Better known for sunbaking heat, aridity, wild inter clan clashes on huge tracks of fallow land with thousands of livestock grazing, some farmers in Rhamu in Mandera County have turned a new leaf. They have taken to sunflower farming by exploiting River Daua which flows from the Ethiopian highlands.
River Daua marks a boundary between Kenya and Ethiopia, and the farmers use its waters for crop farming. But now sunflower farming has proven to be a money maker in the Rhamu sub county.
Abdi Aden, a father of five is one of those who have abandoned the traditional crops to concentrate on sunflower farming. To shield the baking sun, he grows cowpeas whose leaves cover the soil, preserve moisture and supply protein rich fodder to his livestock.
Aden who started with half an acre of sunflower says the farmers have formed groups to pool resources.
‘’I would like to increase my acreage under sunflower since I realized the gold I earned in sunflower farming from half acre land, ’said Aden.
‘’Sunflower which is rich in oil is, in high demand and has resilience and quite profitable,’’ said agriculturist John Kubai.
Interestingly instead of the farmers looking for a market, people from far and wide, folks come looking for the oil seed believed to be medicinal value.
‘’Not much is wasted because even husks are grounded to enrich fodder for livestock,’’ said Aden.
He clarified that when the plants turn brown and begins to bloom, then it is ready for harvest, usually after three months.
‘’We cut the head from the stalk, about 10centimetres from the flower and then dry in the sun before threshing to remove seeds, we further sundry the seeds,’’ he said.
Aden revealed that from five kilograms of seed, pressed they produce one liter of pure sun flower oil which sell at Sh450.
Mandera county Agriculture Executive Ms Johara Mohamed Abdi noted that because of good returns and a ready market more farmers are resorting to sunflower farming by irrigation along River Daua.
‘’Being a money maker I encourage more farmers to take up sunflower farming, ‘’urged Ms Abdi.
She said being good money spinner sunflower and simsim farming are fast replacing traditional crops like maize and sorghum.
‘’Since Rhamu has the right temperatures and slightly acidic soil, more farmers ought to engage in sunflower farming as the county government plans to have milling factory to ensure quality production,’’ she promised.
Due to the success of sunflower farming in Mandera some farmers are prompted to try it in Garissa and Tana River counties along the mighty River Tana.