Farmers in Mandera County discover gold in Sunflower

Adan tends to his sunflower crop in Rhamu, Mandera County [Photo/Joe Ombuor]
About 50 kilometres north of Mandera Town lies Rhamu town, known more for its searing heat, huge flocks of livestock and occasional skirmishes between the majority Garre and minority Degodia Somali sub-clans over the pasture.

But Rhamu is not all about livestock, pasture and clan flare-ups, it is also about River Daua, a flowing source of livelihood that originates in the Ethiopian Highlands and courses its way across some of the richest farmlands in northern Kenya where it is the physical boundary between Kenya and Ethiopia in most of Mandera County.

In the heat soaked area around Rhamu and neighbouring villages, pastoralists cum farmers have ventured into all manner of crop farming by irrigation. Among these is sunflower that has sparked a revolution of sorts against conventional crops by its sheer lucrativeness.

Farmers like a father of 10 Mohamed Adan have abandoned virtually all other crops to concentrate on sunflower that they intercrop with a strain of creeping cowpeas that not only enriches the soil with nitrogen, but serves as a mulch against the sun’s heat.

“The foliar laden peas help preserve moisture while providing protein-rich fodder for the livestock,” says Adan.

Adan, a member of Gumri farmers Group started with a quarter an acre of the crop, harvesting as much as 450 kilograms.

“I look forward to increasing my acreage under sunflower because of its resilience profitability. Sunflower oil is in high demand for its perceived medicinal value,” he says.

To add value to the crop, Adan and other sunflower farmers in Rhamu area squeeze oil from the seeds that they sell at sh450 per kilogram. “People come looking for the oil. We do not go looking for a market,” he says adding that nothing goes to waste from sunflower because husks are mixed with other fodder and fed to livestock.

A close observation of sunflower reveals that the crop is shy of the sun after which it turns its head.

Adan says the plant is ready for harvesting when the heads start turning brown after bloom. “The head is cut from the plant about three inches from the flower and dried in the sun before threshing to remove the seeds that are further dried to the right moisture content,” he explains.

He says the oil is virgin because nothing is added. “About five kilograms of oil is enough to produce one litre of oil,” says Adan.

Mandera County Chief Executive Committee (CEC) member for Agriculture Ms. Johora Mohamed Abdi says more farmers in irrigation schemes along the Daua River are taking up oil crop farming because of the ready market.

“Sunflower and sim-sim are fast replacing traditional crops such as maize and sorghum because they bring in money quickly that the farmers use to purchase food and meet obligations such as school fees,” she says.

“Rheum is among the areas within Mandera with the right temperatures and soils for sunflower that thrives best in slightly acidic soils. It is only a matter of time before increased production warrants the putting up of an oil milling factory within the County to ensure quality,” says Ms. Johora.

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Mandera TownDegodia SomaliGarre