Originally published in The Hindu

Castor plants that have come up in public places in Bengaluru yield nearly 1,000 tonnes of seeds a year

The ubiquitous castor plants that grow naturally in different public places and empty plots in Bengaluru and its surroundings yield nearly a thousand tonnes of oil seeds a year. But they are not harvested despite their huge economic importance in terms of oil extraction.

City-based NGO Hasiru Dala and agricultural experts have joined hands to tap this wealth.

The novel initiative, which is presently being taken up on a pilot basis, employs ragpickers to harvest castor seeds.

The seeds are sold at designated procurement centres, which are linked to firms that extract oil. The ragpickers are paid on the basis of the quantum of seeds harvested by them.

The University of Agricultural Sciences-Bengaluru Alumni Association has trained over 200 ragpickers on harvesting castor seeds, including identification of mature seeds.

Hasiru Dala founder Nalini Shekhar says that, as of now, only about 20 ragpickers are involved in the project, which began a month ago. “Within this short time, they have harvested about 1,200 kg of which 600 kg was sold to collection centres in our network and the rest to others,” she said.

“We could not involve a larger number of ragpickers in the pilot project, as the castor season has almost ended. The castor season is from November to February. However, we are gearing up to scale up the project by the next season with a target of harvesting at least 10 tonnes of seeds,” she said.

Hasiru Dala is also encouraging the trained ragpickers to harvest pongamia seeds, which too yield oil. The harvesting season is from March to May.

UAS-B Alumni Association President K. Narayana Gowda says they are planning to ensure setting up of oil extraction centres to make the initiative attractive.

A plan to generate bio-fuel from castor seeds is also on the anvil. The Association is also considering the idea of standardising the procedure involved in collection of castor seeds right from harvesting to oil extraction as part of an effort to tap the export potential.

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