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I make cash from selling sunflower seeds and oil

By Kevine Omollo

Leonard Oriaro, a sunflower farmer at his farm in Siaya, on January 31, 2019. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

After several disappointments, ten years ago, Leonard Oriaro quit maize farming and took up sunflower growing as a commercial venture.

Though he has not got his first million, from the progress he has seen, it is a worthwhile venture.

“This is much better than growing maize and sorghum. From what I can, I am able to lead a decent life together with my family,” he says.

For the last few years, he has been growing, processing and selling sunflower oil at his three acre shamba in Obambo Yenga village, Siaya County.

“I do not buy cooking oil in my house. I make oil for sale and sell these seeds to dairy farmers who use them as animal feeds. This income sustains my family and I,” he says.

Processing the oil

To process the oil, he uses equipment at the government-owned Agriculture Technology Development Centre in Siaya town.

Just recently, he harvested 1,200 kilos of black sunflower seeds which produced 400 litres of oil. He sold a litre at Sh250. Sunflower oil fetches more in the market as it is considered cleaner and healthier.

Sunflower oil is rich in Vitamin E and low in saturated fat unlike other cooking oils.

So how does he process it?

After harvest, Oriaro dries the seeds at home, before transporting them to the government facility where oil processing is done. To maintain high safety standards, the oil processing is done under high standard of hygiene at all stages of production to comply with public health guidelines.

So where does it thrive?

Sunflower will grow well anywhere maize and beans are grown, the farmer shares. It thrives well in areas with sparse rainfall, and soil should be slightly acidic with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.5. The common varieties are Sunbeam, Mammoth, Autumn Beauty, Teddy Bear and Kenya Fedha. Most of them mature in three to four months. The crop takes at most three months to mature, with minimum rains. With this in mind, land preparation starts during the dry seasons. He says the early ploughing allows for prolonged heating of the soil which helps in mineralization.

Early ploughing

The heat metabolises the minerals making it easier for the crops to absorb them. The heating also helps in destroying harmful worms and diseases. And just before the onset of the rains, planting is done at a spacing of two by four feet, with Diamond Ammonium Phosphate fertiliser.

Planting and harvesting

“Planting just before the rains makes the seeds warm, hence faster germination, making the crop grows ahead of weeds. Planting when it is already raining finds the soil a bit cold, hence germination is slowed,” he says.

Oriaro has mastered the rain patterns in the area, and says during planting, some short rains are experienced.

This help his sunflower grow faster.

And with the germination rate of the seeds being 75 per cent, Oriaro places at least three seeds per hole, but later does thinning, which ensures uniformity in the growth.

He uses between six and eight kilos of seeds per acre in his farm. He buys quality seeds in agrovets in Siaya and Kisumu.

The advantages

The beauty about sunflower farming he says, is that it is not labour intensive. Occasionally, he hires casuals to help in land preparation, weeding and harvesting.
With two harvests every year, Oriaro satisfies his pool of clients and is left with enough oil to take him through to the next harvest.

Despite the good prospects, there are some challenges. At times, the crops are attacked by worms which feed on the stems.

To address the problem, once he identifies signs of attack, he calls an extension services officer in good time.

Another challenge is attacks from birds. But Oriaro has a unique remedy. He plants white sorghum around his farm.

“The birds then gets attracted by the sorghum, and by the time they come to their senses, the sunflower is ready for harvesting.”

Despite the challenges, the crops are hardy.

After getting to the knee height, they can survive drought, as they only require rains just few weeks to flowering, and a few weeks after. After this, pollination occurs, and seeds are formed, which require another two to three weeks to dry, before they are harvested.

Future plans?

“I am working on importing sunflower oil processing equipment, expand my farm and contract other sunflower farmers so that I maximise on this trade.”

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