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Sugarcane farmers get quick cash from canola intercropping

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Cash-squeezed sugarcane farmers are getting an extra harvest and quick money by intercropping fast-maturing canola between cane for the first three months. 

Growing sugarcane between two rows of canola fetched farmers 19 more tonnes of yield and Sh65,954 more per acre. Growing the two crops together produced more cane and sugar per acre, made farmers’ soils healthier, and better-utilising farm inputs and resources.

Sugarcane is a slow-growing crop that takes up to 120 days to bunch together and cover the 1-1.3m gap between crop rows. This provides farmers a perfect opportunity to practice companion or multiple cropping by accommodating fast-growing crops that net them a return before their main sugarcane harvest. 

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“Canola provides a much-needed short-term harvest for farmers during the nine to sometimes 24 months it takes for some varieties to mature. The canola also contributes to building significant amounts of above and below-ground organic matter in soils which are often carbon-poor,” explained Sam Knowlton an agronomy consultant.

Canola is planted a week before sugarcane maturing in just 80-115 days to be refined into rapeseed oil. Speaking to the Kenya News Agency Jackson Yenko, an agronomist at Agventure Limited noted that the crop also reduces erosion and improves the water retention capacity of soils.

Its deep taproots break hard soils and provide more channels for water to flow, reducing the chance of erosion. The roots reach 1.9 meters deep into the soil and take nutrients up to the soil surface making them available for sugarcane which has shallower roots. Single row of sugarcane with sunflowers on either side of the rows. 

The quick-growing canola also reduces herbicide use and labor costs by shading the soil and stifling weeds.

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Canola is mainly purchased by Agventure Ltd for use in margarine and vegetable oil production by Unilever and to make its Pure Mountain Farm Oil brand. Farmers deliver seeds to the company on a contract basis, with a kilogram of seed selling for Sh45-75 a kilogram. Other canola buyers in Kenya include Uplfield and Kieni Canola Oil.

The government has set aside Sh414 million for the 2024/25 financial year to boost the production of sunflower, canola, and palm oil by working with counties to half the country’s Sh160 billion annual spend on edible oils.

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