A farmer in Kieni East Division has domesticated a plant traditionally loathed by farmers and is now leading other enterprising farmers in supplying vegetable oil made from the plant to hundreds of farmers in the area, with impressive returns.
David Kimotho, like most of the farmers in Kieni, hated the rapeseed plant, also known as Canola, which he would weed out constantly to allow his maize to grow. Unknown to him, was the fact that he was sitting on a goldmine, until he visited a Canadian friend living in the Mau Hills who was growing the plant for subsistence use. He went back to re-invest in a plant he had worked hard to get rid of.
The seeds of the plant that, according to Kimotho, requires little tending and allows for intercropping, are harvested within three months. Kimotho then takes the seeds to his improvised tractor, which also has a grinding machine. The oil seeds are fed into the mouth of the machine which is powered by diesel and at the other end of the machine, the oil drips, drop by drop, as the seed husks fall into the other part of the machine. Kimotho then sells the oil to poultry farmers who use it to assist in making poultry manure, as well as to locals as good quality, and healthier, cooking oil.
He packages the oil seed in plastic bottles ranging from quarter of a litre to two litres. On a good day, Kimotho makes 100 litres of the oil, with a litre of his canola cooking oil going for Sh200, almost half the price of the conventional oil.
“Sales have gone up recently. Initially, people doubted this oil, especially because of the way it was produced, but I have made major steps in improving the branding of the oil and now I supply the oil to hoteliers and schools around,” said Kimotho.
Kimotho prints the trademark of his oil then photocopies it and sticks it to all the bottles for ease of identification by customers.
Kimotho hopes his venture can inspire large scale farming of the plant in the country and argues that globally the plant is the third largest in the vegetable oil market, after soya beans and palm oil plant, with cultivation mainly for edible oils, animal feeds and biodiesel.
At present, Kenya's domestic production of edible oils covers about a third of its annual demand, estimated at around 380 000 metric tonnes. The rest is imported at a cost of around $140m a year, making edible oil the country's second most important import after petroleum. Canola oil is a rich source of vitamins A and E which are required for dietary supplements in the country, with the vitamin A deficiency among Kenyans particularly acute and the cause of a wide variety of health problems.
Currently, Kenya is ranked number 15 worldwide for the export of vegetable fats and oil, selling mainly within East Africa and the Horn of Africa, but also to the United States and Europe.
Experts claim the rapeseed plant has soil enriching properties and recommend it to farmers growing cereals like wheat for crop rotation. Agriculturalists also argue the seed has huge potential as an income generator in the country. In two seasons, one acre of rape seed can yield some 1000 kilogrammes, which translates to about Sh15,000 of income a year, even without processing.
By Bob Koigi
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