Castor offers farmers a promising option : The Tribune India

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Oilseed farming

Castor offers farmers a promising option

Castor needs a flourishing market in Haryana and Punjab. The state govts should implement the Market Intervention Scheme with the support of the Centre for 2-3 years. With the increase in the production of castor seeds, private traders will come thereafter. Castor can become a ‘desert sugarcane’ in terms of profitability in the less fertile soil of south Haryana if MSP is introduced for it. Moreover, castor can make agriculture sustainable in arid regions as it consumes less groundwater.

Castor offers farmers a promising option


Sher Singh Sangwan

THE area under castor (Ricinus communis) seed crop is about 10 lakh hectares in India; the country accounts for about 70 per cent of the crop’s global area and 90 per cent of its production. Castor grows under a variety of climatic conditions, though a hot and humid tropical climate is more suitable for its growth. Major castor-growing countries such as India, China, Brazil, Paraguay and Thailand are sharing about 80 per cent of its total area in the world. Castor oil is used in the making of washing soap, lubricating grease, surfactants, rubber chemicals, nylons, hydraulic brake fluid, paints and polymers, perfumery products, biodiesel, etc. Castor cake is used in agriculture as organic manure.

CLIMATE FOR CULTIVATION: Castor is considered to be a drought-hardy crop and comes up well under dry and warm regions receiving rainfall of 50-75 cm. In heavy rainfall areas, the crop shows excessive growth. It can come up well at altitudes of 1,200 to 2,100 metres. It requires a moderately high temperature (20-26°C) with low humidity to produce higher yields.

WHERE IS IT CULTIVATED: Principally in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Telangana and to a lesser extent in states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. There is potential to produce castor in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Haryana also. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, it is raised under irrigated conditions with high productivity.

SUITABLE SOILS: Castor can be grown in all types of soils having good drainage. It is generally grown in red sandy loams in peninsular India and in light alluvial soils in the North-Western states. Soils that are not suitable for cultivation of food crops and commercial crops are often utilised for castor cultivation in our country. The crop responds well to good management and copious inputs.

COMMON USES OF CASTOR OIL: Castor oil has since long been utilised as lamp and lubricant oil. Since this oil is 16 times more viscous than other oils, it is a good lubricant. Castor oil can stay liquid at high and low temperatures and hence it has gained importance as an aviation lubricant. It serves as a good hair oil and body massage oil.

Owing to its increasingly wide use, during 2021-22, the price of castor seed went up to Rs 7,500 per quintal and its oil was sold at around Rs 16,000 per quintal. India is exporting castor seed oil (non-edible) worth Rs 6,000-8,000 crore per year, though we are importing edible oils worth about Rs 1 lakh crore.

Castor is a small annual plant with a height of about 1.5 metres. It has well-developed roots, with green and reddish stems which become hollow with age. Its fruit is a spherical capsule with small grey seeds with brown spots. The Indian varieties of castor seeds have an oil content of 48 per cent and up to 42 per cent can be extracted, while its cake retains the rest. It is a perennial crop, harvested from March to June, depending on its sowing time which corresponds with the monsoon rains in the kharif season from June to August. It is mainly cultivated under rain-fed conditions in semi-arid zones. That may be a reason that its historical yield is about 8-10 quintals per acre but after 3-4 irrigations, at the time of growth and fruiting time, farmers have obtained a yield of 20-25 quintals per acre. More than 60 species of insects feed on castor, the most prominent ones being the red hairy caterpillar, semilooper, Spodoptera litura, the leaf hopper and capsule borer.

In India, it is mainly cultivated in the states of Gujarat, Telangana and Rajasthan. Some progressive farmers in its non-traditional states such as Haryana, especially in its southern districts, are also sowing this crop due to higher profits than the usual competing crops of bajra/cotton and wheat/mustard.

The share of Gujarat in the all-India castor area has increased to about 75 per cent during 2018-23 from 47 per cent in 2005-10. Rajasthan has also seen a rise in its share to about 18 per cent from 14% during the same period. The other states, which accounted for 38.8 per cent share in 2005-10, have witnessed a drop to 7.6 per cent in 2018-23. Haryana has a negligible share at 0.3 per cent in 2018-23, with a slight increase from 0.2 per cent in 2005-10. The price has increased about two-and-a-half times, whereas the yield had almost doubled during this period.

As regards the economics of the castor crop, the average variable cost of cultivation and yield per acre are about Rs 18,000 and 12 quintals per acre, as per a survey of 2018-19. Some farmers in Haryana’s Rewari district reported yields of 20-24 quintals per acre during 2019-22 with four irrigations. Taking the average price per quintal in 2022-23 as Rs 6,000, one acre of castor crop can give a gross income of Rs 1,20,000 and a net income of about Rs 1,00,000.

The competing crops of castor in southern Haryana are bajra/cotton in the kharif season and wheat/mustard in the rabi season. Castor was fetching

farmers Rs 30,000-40,000 more income than its competing crops of kharif (bajra) and rabi seasons (wheat/mustard). The benefit-cost ratio was 1.48 for castor compared to 1.24 for cotton and mustard and 1.17 for bajra and wheat/mustard combinations in 2018-19. This ratio may have further tilted in favour of the castor crop with a higher increase in its price and yield than the competing crops after 2018-19. Moreover, castor requires about four irrigations as compared to nearly eight for its competing crops in two seasons. Castor farmers have also reported the cultivation of paalak and methi/til (sesame) in the kharif season as inter-crops.

The question arises: why are farmers not allocating more acreage under castor despite its higher net income compared to competing crops? As per feedback from farmers, firstly, the competing crops of bajra and wheat have MSP and procurement arrangements, whereas there is no MSP for castor and its price is highly influenced by international prices. Hence, the price risk in the case of castor crop in terms of the coefficient of variation was as high as 36.36 per cent, whereas bajra and wheat/mustard have MSP and are procured as per need, making the price risk negligible. Secondly, the yield risk in terms of the coefficient of variation in the case of castor was 36 per cent as compared to 12 per cent of bajra, 7 per cent of mustard and 4 per cent of wheat. Besides, farmers reported shortage of labour in the hot harvesting months of May and June. Farmers reported the appearance of unusual insects, though not harmful, under castor leaves in the rainy season and greater chance of frost on the leaves in winter. Watering at an appropriate time can save the crop from frost.

Market Intervention Scheme

Most of these are transitional problems, but the main issue reported was the lack of a market in Haryana and Punjab. The state governments should implement the Market Intervention Scheme with the support of the Central Government for 2-3 years. With the increase in the production of castor seeds, private traders will come thereafter.

Castor can become a ‘desert sugarcane’ in terms of profitability in the less fertile soil of south Haryana if MSP is introduced for it. Moreover, castor can make agriculture sustainable in arid regions as it consumes less groundwater.

The author is former Professor, SBI Chair, CRRID, Chandigarh


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