It is well known that castor seeds contain a poisonous toxin ricin. For farmers and other agriculturists involved in cultivation of castor and other vegetable crops, there would be a feeling of uncertainty as to whether cultivation of castor and other vegetable crops can be done in the same land, due to the poisonous nature of castor seed.
It should be noted that not the entire castor plant is poisonous; the toxin ricin is present only in castor seeds. Even the castor oil extracted from the seeds does not contain any toxin. Only the castor meal contains ricin. Once the plant is harvested and the residue cleaned up at the end of the growing season, there is no poison left out in the cultivated space; hence there is no harm in cultivating other vegetable crops in the same space where castor was cultivated.
Castor oil and meal has many benefits. Castor oil has been used as a purgative since long and still finds many advanced applications. Castor meal is now being utilized in some commercial repellent sprays for squirrels, rabbits, moles and other garden pests.
This post has little to do with the castor industry and more with a fascinating aspect of castor seeds – the fact that they look rather cool while at the same time containing ricin.
Came across an interesting news item on this – a bunch of students in Canada mistook castor seeds for lychee seeds and consumed them.
Now, it is not exactly easy to consume castor seeds – they are really tasty, that is for sure – but somehow these lads had consumed them. Thankfully, everything ended well after this mistake was discovered early and the students were treated.
But it once again throws light one of the very few concerns that folks have with the castor crop – its poisonous seeds.
Many times, I ask about this to farmers in India who grow castor and they say that they rarely if ever have heard of any humans eating these by accident and falling ill or worse. In fact, they mention that even animals do not eat them as these are not edible seeds and the animals sense that these seeds are not good. (even if you ingest them accidentally, the ricin takes effect only if you chew and masticate the seeds)
So, overall one can perhaps say that the castor seeds in theory seem to pose some danger but unless used intentionally (and they have been – see here and here), its ricin seems to have done little damage so far.
How the students mistook castor seeds for lychee seeds is a bit intriguing, though I must say the seeds do have some similarities
Castor Seed Images – Image 1 & Image 2
Lychee Seed Images – Image 1 & Image 2
Increasing the yield of castor from 1 T/hectare per year (the average right now in India) to something much higher is a highly desirable outcome, but not very easy.
The best way to overcome yield challenge in castor industry is to concentrate more on research and development (R&D) area.
Many techniques are emerging in R&D sector to increase the yield of castor. These include
- Hybrids: Selection of Hybrids to increase yield, branching, non-shattering and high oil content. e.g.- HC1, HC2,…8 also, advanced hybrids like TSP 10R VP1 lata, etc.
- Cross Pollination: Under natural conditions, cross pollination in castor can exceed 80%, but the actual level of cross pollination is dependent on both genotype and environmental conditions. Germplasm storage under cryogenic conditions keeps up the viability of seeds even after 30 days
- Other techniques like enriching the soil with zinc content
Castor seed output in India is likely to decline by 40 per cent this year on lower acreage and unfavourable climatic condition in major producing states at the beginning of the sowing season.
Traders estimate total availability at 1.4 million tonnes this year, as compared with 2.4 million tonnes in the previous year. The crop sown in September is harvested through picking of seed in five–six trenches, the first of which begins in January.
Sowing area was lower this year by 35-40 per cent, coupled with decline in estimated yield due to inconsistencies in the monsoon in major growing regions. Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, the two largest growing states, witnessed shortage of rainfall during the sowing period.
“Farmers could not sow castor seed even in their usual area, resulting in lower acreage. Yield is also expected to remain lower. Consequently, castor seed output is estimated to remain lower this year,” said Manoj Agarwal, director, Shivam Oil Mills, a Palanpur-based (Gujarat) edible oil producer and retailer.
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