Sunflower farming in Kenya is booming day in day out as the yield is quite lucrative. Sunflower is grown mostly as a cash crop and can be used to make animal feeds, soaps, and cooking oils. The business does well in semi-arid areas since sunflower requires semi arable conditions. Compared to maize plantation, sunflower requires fewer nutrients and rainfall. A good crop only requires about 450mm of rainfall.
Research stations in Kenya have tested different varieties and identified that quite a number of them do well in Kakamega, Meru and Bungoma. According to research, the following varieties have been found to exist::
Varieties of Sunflower
Birdfeed varieties– kensun white and Comet
Oil seed varieties– Kenya Shaba, Kenya Fedha, Kenya almasi, H894, H903, and H893.
Hybrid– PAN 7369, 7034 and H8998.
Open pollinated– Kenya Shaba, Kenya Fedha and Rekord.
Seeds of Kenya Fedha, Rekord, and Kenya Shaba can only be used for 2 to 3 seasons. Due to low yields, it is not recommendable to use hybrid seeds more than once.
How do You Farm Sunflowers?
Every season the farmer should buy fresh hybrid seeds. Good fertilization is required for sunflower farming. It is recommended that DAP fertilizer be used, and its application should be 60 kilograms per acre of compost. Also, the application should be done 2 to 3 weeks before sowing.
To avoid damaging the seeds, fertilizer should be mixed with soil properly. Good seeds should be obtained from companies like western Seed Company ltd, Hortitec, Kenya Seed company, Oil Crops Development Ltd, Kenya seed Company, and KFA.
Plantation of sunflower can be done using a maize planter or it can be done manually. Between holes, the gaps should be 1 foot whereas between the rows it should be 21.5 feet and the seeds should be planted at a depth of 1 to 2 inches for 3 to 5 seeds. When water is sufficient, a lower seed rate should be used that is, for certified hybrids. If the farmer is using his/her own seeds it is recommended to use a higher seed rate.
To protect the seeds against birds, the farmer should use bird scaring objects. Also to minimize birds damage, the farmer should try and plant the sunflower at the same time as the other farmers,
To prevent sunflower rust, the farmer should plant rust resistant varieties. After harvest, the crop residue should be destroyed.
To prevent root and stem rot, the farmer should practice crop rotation, use healthy planting materials, and destroy the crop residue after harvesting.
To protect sunflower against white blister, the farmer should destroy crop residue after harvesting and practice crop rotation.
To protect sunflowers against leaf spot, the farmer should plant resistant varieties, and destroy crop residue after harvesting.
After maturity and the heads turn deep yellow, hand harvesting is done. In the process of harvesting, the farmer should cut the head, spike it upside down, on the stalk and dry it under the sun. This process prevents bird damage and rotting.
Yield per hectare is about 1500 kilograms.
In Kenya, oil processing companies are among the best customers of sunflowers. For example, we have Bidco Africa ltd, Pwani oils refineries ltd, and Kapa oils refineries ltd just to mention a few. A kilogram of sunflower seed sells at Kshs. 32. This offer is quite higher than what the brokers give to individual smallholder farmers, who fail to have a high bargaining power due to the little yield
Return on Investment
For a one-acre piece of land, a farmer can produce up to 1600 kilograms of sunflower seeds every season. This can yield a return of about Kshs. 40,000 and Kshs. 50,000.
On a good year, sunflower can yield a return of about Kshs. 600,000. This amount is quite appealing hence the business is quite lucrative. Farmers are encouraged to take advantage of this business for it guarantees the best returns, hence offering a short Return on Capital invested.