A consumer goods company is looking for local farmers with whom to grow crops used to manufacture edible oils.
Bidco Africa is targeting 25,000 small-scale farmers to push up the production of soybeans and sunflower, with plans underway to increase their number to 50,000 by next year.
According to John Kariuki, the firm's head of agri-business, the country is facing a shortage of the two crops and manufacturers are importing the raw products from neighbouring countries.
Speaking at a farmers' field day in Kikopey, Gilgil, on Saturday, Mr Kariuki said the country was currently producing only 50 per cent of its needs despite a ready and lucrative market. He said the initiative was also aimed at empowering farmers financially.
Kariuki described sunflower and soybeans as drought-resistant crops that could grow in any part of the country.
“Many farmers have been growing maize but it is time they changed to sunflower whose returns are higher than what is realised from other crops,” he said.
Kariuki added that the company required more than 10,000 metric tonnes of sunflower and soya annually but farmers were only supplying an estimated 5,000 metric tonnes.
“As a result we are importing the produce from Tanzania and Uganda even though the country has the capacity to produce the deficit.
“Bidco will contract the farmers and offer them technical support and logistics, and an uptake market once the product is ready for harvesting,” he said.
Michael Nderitu, who is contracting the farmers, said Gilgil's environment was conducive for growing sunflower.
He noted that a pilot project where the crop had been grown on eight acres "had performed beyond their expectations" hence the decision to rope in more farmers.
“Sunflower, unlike maize, does not require heavy rain. It is planted for two seasons and its proceeds are way higher,” he said.
Duncan Kimani, a farmer, said the crop was ideal for the region because it was rarely attacked by pests, livestock or wildlife.