Smallholder farmers in Taita Taveta have been urged to take up oil crop cultivation, whose huge unmet demand guarantees a ready local and international market.

Taita Taveta rolls out sunflower project to boost production of edible oils
Taita Taveta agriculture executive Eric Kyongo, hands over a bottle of sunflower processed oil to a farmer and member of Mahandakini Farmers’ Cooperative Society.

Taita Taveta agriculture executive Eric Kyongo said although oil crops are drought-resistant and adaptable to many ecological zones, Kenya currently produces less than 50 per cent of her needs.

“Kenyan oil manufacturers are grappling with huge deficits in production of sunflower, canola, soya beans and linseed,” he said.

“The key players who manufacture edible oils have resorted to importing sunflower and soya beans from other countries like Uganda and Tanzania to meet the high processing demand.”

Kyongo said the county government has identified the sunflower value chain to boost local production of edible oils.

“Sunflowers do not need a lot of rain, they don’t require a lot of fertiliser, nor do they need a lot of farm inputs, hence suitable for most of our farmers,” he said.

According to researchers, 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 including mammoth, sunbeam, autumn beauty, Kenya fedha and teddy bear are grown in different parts of the country and take up to four months to mature.

Hybrid varieties of sunflower are preferred as they have higher oil content and better yields per acre averaging 25 bags. Open-pollinated varieties have an advantage since their seeds can be recycled four times.

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“We have been contacting willing farmers who grow sunflowers and we assure them of a ready market. We want to boost supply of the raw material to our processing plant in Mahandakini, Taveta subcounty,” Kyongo said.

He said farmers in the county face the problem of mono-cropping, which has led to build-up of diseases and pests, resulting in declining productivity and profitability of farms.

Kyongo urged farmers to compare the profitability of sunflower and maize.

He said sunflower has proven to be more profitable compared to maize grown on the same size of land.

Kyongo said the county government is set to distribute about 15 tonnes of sunflower seeds. Farmers in Taveta subcounty will get four tonnes.

He said the seeds will be planted on 1,300 acres in Taveta, with a projected production of about 700 kilos per acre, which translates to about 700 tonnes from one harvest.

In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Taita Taveta government launched a hot oil press machine stationed in Mahandakini. It is aimed at easing the processing of the product and to promote sunflower farming in the county.

Kyongo said one litre of processed sunflower oil goes for Sh350.

He said from one tonne of the harvest, about 159,000 litres can be produced to help bridge the edible oil demand gap.

Data from the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) shows Kenya’s import bill of edible oils has been increasing at an annual rate of 15 per cent due to increasing demand locally.

Kyongo said the county government will invite relevant departments like Public Health, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Revenue Authority to educate farmers on standards and health requirements to ensure the end product is fit for human consumption.

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Onesimus Musyoki, a sunflower farmer and leader of the Mahandakini Farmers’ Cooperative Society, said they are working on ensuring every sunflower farmer puts at least one acre under sunflower farming.

He praised the county government, FAO and agricultural offices for giving sunflower seeds to farmers and the donation of a hot oil press machine.

Musyoki said the machine will not only serve residents but also sunflower farmers from other counties.

“We have been incurring high costs on transportation by going all the way to Tanzania to process our sunflower seeds, but now we are relieved,” he said.

Apart from sunflower oil, by-products such as sunflower cake, have a high demand and ready market as animal feed.

Farmers can make more profit as they incorporate value addition in the enterprise compared to selling the raw seed.

Jane Muthoki, a farmer in Mahandakini, said since she started growing sunflower, she has made more money than when she was farming maize and beans.

She urged the government to provide them with farm inputs and more machines for processing sunflower.

Muthoki also urged the county government to ensure cartels do not interfere with their produce prices and make their efforts go in vain.

“We are pleading with the county and national government to provide us with farm inputs, more machines as well as ensuring farmers are regularly trained to gain more knowledge on how to handle post-harvest processes to avoid losses,” she said.

by KNA

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