The Economic Benefits of Castor Oil

A few decades ago when a Jamaican heard the term castor oil, they would think of a thick, not particularly pleasant smelling oil that was famed to cure any affliction of the scalp and transform limp wispy hair into luscious locks. I remember very clearly a time in primary school when my mother was ‘gifted’ with a jar of this foul smelling gloop (at least that is what I thought of it at the time). I wondered what the olfactory range was on this thing as she would massage it into my hair daily. I watched the gloop slowly disappear from the jar each day and thought to myself ‘Mommy will soon have to buy a real hair oil!’ 

My most vivid memory from that experience though was not the fact that I was sure someone would notice that my hair smelled like burnt tires or the pasty feel of the oil to the touch. It was the first time I had witnessed for myself an ancient remedy that ‘old time people’ swore by actually work. Four weeks after using Ms Peggy’s castor oil concoction, my naturally light hair was transformed into thick tresses. I still use castor oil to this day in my hair care routine and the results are the same now as they were back then. 

The castor oil industry today is worth millions as it is hailed as a remedy for hair loss and has other applications in the cosmetic industry. Jamaica is poised to benefit from this lucrative industry as castor oil use is ingrained in our culture and the product cultivated and extracted here is touted as one of the best in the world. If you don’t believe me just Google ‘Jamaican Castor Oil’ to see what’s been said about the commodity. The sad truth however is that most of the castor oil products labelled as ‘Jamaican’ are not actually produced here in the country. 

A few entrepreneurs in Jamaica have already tapped into the market and are reaping rewards. There is so much potential for growth in the sector as castor oil has multiple uses. Castor has come a long way; from folk remedy to prised cosmetic commodity. Jamaican entrepreneurs can surely reap rewards creating a castor oil business in Jamaica. 

Success Lifestyle Magazine has been keeping tabs on the industry and featured Fitzroy Ferguson’s journey from ‘corporate to castor’ in our second issue. Ferguson used his background as a marketing manager in the cosmetics industry and access to farmlands to jump start his castor oil business in Jamaica. An entrepreneur that can produce raw materials and manufacture into finished products has a unique advantage in business. 

Ferguson indicated that most of his customers are over 35 and so there is an untapped market in the younger demographic. This can be explained by the fact that castor oil is a more traditional product and the younger consumers may not be educated on it potential benefits. His products range from minimally processed pure castor oil to mascara; the latter product designed specifically for a younger market.   

 The castor oil industry is dynamic and not only overlaps the cosmetic industry. This forms the basis of its economic appeal to potential entrepreneurs; each stage of the process from growing to the final product is able to generate viable income. Let’s look at some avenues for entrepreneurship in the castor oil industry. 

Agriculture

Castor bean plants or ‘oil nut’ (common name in rural areas) can be readily identified by their large star shaped leaves and spiky seed clusters that encase the prized seed. Castor plants are so easy to grow they often reseed and one small cluster of plants can turn into a large patch after a few years. A renewed demand for castor beans can see even small farmers tapping into the market. The plants are fast growing and can be incorporated into small farmers’ routine by growing them along the boundaries of plots to protect more vulnerable vegetable crops as wind breaks. 

Individuals with access to more land could control a larger share of the market by being able to grow more of the crop. The Ministry of Agriculture in 2019 announced that land has been allocated in Clarendon to increase the production of the crop where interested entrepreneurs could lease these lands. Cultivating castor beans can create income for both small and commercial farmers.

Processing and Manufacturing

Renewed interest in castor oil, especially the cultivation of the crop, can open avenues for specialized centres equipped to process castor seeds. Castor oil can be extracted in different ways and this depends on their specific uses. In addition to its well known use in the cosmetic industry, castor oil derivatives can be used as bio fuel blends, polymer materials, lubricants and brake fluids. Studies exist that speak to the medicinal properties of other parts of the castor plant and the husks and meal left over from manufacturing can be used as organic fertilizer.

Cosmetics

Castor oil is used mainly for cosmetic purposes globally. With government backing, entrepreneurs can create products that are truly Jamaican and prevent other countries from using and benefiting from brand ‘Jamaica’. Ownership of this unique brand will create a greater demand for castor beans as raw materials and likewise opportunities for processing into uniquely Jamaican products.

Hair Products

Castor oil is most widely known in Jamaica for its use to treat damaged hair. A batch of good ole’ castor oil is almost always recommended for hair loss, thinning edges or split ends. Castor oil demand for such restorative products has increased as modern ways of styling hair can cause some damage and hair loss overtime. A quick online search will reveal hundreds of blogs and testimonials on the magical restorative powers of castor oil.  

Interestingly though, not much scientific research exist that corroborates the claim that castor oil itself causes faster hair growth. Castor oil has anti microbial properties and can seal moisture into hair strands. These properties create a healthy environment for hair to grow. As the global demand grows more funding may be pumped into research and development of by-products castor beans.

Soap Making

Castor oil can be used in soap making. As contemporary consumers search for more natural products, homemade soap making has the potential to become a viable cottage industry. Bars with all natural ingredients, including castor oil, can be seen gracing the shelves of stores known for unique gift items. Castor oil is versatile enough to be used be used in just about any cosmetic product that requires an oil base.

The Future is in Research and Development

We have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg as it relates the economic potential of the castor oil industry in Jamaica. Local universities can blaze a trail by conducting more research on the use of the castor plant not only in cosmetics but other areas such as medicine.  Research will guide development and this in turn will attract investors to the industry. Hopeful entrepreneurs can take our knowledge from the past as they seek to forge a future creating and sustaining a castor oil business in Jamaica. 

Published by Camile Clarke

Camile Clarke is a geography teacher, geologist and freelance writer who lives to learn while learning to live!

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