Traditional farmers in Kenya are now turning to Sunflower farming from the traditional crops like maize and tobacco.
The farmers say they are reaping more than what they used to earn a few yew ago.
It takes three months to harvest sunflower which in turn, gives the farmer a chance to grow the crop four times a year and also look for ready market.
The male sunflower is used to provide the pollen which we use to cross on to the female line which is normally sterile but once we cross it with the male, the seed that will come from there is fertile.
David Lukui is out on his farm inspecting this seasons’ sunflower crop in Bungoma, western Kenya.
“I used to be a tobacco farmer. I abandoned tobacco and started growing hybrid sunflowers. I have planted one acre this season and I’m expect to harvest 15 bags. Each of the 15 bags will have 50 kilograms of seeds,” he says.
The crop has been suitable for farmers as it is drought resistant. This has made sunflower to have a constant yield compared to other crops in every season.
“If you process 50 kilos of hybrid sunflower seed you get 16 litres of oil. So the farmers here have decided to cultivate hybrid seeds, they have a better yield,” said Lukui.
Many farmers have formed groups which buy seeds in bulk and process them. Stephen Nyongesa is a member of Bidii farmers group. The profits made in a group are usually shared equally among members.
Nyongesa says they plan to grow their business and start supplying oil refineries with seeds in the future.
“In one day we can process one sack of seeds which we package in 10 litres. This is a half litre bottle of oil which I sell for about 80 US cents,” he said.
Alphonse Laboso is a researcher at Kenya Seed Company. He explores how sunflower is produced.
“Once we have selected, we now identify the male and the female sunflower. The male sunflower is used to provide the pollen which we use to cross on to the female line which is normally sterile but once we cross it with the male, the seed that will come from there is fertile. So with that series of crossings, we now form what we call hybrids,” said Laboso.
Sunflower is used to produce vegetable cooking oil, soaps and also for culinary purposes. It is also used to manufacture animal feed.
Leading edible oil companies in Kenya have stepped in to contract many farmers in parts of the country to grow sunflower.