Increased demand for edible oil amid failure of traditional crops like maize is pushing Kenyan farmers to plant soybeans and sunflower.

Majority of farmers, most who used to grow sugarcane, are now shifting to the high-value crops for better returns. George Otanga, a farmer in Teso South in Busia County, Western Kenya plants both soybeans and sunflower on his 40-acre leased farm. Sunflower occupy 10 acres and soybeans the rest. “I have been planting the two crops for two years now because demand is high and the returns are better,” he told Xinhua on Monday. This season, Otanga has planted 300 kg of soybeans seeds and 36 kg of sunflower seeds, spending 3,330 U.S. dollars in total, which include the cost of leasing the land at 1,330 dollars annually. “I expect at least 1,000 50 kg bags of soybeans and 50 kg bags of sunflower this harvesting season in June.” The farmer sells the produce to two top oil companies, one of them being Bidco Oil. “Soya drives uji mix flour and animal feed where demand is highest. Apart from meat the only viable source of protein is soya so most people are turning to soya to avoid red mean.” He noted that the returns are farm much better than those from maize. Last year, Otanga harvested 1,000 50 kg bags of soya beans and 400 bags of sunflower.

From 45 kg of seeds, one can make 20 litres of oil. About 4 kg of sunflower seeds produce a litre of oil which retails at 3 dollars. Sunflower mature after three months.The seeds are processed into oil.Elisha Onyango, a research scientist at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute said soya is cholesterol free and controls kwashiorkor and diabetes hence the reason why it’s popular at refugee camps. “Sunflower oil is rich in Vitamin E and has low saturated fat hence lowering cardiovascular diseases and chances of heart attack, ” he said. “There is good business in the two crops as there is ready market and the fact that few people grow the crops means good returns,” said Micah Wekesa, a soya bean farmer in Mumias Sub County.

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Wekesa used to grow sugarcane, whose fortunes have dwindled greatly in the East African nation, until last year before she shifted to soya bean farming.Soya bean is a versatile crop that is used to make animal feeds. It is also used to make milk, flour and protein supplements among other products. The crop, according to Otanga, requires less agro-inputs such as fertilizers for optimum production. Soya beans mature between three and five months depending on the soil and weather conditions. Sunflower thrives in warm to hot weather conditions with full sunshine during the day. The soil should be slightly acidic with a pH of between 6 and 7.5. To know whether the crop is due harvesting, the head turns brown at the back. This happens about 30 to 45 days after bloom. At this time, seed moisture is about 35 percent.

Written byย  Xinhua

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