Some 65km from the Kisumu-Bondo highway sits a vibrant market centre named Akala, where buyers and sellers usually meet every week to trade various goods including farm produce like fruits, vegetables and livestock.
It is at this market where a group of farmers under the name Morgem Enterprise Development Organisation have located their cooking oil processing plant.
Samuel Ouma, the project leader is on site supervising the processing, branding and packaging of the oil.
“We process three kinds of oils, from sesame, sunflower and candlenut (Aleurites moluccanus). The oils are pure and natural with no fortification for cooking, salad dressing and cosmetic formulation,” says Ouma.
The group buys sunflower seeds at Sh40 per kilo and sesame (simsim) seeds at Sh90 per kilo from contracted farmers in the region.
For the candlenuts, also known as candleberry, they buy a 20 litre bucket at Sh100 from residents.
“Candlenuts look like macadamia. Most people in the region have the candlenut trees which grow on their own, in their compounds for shade not knowing their huge benefits,” says Ouma.
Once they collect the seeds, they dry them thoroughly until the moisture content is below one per cent. They are then winnowed to remove impurities before milling begins.
“We handle the processing of the three oils differently. This way, we don’t end up mixing,” says Monica Anyango, the group’s oil quality controller.
For sunflower oil, once the cake is dry, it is milled in a manual extractor machine. The crude oil is then collected from one end of the machine while the residue on the other.
“With sesame, we wash, dry and press in the machine but we don’t roast because roasted seeds produce oil with stronger aroma.”
They normally crack candlenuts and remove the kernel, (the soft white flesh), which is then crushed in the machine to produce oil.
Their manual oil extractor machine has the capacity to process 40 litres in a day. However, they have now purchased a motorised machine that can process 1,000 litres every day.
“The nuts have 80 per cent oil content, therefore, 1kg of crushed nuts can produce almost a litre of cooking oil. On the other hand, 4kg of either sunflower or sesame seeds produce a litre of oil,” says Anyango.
The crude oil is collected, filtered in a machine and sieved.
“Usually the first oil is not that clear, so we decant through the filtering machine. As the oil trickles down, the finer residues blocks the holes in the cotton material restricting perforation hence we collect refined amber coloured oil,” says Ouma.
Morgem, which means oil from Gem, retails its oils under the brand name in 300ml, 500ml and 1 litre bottles going from Sh250 to Sh800 for sesame and candlenut oils.
Sunflower oil, on the other hand, retails at Sh80 for 300ml and Sh170 for 500ml while a litre goes for Sh350. They also sell sesame butter at Sh30.
The sunflower, sesame and candlenut wastes are sold as animal feeds to livestock farmers at Sh50 per kilo. They can also be processed into briquettes for fuel.
In a good month, the group makes sales of Sh100,000 to Sh200,000.
“We are happy that we obtained a certification from Kebs for our Morgem oil brands in January and we also have a food hygiene regulation clearance certificate from Siaya County,” says Ouma.
The group markets and sells its products to residents in Siaya and Kisumu counties. Bishop Martin Arara, the group’s chairman, says their products are gaining traction because consumers are conscious of their health, thus, moving away from solid fat.
They started the project with 10 members in 2015 July after registering the group as a community organisation.
Currently, the membership has risen to 200 farmers, each having paid a Sh500 registration fees.
“We raised a capital of Sh500,000 part of which went to buying an oil extractor and filtering machine worth Sh126,000. The rest of the money was used in setting up the structure to process the oil,” he says, adding members were trained on edible oil processing at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute.
Boniface Khajezo, a lecturer at Maseno University’s Botany Department, says candlenut tree, which belongs to the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, is common Asian countries and in Kenya, it is in Nyanza and at the Coast.
“The tree contains saponin and pharbol, chemical compounds that can form emulsions and foam in aqueous solutions, thus used as detergents. Candlenuts are high in oil and when cooked and ground into a paste can be eaten. They help in lowering cholesterol level and they are good antibacterial agent,” he says, adding candlenut oil can be used to treat wounds, burns and ulcers.
Candlenut oil can also be used in shampoos and other cosmetic products. Processed candle oil can be used to light lamps.