Sunflower farm at Sang'alo Institute of Science and Technology (SIST) in Bungoma County. [James Wanzala, Standard]

To meet the growing demand for cooking oil, Sang’alo Institute of  Science and Technology (SIST) in Bungoma County has ventured into sunflower crop production.

The shortage of cooking oil has been occasioned by the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war which has seen a drastic drop in raw products for making oil. 

The institution, based in Bungoma has partnered with the Germany Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) to support growing of the cash crop on 200-acres of college land.

New market

The growing started in mid-September where it was done in three phases with the harvest from the first phase already processed. 

“We set up the project to address the growing demand for cooking oil whose production had dropped following the war in Ukraine and Russia,” said the chief principal at the institution Dr Rosebella Chukwu.

Kenya is a large importer of vegetable oils such as sunflower oils, soybean, corn oil and commonly used crude palm oil mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia, which produce more than 90 per cent of global supplies.

Once the sunflower oil has been processed, the institute plans to pack it into half litre selling at Sh150, a litre at Sh300 and five litres at Sh1,500. From this, they hope to earn Sh40, 000 per acre in every planting season.

The institution will also offer expert knowledge to farmers on how to grow sunflowers in a diversification bid aimed at stopping over-reliance on sugarcane farming.

“The long-term goal is to ensure the growth of sunflower gains momentum in this region since it is evident that this venture has good returns compared to other cash crops like sugar cane,” said the head of the agriculture department Mr Moses Sirengo.

Dr Chukwu said the institution is already working on branding and packaging of the processed oil, which will be available in shops within Bungoma County and beyond to meet the market demand for sunflower oil which is healthier.

According to studies, sunflower seed oil can be considered to be one of the healthiest ingredients for cooking. It contains both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

“Once we are through with packaging and branding, our product will soon be on the shelves of local supermarkets in the county. Later on, we will spread our wings to other parts of the country. This will also generate income for the institution,” Dr Chukwu said.

The institution is also banking on GIZ to supply them with machinery to boost its production with the current production being done with machinery borrowed from the Mabanga Farmers Training College.

“This venture has also provided job opportunities to 50 locals who work as labourers on the farm and others operate the machines. This is expected to grow as the venture takes shape in the coming days,” said Mr Sirengo.

Centre of excellence

Sunflower seeds help in making soap, cooking oil, soaps, cosmetics, animal feeds, and fuel. 

Farmers can also sell their seeds to other farmers or companies.

The institution, which was set up in 1924 as a veterinary centre was upgraded 1977 to the level of a technical training institute is eyeing the status of a national polytechnic with the current student population being 4,568.

The institute is determined to be a centre of excellence in agriculture and has a master plan to achieve that goal. Apart from the sunflower oil, the college is planning to diversify into sunflower cake and has so far had a number of field days with the farmers on the same.

“We look forward to partnering with Bungoma County Government on training students on important technical skills,” added Dr Chukwu.

Prof Edwin Ataro board chair of Sang’alo welcomed the cooperation of GIZ as it will go a long way in transforming the economy.

“The sunflower project will be a big success story,” said Prof Ataro.