Bidco, an edible oils manufacturer, is ready to spend more than Sh120 million in buying sunflower seeds from farmers in Igembe South, Meru County as it races to plug a local supply deficit of more than 6,000 tonnes.
According to Bidco head of agribusiness John Kariuki, the manufacturer is targeting more than 3,000 farmers in semi-arid parts of Igembe to raise local production of sunflower to meet its demand of 10,000 metric tonnes for oil production.
In Igembe South, the consumer goods maker has partnered with Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance (Pacja) to mobilise farmers in the miraa growing zones to do sunflower farming as a complementary venture.
Speaking during the launch of the sunflower farming initiative dubbed ‘Tujiinue tena’, Mr Kariuki said they were targeting more than 4,000 tonnes of sunflower every season from the region.
“We need 10,000 of sunflower for oil production. We are forced to import from Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi but if local farmers work hard, we will eliminate importation and plough back all the money in the country,” Mr Kariuki said.
“ We are assuring farmers that we will buy a kilo of sunflower seeds at between Sh30 and Sh35.”
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya welcomed the initiative saying it will go a long way in diversifying miraa farmers’ earnings.
Mr Munya said the government is looking for funds to construct a dam in Igembe South to enhance irrigated agriculture in semi-arid areas.
The farmers will have a dedicated agronomist to ensure optimum production while the Kenya Seed Company has offered to provide seed at subsidised price of Sh150 per kilo.
Pacja executive director Mithika Mwenda, a climate justice activist, said the agribusiness project is timely due to the unreliability of rain-fed agriculture and the ongoing miraa ban in Somalia.
He said agro-industries are feeling the heat of climate change due to decline in production while farmers have suffered due to lack of market for their produce.
“The sunflower farming project addresses most of the farmers’ challenges as it is drought resistant and has a guaranteed market from the manufacturer. This will support farmers to supplement their food, nutrition and financial sources,” Mr Mwenda said.
He said the project would benefit farmers from hard hit by loss of miraa market, in Igembe North and Igembe South.
Bidco is also banking on local farmers to sustain the production of giant bamboo which it uses to power its production processes.
“We produce most of our energy internally using bamboo fuel. We are also encouraging more farmers to venture into bamboo farming,” Mr Kariuki said.
Bidco estimates that it may need up to 6,000 tonnes of bamboo wood every month to power its industries.
The multinational is also targeting to partner with more than 50,000 farmers for production of sunflower and soybeans.