Crop scientists are calling on large-scale maize, wheat and barley farmers in Nakuru, Uasin Gishu and Narok counties to plant canola oil crop for rotational purposes after the plant was found to contain chemical compounds, which repel cereal pests.
Through a partnership between Agventure Limited, Unilever East Africa and Netherlands Development Organization, growers of the three cereal crops are being trained on sustainable farming methods, where the oil crop is also used as a natural weed suppressant.
An agronomist from Agventure Limited Jackson Yenko said canola oil crop also reduces erosion and improves the water retention capacity of soil prior to planting of the cereals.
According to Yenko, productivity and profitability of the three subsectors was steadily declining as farmers were reluctant to ditch mono-cropping that has led to a build-up of diseases and pests.
“For years, farmers have been growing wheat, barley and maize with few alternatives for rotation, forcing them to use too much fertilizer resulting in depleted soil fertility due to increased acidity.
Canola has demonstrated a proven ability to suppress rye grass and brome grass, which are highly competitive weeds, most problematic in all wheat and barley growing areas in Kenya. Over the years these two weeds that are hardy and vigorous in growth habit have become resistant to herbicides,” explained Yenko.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has already developed 14 hybrid seed varieties of canola.
The officer said most cereals are shallow rooted and canola, with its deep roots that go up to two feet into the ground, help in pumping nutrients to the top soil so that other crops use it.
He adds that because canola plant residue is higher in nitrogen and phosphorus than wheat and barley straw, cycling of nutrients from residue to the subsequent crop is an important rotational benefit of canola.
“Being a deep rooting plant, it accesses deep nutrients, opens the soil structure and enhances biological function in soils which is very vital before wheat, barley or maize is planted on a field.
Wheat and barley farmers who have embraced canola as a rotational crop have seen their yields improve by between 50 percent and 75 percent due to reduced pest and diseases, enhanced soil fertility and less usage of pesticides and herbicides,” stated Yenko.
Boniface Muriuki Kinyua said he started using canola oil crop for rotational purposes on his 300-acre barley farm at Mau Narok four years ago after undergoing training from Agventure.
“Our yields were steadily going down every year but after we embraced canola as a rotational crop in 2016 we now harvest an average of 22 tons per acre from the previous 10 tons per acre”.
Kinyua indicated that before the next barley-planting season he intends to double the acreage under canola from the current 300 acres to 600 acres.
“The advantage is that this crop is harvested by the same equipment that harvest wheat and barley such as combine harvesters. Our financial wellbeing has also improved since we make good income from sale of canola and have reduced the input of herbicides and insecticides on our fields,” explained Kinyua.
Agronomist Yenko further pointed out that wheat and barley farmers using canola for rotation purposes are making a kill from the oil crop as the country has unmet demand for both its industrial and domestic use.
The demand for canola oil skyrocketed after Baking, Cooking and Spreads –a wing of Unilever Ltd – adopted it for processing some of its products.
Agventure buys canola seeds from farmers at Sh40 per kilogram. Unilever buys canola oil processed by Agventure, which is also an international seed company.
“Canola, a flower like plant of the cabbage family, takes between 80-150 days to mature, therefore, can also be rotated with other common garden crops,” Yenko said.
“Canola is grown for its highly nutritious oil, which is extracted from the seeds. The plant produces Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids that are otherwise only found in fish and are known to prevent arthritis, diabetes and heart disease besides giving many other health benefits.
Canola cakes are highly nutritious for chicken and other domestic animals. Canola has only seven per cent cholesterol level, while sunflower oil has 12 per cent, olive oil has 15 per cent, maize oil has 20 per cent and coconut oil has 22 per cent,” explained the agronomist.
Agventure also assists farmers in soil testing so that they are able to decide the amount of fertilizer to be used on the farm. One of the serious blunders noted among farmers, he said is that they don’t carry out tests on soil.
The oil plant, with its Omega3 and Omega6 vitamins vital for brain development, grows in both high altitude and drought-tolerant areas, Yenko said.
Some of the end products made from the seeds include herb-infused cold-pressed canola oil, pure cold-pressed canola oil, chilli infused cold-pressed canola oil, honey-balsamic dressing and raspberry dressing among others.
By Anne Mwale