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I quit sales job to turn seeds into oil and have no regrets

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Nanjinia Wamuswa | May 17th 2016

Christopher Kabiru started manufacturing sesame oil nearly a year ago. At the time, he said, it was like walking in the dark; he did not know what to expect.

Although he had never met anyone manufacturing sesame oil, he knew it had nutritional value, and figured he could turn its production into a business.

“I had read a lot about how sesame oil is healthy and nutritious. Since l am health conscious, l decided to go for it,” Mr Kabiru said, speaking at his Ardhi Industries office in Nairobi’s Karen.

He got information on how to manufacture the oil from the Internet and research publications, and quit his sales job to focus on the new project.

To set up his manufacturing plant, Kabiru dipped into his savings, spending Sh300,000 buying sesame seeds, packaging and machinery.

Getting sesame seeds, however, was not as easy as he thought it would be. Most farmers, he found, grew the crop on a small scale for home consumption.

And in Nairobi, the cost of the seeds was prohibitive.

“The costs were high and almost discouraged me, but since l had set up the machines and everything was ready, l decided to press on,” he said.

After manufacturing, the sesame oil did not disappoint.

A number of customers he had approached about the oil bought it once it was packaged, and liked it. They referred customers to him, and the numbers have kept growing. He also approached supermarkets, which received the product positively. His oil lines several retail outlets’ shelves.

The process

Three months in, Kabiru was sure the business was viable, and had the potential to get even bigger.

“There’s huge market for this oil. I am thinking of expansion, which l want to plan slowly. The sole problem is raw materials,” he said.

Today, Kabiru buys sesame seeds from Uganda, but said he is engaging local farmers to plant sesame for commercial purposes.

“The crop is easy to plant and manage. I am sure farmers who are today growing it for home consumption can grow it commercially if assured of a market. Those l have visited said they had planted sesame on a large scale, but lacked a market and abandoned the crop,” he said.

Kabiru’s product is 100 per cent cold-pressed, with oil extracted from the seeds through a hydraulic press. This retains the nutritional benefits of the seeds, and their nutty flavour, which enhances the taste of food.

Currently, Ardhi Industries presses 150 kilogrammes of sesame seeds a day. This produces 50 to 55 litres of oil. A litre of sesame oil retails at Sh600.

“Initially, the minimum amount I packaged was a litre, but I would get orders from people who could not afford the Sh600. I then started packaging the oil in 250 millilitres (ml) and 500ml, which cost Sh170 and Sh300, respectively.”

Kabiru said the process of manufacturing the oil begins with buying sesame seeds, sorting them to remove dirt and other foreign objects, and then washing and drying them. The drying can be done out in the sun or using a machine called a drier.

The seeds are then poured into a machine for pressing. The oil is filtered and then packaged for sale.

“Getting the machine settings right to get the best standard of oil was a challenge in the beginning. I got expert help after a week of fiddling,” Kabiru recalled.

He has one employee, Isaac Muitherero, who helps with the manufacturing process.

Kabiru’s machines can also press oil from coconut, peanuts and cashew nuts. His immediate plan, however, is to start with coconut oil before exploring other options.

Aside from using sesame oil for cooking, it is also be applied on the body as part of a skin care routine.

Kabiru sells the by-products of the sesame pressing as supplements for birds and livestock feed.

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