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Kenya’s adaptive farmers turn to sunflower


WHEN cooking oil and animal feed prices became too high for Kenyan farmer Marystella Wabwoba, she decided to produce her own. Today, sunflowers are all she grows.

“About five years ago, I realised I could grow sunflower on the farm and use it to produce oil which has no chemicals as preservatives and use its byproduct to feed my animals,” said the small-scale farmer.

Wabwoba’s homestead in the village of Sinoko in Bungoma County is a flurry of activity, with a constant stream of customers buying sunflower oil.

After harvesting the sunflower seed, she crushes them using an oil press to extract the oil, then uses the byproduct as feed for dairy animals, pigs and poultry. Wabwoba is also spreading the word of her success in the surrounding community.

“Given that I’m an agricultural officer, I also mobilised women and youth groups and educated them on the need to venture into sunflower farming. A few bought the idea and embraced the venture,” said Wabwabo, who has a PhD in food security and sustainable development.

“In an acre piece of land, you get at least 1000 kilograms of sunflower seeds. When you crush it, for every 4kgs of sunflower seed cake, you get a litre of cooking oil. When you harvest 1000kgs of sunflower seeds, after crushing you get 250 litres of sunflower cooking oil, translating to Ksh100,000 (U$770) per acre,” Wabwoba explained.

The farmer has a seven-acre piece of land on which she grows sunflowers – and from where she retails her oil.

“I sell a half litre of sunflower cooking oil at Ksh400 (U$3.079), five litres at Ksh1,800 (US13.86), 10 litres at Ksh3,500 (26.94) and 20 litres goes at Ksh4,500 (U$34.642).”

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Wabwoba not only grows her own sunflowers but is also involved in contract farming, buying seed from other farmers in the community.

“I have another 20 farmers, each with an acre for growing sunflowers. Last season, they produced 20,000 kilograms of sunflower which I bought from them at Ksh100 (U$ 0.77). After crushing, I got 5000 litres of sunflower oil,” she said.

Bungoma County farmer Joyce Wamono grows sunflowers in Bungoma’s Sirisia constituency. She sells the by-product of the oil she produces and says that for every 100kg of sunflower seeds, 75kg becomes a by-product. She sells that, at Ksh70 (US$0.54) per kilogram.

Wamono said she previously grew maize. But it would take six months to mature, she said, and she would get only four 50kg bags which could not sustain her needs. On the same piece of land, she now gets three times her previous income.

“We can plant sunflower, produce vegetable cooking oil and sell, then use the money we get to buy foodstuffs like maize and beans that we cannot produce in our small pieces of land,” Wamono said.

She also explained that a sunflower crop is more drought-resistant and its oil has no cholesterol. It is recognised for helping in reducing non-communicable diseases like hypertension and cancer that people get by using chemically-preserved cooking oil, she added.

Besides Bungoma, sunflowers are also grown in Kenya’s Kakamega, Meru, Homa and Kajiado counties, as well as parts of the North Rift and Coastal region.

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Vincent Wechabe, a sunflower farmer from the Bumula constituency, said he abandoned sugarcane farming in favour of sunflower, three years ago.

“I can’t compare sunflower farming proceeds with sugarcane at all. The (sugar mill) factory will give all farm inputs and you provide labour and after a two-year wait, on my five-acre piece of land, out of the gross of Ksh525,000 (U$4,000) I used to get after selling cane to the factory, I would remain with Ksh75,000 (U$577). But with sunflower, I get a bumper harvest after 115 days,” said Wechabe.

Wechabe, also a livestock official in his county, said sunflower was previously relegated to a second-class crop and maize was prioritised as a first-class crop.

“The call now is to put sunflower in its right place of hierarchy and stop the notion that it’s a second-class crop if we want to solve the food insecurity situation in the country,” he said.

Bilal Kweyu, an agronomist from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, says for Kenya to be food secure, small-scale farmers should consider venturing into sunflower farming to streamline economic growth and improve the cash flow of many livelihoods of community members.

“Both the county and national governments should help smallholder farmers to make money through agribusiness and satisfy the growing population’s food and nutritional needs. There is a ready market for sunflower products. We need many farmers to venture into the business and create employment opportunities for our youth.

Kweyu added that the country currently imports sunflower products from Tanzania and Malawi. Still, if local farmers are empowered, the money will go into their pockets to solve the food insecurity problem.

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“You don’t need to grow maize and wait for six months for it to mature and harvest 100 kilos of maize, yet you can grow sunflowers and harvest twice in six months, and use the money to buy food,” said Kweyu.

By The African Mirror