Brazil’s Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA) hopes that the cultivation of castor beans, together with the production of biodiesel fuel, will generate nearly US$ 215.7 million (R$ 500 million) in additional income for 200 thousand families of small farmers in the semi-arid Northeast.
This would amount to 200 reais (US$ 86) per month for each family – more than triple the average stipend of 63 reais (US$ 27) currently distributed by the Family Grant program, according to the Ministry of Social Development.
Besides this, the MDA expects that, between now and 2008, the project will lead to the maintenance or creation of 400 thousand jobs.
“The ability of a small family farmer in the semi-arid region to obtain a monetary return from what he produces is very limited at present. Moreover, the castor bean/biodiesel supply chain is labor intensive,” points out Arnoldo de Campos, coordinator of Income Generation and Value Aggregation in the MDA.
He explains that the advantage of the castor bean plant is that it can be planted in association with the subsistence crops normally cultivated in the region, especially beans.
The beginning of the castor bean harvest is in June, during the drought season, when crops like corn and beans have already completed their growing cycle, which is shorter.
“The program is not designed for farmers to make their livelihoods solely by planting castor beans. It represents another alternative being offered to the region. And in the case of castor beans, the lack of water happens to be favorable to the plant’s growth,” Campos observes.