Crop scientists are calling on small holder farmers in Nakuru County to take up oil crop cultivation whose huge unmet demand guarantees a ready local and international market.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has indicated that the country has an unmet demand for sunflower, canola, soya bean and linseed for both industrial and domestic needs.
The Nakuru County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock, Dr. Immaculate Njuthe Maina says although the oil crops are drought resistant and adaptable to many ecological zones, Kenya is currently producing less than 50 percent of her needs.
“Kenyan manufactures are grappling with huge deficits in production of soya beans, canola, linseed and sunflower. Key players, who manufacture edible oils, have resorted to importing sunflower and soya bean from Tanzania and Uganda to sustain processing demand,” says Dr. Maina.
The demand for canola oil skyrocketed after Baking, Cooking and Spreads –a wing of Unilever Ltd – adopted it for
processing some of its products. KALRO has developed about 14 varieties of canola.
In Nakuru County, Agventure Limited which buys canola seeds from farmers at Sh.40 a kilogram is also training them on better agricultural practices with a view to alleviating effects of climate change, in partnership with SNV Netherlands and Unilever East Africa.
While SNV is providing funds for the project, Unilever buys canola oil processed by Agventure, which is also an
international seed company.
“We have been contracting willing farmers who grow canola also known as rape seed and we assure them of a ready market. We want to boost supply of the raw material to our processing plants in Nakuru and Timau,” says John Mwiki, Agventure Limited agronomist.
The BIDCO Africa is another giant manufacturing concern that has contracted over 25,000 small scale farmers in Nakuru and other parts of the country to grow sunflower and soya beans
The company indicates that it currently requires over 10,000 metric tonnes of sunflower and soya beans annually, but local farmers only supply an estimated 5,000 metric tonnes.
The Head Researcher on Oil Crops at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) – Njoro, Peter Ndegwa explains that farmers can also process sunflower and canola seeds at household levels into cooking oil.
Linseed which does not yield edible oil is used for industrial purposes.
The researcher observes that sunflower grows well in areas with sparse rainfall, and the soil should be slightly acidic with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.5. Two main categories of sunflower-Hybrid Variety and Open Pollinated Variety (OPV) are grown in the country.
Several hybrid varieties which include Sunbeam, Mammoth, Autumn Beauty, Teddy Bear and Kenya Fedha, are grown in different parts of the country. They mature in three to four months.
Ndegwa notes that the hybrid varieties have higher oil content and better yields per acre averaging 25 bags, while Open Pollinated Varieties have an advantage that their seed can be recycled four times.
Sunflower by products such as sunflower cake says Dr. Maina have a ready market in the animal feeds manufacturers’ industries. Farmers can make more profits, she says if they incorporate value addition in the enterprise as compared to selling the raw seed.
“Canola is grown for its highly nutritious oil, which is extracted from its 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.
The 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. If you process 50 kilos of hybrid sunflower seed you get 16 litres of oil, ” explains the CEC.
She observes that Canola, a flower like plant of the cabbage family, takes between 80-150 days to mature, therefore, can be rotated with other common garden crops.
“Agventure requires high standards of rape seed from the farmers for processing. In order to accomplish this, rotation of crops is paramount.
Some of our 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,” says Mwiki.
The Nakuru County Assembly Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman, Wilson Mwangi states that most oil crops are used for rotational purposes and conservation farming. Oil crops have been found to reduce erosion, improve soil water retention and lead to fewer weeds, pests and diseases. Oil crop yields he says are 25 percent more compared to other crops.
“A farmer needs about Shs 24,000 to produce between 500kgs and 1000kgs of soya per acre-if well managed. At least Sh. 12,000 invested in an acre can yield between 300kg and 1,200kg of sunflower,” he says
Soya beans planting seeds cost between Sh.150 and Sh.200 per kilo while sunflower of the same amount can be bought at Sh.300.
A farmer requires 20kgs for one acre while two kilos of soya beans are sufficient for the same piece of land.
According to Mwangi farmers in the county face the problem of mono-cropping that has led to build-up of diseases and pests, resulting to declining productivity and profitability of farms.
The Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman says some crops are shallow rooted, especially the cereals. 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.
By Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto