Kenya sitting on world's treasured rape seeds

Scientists conducting research on various ways of augmenting protein in peoples' diets have recommended the traditionally neglected rape seed oil, offering lessons to Kenya where the plant even though readily available has not caught farmers' attention even with its rising global demand.

Today, more than 500 million people globally are suffering from a lack of adequate protein in their diet and each year, the number by 80 million with a quarter of this coming from Africa.  And even as newfound and locally available protein rich crops like soybean enjoy impressive uptakes the scientists argue that they cannot single handedly address the biting protein deficiency.

On a prospective basis, a progressively smaller proportion of human protein requirement can be provided by animal proteins such as meat, eggs, and milk. "However, by feeding valuable plant protein to animals, almost two third of it is wasted as it is transformed into animal protein," Professor Dr Gerhard Jahreis, nutritionist at Friedrich Schiller University Jena  said. He is among the scientists championing adoption of rapeseed especially by farmers to bridge the protein deficiency gap.

Rapeseed oil with its high nutritional value due to significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids has gained a strong place in the human diet in recent years. Professor Jahreis says: "Annually, 60 million tons of rapeseed are harvested worldwide, corresponding to about 15 million tons of rapeseed protein which is fed only to animals. We are taking a keen interest in making this important protein source available for human consumption." The research team at Jena University has now conducted the first human study worldwide on the use of rapeseed protein for human nutrition with the results from the study have recently been published in the  journal Clinical Nutrition.

According to the study there is no difference in protein levels between soybean and rapeseed oil and the only way to scale is to encourage those who grow rapeseed for livestock to scale it for human consumption according to Prof Jahreis.
In Kenya, farmers have scaled soybean cultivation especially in Western and Nyanza province especially due to aggressive awareness campaigns on its health benefits. However, rapeseed continue enjoying dismal uptake in the country. However the farmers who have gone into its farming and extracting its oil are reaping big.

David Kimotho is one such farmer in Kieni District. He learnt to domesticate the plant he traditionally loathed. He, 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.

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.

Written by Alice Ndita for African Laughter