As the cost of production keeps rising, maize and sugarcane farmers in Kenya are increasingly turning to sunflower farming.
They say the crop is less labor intensive, grows faster and has higher yields.
Mary Warwoba is one such farmer. Her home, based in the village of Sinoko in Bungoma county, is a constant hub of activities, with a regular stream of customers looking to purchase sunflower oil.
This is her journey as told by WoK:
Warwoba ventured into sunflower farming five years ago when animal feeds and cooking oil prices became too high.
Today, sunflowers are the only crop she grows on her seven-acre farm.
“I realized I could grow sunflowers on the farm and use it to produce oil which has no chemicals as preservatives and use its by-product to feed my animals,” she said.
Once the crops mature, she harvests the sunflower seeds and crushes them using an oil press machine to extract the oil.
She uses the by-products as livestock feed for her pigs, poultry, and dairy cows.
Warowba, who holds a Ph.D. in food security and sustainable development, says she harvests at least 1000 kg of seeds per acre, translating to about 250 litres of sunflower cooking oil when crushed.
Upon selling, this translates to about sh 100 000 per acre.
She retails half a liter of sunflower cooking oil at sh 400, five liters at sh 1800, 10 liters at sh 3500, and sh 4500 per 20 litres.
Being an agricultural officer, she had sufficient background to venture into sunflower farming.
She has mobilized women and youth groups and educates them on the need to venture into sunflower farming.
Aside from growing her own sunflowers, Warwoba is also involved in contract farming, buying seeds from other farmers in the community.
“I have another 20 farmers, each with an acre for growing sunflowers. Last season, they produced 20,000kg of sunflower which I bought from them at Ksh100. After crushing, I got 5,000 litres of sunflower oil,” she told How We Made it in Africa.
However, she is not the only farmer in Bungoma who is reaping big from sunflower farming.
Joyce Wamono is another avid sunflower farmer based in Sirisia constituency.
She was previously a maize farmer but shifted to sunflowers when she noticed that maize would take about six months to mature and would only produce about four 50kg bags, which were not sufficient for her needs.
She now makes thrice the income she used to make on the same piece of land.
In addition to sunflower oil, she sells the by-product at sh 70 per kilogram. She says that for every 100kg of sunflower seeds, 75 kg becomes the by-product.
She says the money she now gets from sunflower seeds can now be used to purchase vegetables, maize, and other foodstuff.
She explains that sunflowers are more drought-resistant and that their oil has no cholesterol. It is ideal for reducing other lifestyle diseases like hypertension and cancer.
Vincent Wachebe is another farmer from Bungoma who can attest to the sweet fruits of sunflower farming.
He abandoned sugarcane farming for sunflower farming three years ago.
He says the proceeds from the bumper harvest he now reaps from his five-acre sunflower farm far exceeds the sh 75,000 he used to get from sugarcane farming.
“I can’t compare sunflower farming proceeds with sugarcane at all,” he says.
His call is for the government to give the right credence to sunflower farming as a means to solve the country’s food insecurity situation.