Alex Masere, a sunflower in Misori village, West Yimbo in Siaya County. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

About 100 metres from Nyenye beach in West Yimbo, known more for fishing, beautiful huge sunflower blooming bright yellow flowers welcome you.

The farm is owned by Alex Masere, who has been forced to reconsider his approach to farming due to climate change.

For several years, Masere, who has tried his hands in fishing and subsistence farming, says passion and interest has helped him in trying new crops in order to adapt to the evolving needs of his community.

When Smart Harvest visited his three-acre farm on the shores of Lake Victoria, Masere said he was still learning new sunflower varieties and planting patterns.

“We have tried other crops such as maize and sorghum but the returns have not been good. I therefore decided to try something new,” said Masere.

Masere, who has planted Kenya Fedha sunflower variety on his farm, says he has abandoned virtually all the other crops to concentrate on sunflower farming.

With less than two weeks to harvesting, the farmer says he planted six kilogrammes and has pumped at least Sh150, 000 on land preparation, planting and weeding.

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

Masere is among the more than 5,000 farmers in Siaya County, who have opted to venture into sunflower farming as a way of tapping into the potential. 

A sunflower farm in Misori village, West Yimbo in Siaya County. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

According to a recent report on the status of sunflower farming in the county, Siaya is producing 0.91 per cent of its sunflower potential.

Jackson Achuti, an assistant agricultural officer, says the county has a potential which if exploited can transform the county economically.

“More farmers in the six sub-counties are taking up oil crop farming because of the ready market,” he said, adding that sunflower is fast replacing traditional crops such as maize and sorghum because they spin money fast thereby enabling farmers to meet their obligations.

He explains that with 19,000 acres under sunflower farming, the county has the potential to produce 14.9 metric tonnes, translating to a revenue potential of Sh1.2 billion annually.

The agricultural officer added that the national government through Agriculture and Food Authority, Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate has kicked off the distribution of 16,350Kgs of sunflower planting seed to Siaya County farmers.

“With a seed rate of three kilogrammes per acre, it’s expected to cover 5,450 acres (2,180Ha) of land,” said Achuti, adding that a litre of sunflower oil sells at Sh350.

He adds that a farmer is expected to harvest at least 600kgs per acre depending on management of the crop and soil type.

Siaya is among the 24 counties earmarked to benefit from a sunflower promotion project that aims to boost local production of sunflower oil and address the cost of edible oils in the country.

Through the five-year edible oil promotion project, the national government has pumped in Sh1 billion and 570 metric tonnes of seedlings will be distributed to farmers in the selected counties.

The project aims to increase the production acreage of sunflowers from the current 4,000 acres to 200,000 acres by end of the year.

The project also aims to lower the high import bill of edible oils which currently stands at Sh. 160 billion annually where more than 90 per cent of edible oils are imported for local use.

According to data from the AFA, the country’s import bill of edible oils has been increasing at an annual rate of 15 per cent occasioned by increasing demand locally.

Currently, there are only four active sunflower processing centres in the county, whereby two are private owned, one is Government owned(ATDC) and one owned by a group of farmers.

“The main challenge of all these processors is lack of raw material,” said Achuti.

Elizabeth Adongo, the Chief Officer for Agriculture, Food Security, Livestock and Blue Economy in Siaya County, confirmed the county’s commitment to supporting agriculture, which is the backbone of its economy, from production to consumption.

“We are well-prepared to provide extension services to farmers to help them grow sunflower successfully,” she said, adding that the crop is adaptable to the county’s ecological zones, is drought resistant and can be inter-cropped with other crops such as maize and sorghum. 

She added that sunflower crop is a re-emerging crop in the county with a lot of opportunities of empowering farmers economically.