Fledgling Canola market stalls on lack of seeds

A new wave of Kenyan farmers is deepening the growth and adoption of Canola buoyed by a fanatical uptake of its oil by the health conscious with its oil preferred for its ability to tame chronic diseases like high blood pressure, cancer heart failure among others.

However access to seed still remain the biggest obstacle to a full adoption which is locking more farmers into the lucrative market.

This comes at a time when the scientists have lauded the use of the plant by farmers in crop rotation because of its’ ability to fix the soil with more nutrients, translating into doubling of yields especially on crops planted after it has been harvested like wheat.

Having been introduced in the country in the mid 90s by white farmers, the crop which is sometimes referred to as Rapeseed has been making progressive inroads in uptake especially around Mt. Kenya and Nakuru areas largely due to the presence of the large scale white farmers who have been the pioneer adopters. Although new in the country, the crop has been grown in other continents like Europe and Asia since the 13th century.

According to Thomas Kipkorir a Canola Specialist working with Amiran, in order to register food security, the bulk of the farmers in the country should embrace crop diversification and rotation. “Canola and Soya bean are the best crops for the crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen and soil structure. Canola’s tap root penetrates deep in the soil, improves soil structure thus providing easy access for other crops’ with weaker root system which are planted thereafter. The extensive root system in the surface also improves surface soil structure, creating more stable soil aggregate than those formed by other crops.”

Depending on the crop variety and existing climatic conditions, the crop takes about three to four months to mature. The plant is in the family of kales and cabbages and therefore the best husbandry methods applied on kales should also be used on the Rapeseed. “The crop needs spray for fungicides and pesticides like aphids which may interfere with the leaves and thus curtailing the yields seed yields of the plant.

In cases where there is insufficient supply of water, the plants should be irrigated and when the seeds have sprouted, its left to dry so as to enable easy harvesting just like is the case with wheat or sorghum. The large-scale farmers with thousands of acres use mechanized technology like combine harvesters to harvest the seeds while the small scale farmers use the manual methods of harvesting sorghum or millet.

The seeds supply for the crop is now one of the major hiccups facing farmers willing to adopt it. Most of the farmers who are spearheading the plant in the country are large scale farmer. These farmers have grouped together to pool resources and enjoy economies of scale while procuring for seeds and chemicals and therefore in most cases, they order for the products on their own from abroad.

This is one of the factors that firm input companies like Amiran are fronting for not stocking the Canola seeds. However with the recent increased adoption and awareness about the benefits of this crop in the country, Amiran is optimistic and promises to soon consider aiding thousands of smallholder farmers who are not having access to these seeds.  

The crop is emerging stronger than others like wheat with researchers noting that the crop is 60 percent more profitable than wheat. The plant also has ability to suppress other weeds and Kipkorir noted that this ultimately translates to the low costs for its success. In addition the leaves decomposing in the soil provide manure for the soil. “This is a multipurpose crop because apart from the nutritious oil it provides, it also fixes the soil and guards it against fungal.

The decomposed root at the end of season of the plant also is known to produce toxic substances which are vital in killing weeds.

Kenya’s prospect of benefitting from Canola has sharply risen with recent installation of production plant in Nakuru. The plant which was set up by Jonti Madrugada, one of the pioneer farmers of the plant in the country has a capacity of over 10000 litres per day. This assures ready market for the smallholder farmers who are up for its adoption.

The crop has a 40 percent vegetable oil content, 33 percent protein, 8 percent fats and 10 percent fibre. The establishment of the plant has enabled increased animal feed production in addition to the edible oil.  “Canola oil has the lowest level of saturated fats of all major oil crops and also boasts of an excellent fatty acid profile, with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids whose intake is associated with lower risk of heart disease and lower blood cholesterol levels hence registering high demand from the health conscious individuals globally,” explained Kipkorir.