Tuesday, July 7, 2020
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Mandera farmers find gold in sunflower farming

About  50 kilometres north of Mandera Town lies Rhamu town, known more for its searing heat, huge flocks of livestock and  occasional skirmishes between  the majority Garre and minority Degodia Somali sub-clans over political  competition.

But  Rhamu is not all about livestock, pasture and clan flare-ups, it is also about River Daua, a flowing source of
livelihood that originates in the Ethiopian Highlands and courses its way across some of the richest farmlands in northern Kenya where it is the physical boundary between Kenya and Ethiopia in most of Mandera County.

In  the heat soaked area  around Rhamu and neighbouring villages, pastoralists cum farmers have ventured into all manner  of  crop farming by irrigation. Among these is sunflower that has sparked a revolution of sorts against conventional crops by  its sheer lucrativeness.

Farmer,  Mohamed Adan, a father of 10, have abandoned virtually all other crops to concentrate on sunflower that they  intercrop with a strain of creeping cowpeas that not only enriches the soil with nitrogen, but covers the ground thereby  protecting it against the heat in the area.

“The  foliar laden peas help preserve moisture while providing protein-rich fodder for the livestock,” says Adan.

Adan, a  member  of  Gumri farmers Group started with a quarter of an acre of the crop, harvesting as much as 450 kilograms.

“I  look forward to increasing my acreage under sunflower because of its resilience and profitability. Sunflower oil is in high  demand for its perceived medicinal value,” he adds.

To add value to the crop, Adan and other sunflower farmers in Rhamu area press oil from the seeds that they sell at sh.450 per kilogram. “People come looking for the oil. We do not go looking for a market,” he says adding that nothing goes to  waste from sunflower because husks are mixed with other fodder and fed to livestock.

Adan  says the plant is ready for harvesting when the heads start turning brown after bloom. “The head is cut from the plant  about three inches from the flower and dried in the sun before threshing to remove the seeds that are further dried to the  right moisture content,” he explains.

He  says  they produce virgin oil because nothing is added. “About five kilograms of seeds is enough to produce one litre of  oil,” says Adan.

The  Mandera County Chief Executive Committee (CEC) member for Agriculture, Ms. Johora Mohamed Abdi says more farmers in irrigation schemes along the Daua River are taking up oil crop farming because of the ready market.

“Sunflower  and sim-sim are fast replacing traditional crops such as maize and sorghum because they spin money fast thereby  enabling farmers to meet their obligations such as school fees,” she says.

“Rhamu  is among the areas within Mandera with the right temperatures and soils for sunflower that thrives best in slightly   acidic soils. It is only a matter of time before increased production warrants the putting up of an oil milling factory  within the County to ensure quality,” says Ms. Johora.

By  Dickson  Githaiga

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