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Farmer beats drought with simsim

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Sesame (simsim)  on dough balls, an application in the baking industry. Mpeketoni farmer relies on this crop for during drought. Photo by Epicurious.

While other farmers wait for sustained rains to produce, Andrew Nyatangi is making use of the light showers to grow sesame – a drought tolerant crop – for all year-round income.

He grows the three-months maturing crop thrice year. 

The Lamu County farmer says the crop requires rain for germination and flowering, making it a perfect agribusiness venture against maize and beans during short rain seasons.

Mpeketoni is one of the regions with the highest production potential in agriculture at the Coast region, but insufficient rain leads to low yields of beans, watermelons, maize, groundnuts, among others.

“Simsim (sesame) is my ‘escape goat’ when it fails to rain. Other crops can dry up as a result of drought, but the simsim still yields well if there is rain after planting to support germination,” the farmer said.

Weeds and pests have to be controlled to limit the effect on the produce to the end of the three months growing season.

From one acre, the farmer harvests between 400kg and 600kg per acre depending on the rain pattern, with the lower output being on dry spells.

One kilogramme sells at Sh70 when the supply is high and shoots to over Sh95 upon shortage.

At harvesting, the stems are uprooted or cut. The bundles are tied together facing upwards to dry for the capsules to release the seeds upon hitting with a stick.

Maize, beans watermelons and other crop farmers at Mpeketoni rely on rains and irrigation to produce. Drilled wells are the main sources o fresh water in this county bordering the Indian Ocean.

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The farmer also says even with silt, the crop does well without fertiliser application. The natives of the region are mainly pastoralists while those who have moved, especially from central Kenya, are crop farmers.

The land is still fertile.

“I do not use fertiliser yet in production of simsim. I am not worried about the market. When in plenty, brokers offer lower prices. I keep it past the months of October and November – the main simsim harvesting season – for best prices,” Nyatangi says.

Besides roasting of the sesame for local consumption, its edible oil is extracted for cooking. Its seeds are also used in the baking and candy industries, as well as in the body care products. Its seed oil content ranges from 44 per cent to 53 per cent.

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