmental impact and higher degradability than other petroleum-based products. At present hybrid seeds contain 48 to 51 percent of seed oil content. These could act as the base for other breeding methods. Considering the high demand for castor oil products and castor oil derivatives, the researchers should attempt on finding possibilities to enhance the value of oil content in seeds.
Oil Quality Improvement
As mentioned earlier Castor oil is a unique oil in the fat and oil category. It is the only source of ricinoleic acid, which is considered to be safe and non-toxic. As per various sources, more than 5000 tons of ricinoleic acid is used annually for the production of a highly used polymer in the manufacturing process of tubes that are used to carry hydraulic fluids in automotive engines.
Hence, any amount of increase in the acid can be beneficial for such industries.
Innovative Breeding for different conditions
With the emergence of climate change, it is expected that we will witness more intense drought, increased temperatures and the level of salinity in the soil along with other changes. Hence it is crucial to develop cultivators that can tolerate these stresses. In recent years there has been a significant amount of research done in the area of drought tolerance in crops. It has provided great new insight with new knowledge in this area. Similarly, more in-depth work needs to be carried out in other pertinent areas.
Castor oil is a great asset for the industrial world. Hence in order to evolve the castor crop, it is required to fully mechanize it into the modern crop. There is tremendous scope to exploit the castor crop, that will unable to help the farmers get a sustainable future in the agricultural department with significant financial return. The government and other stakeholders should support researches and establish industries that can further use castor oil derivatives as their key ingredients.
Ambuja is the leading castor oil manufacturer in India producing a wide variety of castor oil products and derivatives. Evolving the castor oil further can lead to great possibilities for different companies who are associated with castor oil. The firm serves a large portion of such companies with the purest form of castor oil without compromising the quality of the product.