To beat adverse climate and ban of miraa in markets outside Kenya, James Koome decided to dedicate three acres and planted sunflower.
With his wife Kaari he planted the first sunflower crop in January, just like over 3, 000 farmers involved in a sunflower project in the Igembe region in northern Meru County.
Koome said perennial drought had compromised food security for his family-and economic advancement.
“I planted the first crop in mid-January and sold the harvest in the first week of April. We got 1, 650 kilograms out of two acres and sold each at Sh40,” Koome said.
Koome said with the income the family was able to stock up on food and other essentials.
He and other farmers buoyed by the quick income as sunflower takes about three months to mature, re-planted as soon as they sold the yields.
“My second crop is flowering and I look forward to getting more kilos. It is a learning experience,” he said.
He stated: “The value of miraa has gone down because of the ban and because the supply is huge. We decided to embrace sunflower as a complementary crop, not an alternative. We can never abandon miraa, even with problems in the market.”
The pilot sunflower growing initiative dubbed “Tujiinue Tena Project” saw over 3,000 farmers getting sunflower seeds.
Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance (Pacja) and Bidcvo Africa, an edible oils maker, launched a partnership to introduce sunflower in Igembe at the end of last year.
Pacja, Bidco Africa and Kenya Seed Company partnered in the pilot project targeting 3,000 farmers.
Abot 5, 000 acres were put under sunflower in the Tujiinue Tena project
In the first harvest, the farmers managed to produce 100 tonnes which they sold to Bidco Africa and other buyers.
With a kilogram going for an average of Sh40 the farmers made about Sh4 million.
Pacja Executive Director Mithika Mwenda said for the dry northern Meru, the sunflower was a choice of economic activity which assures farmers of rapid recovery from harsh climate, ban of the crop in foreign markets, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The by-products are further used in making animal feeds, hence it has potential to contribute to enhanced food security,” said Mwenda.
Mwenda added: “Sunflower is drought-resistant. Our project was meant to cushion farmers from climate-induced droughts. Before giving out the seedlings we trained farmers on its husbandry.”
Bidco’s Head of Agribusiness John Kariuki said Mr. Kariuki said sunflower farmers in Kenya were not producing enough, forcing cooking oil and animal feed factories to rely on imported raw materials.
“We have contracted over 1, 000 farmers in Igembe to pioneer the farming in this region,” he stated.