Dressed in navy-blue trousers and a matching T-shirt, Joseph Abuti holds a tiny fruit from a giant palm tree.
The fruit is one among a bunch produced by the tree on his farm in Lunza, Butere.
The farmer switched to growing palm trees for oil after ditching sugar cane, whose fortunes have greatly dwindled.
Today, he is steadily reaping the fruits of his new venture. “I grow palm trees on five acres,” says Mr Abuti, who embraced the agribusiness in 2011.
To start out, he bought 300 seedlings from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) at Sh250 each.
His farm now boasts of 250 palm trees, from which he harvests fruits to process oil.
He is among tens of farmers in Matungu, Mumias West, Mumias East and Butere sub-counties who are growing the palm trees.
Away from Mr Abuti’s farm, we meet Saleh Mambo on the outskirts of Mumias Town.
Mr Mambo says he has been growing the trees since 2004 when Mumias Sugar Company, in collaboration with Kalro, introduced the plant.
Mambo, one of the pioneer farmers of the crop in the region, says after training several farmers, the miller then distributed seedlings and established three processing plants at Nasira in Busia, at Alupe Kalro station and at the Mumias Sugar factory. The project, however, did not thrive as planned.
One acre accommodates 42 palm trees, according to Mr Mambo, and a stem of the crop yields up to Sh5,400 a year.
The crop takes about six years to become productive and yields for a maximum of six years continuously.
“Harvesting is a continuous process because our farm has over 250 palm trees,” says Mr Mambo.
Harvested fruits are threshed to remove berries from batches and then cleaned.
“The berries are, thereafter, boiled for at least five minutes to soften them before being mashed into a fleshy pulp using wooden mortar and pestle,” explains Mambo.
The pulp is then mixed with water at a ratio of 1:3. “It is then sieved and boiled for at least two hours. The oil will float in the mixture and should be scooped, sieved and cooled,” says Mambo, who packs the oil in half-litre bottles that go for Sh50.
The farmer notes the oil has no cholesterol, making it good for people who are hypertensive or diabetic.
“Palm tree is very productive because besides the oil, one uses the by-products as feeds for livestock and poultry.
During pruning, the branches also make good firewood. Branches and leaves are used to weave brooms, mats and chairs,” he says.
According to Mr Mambo, inside palm berries, there are hard nuts with kernel, which can also be used to manufacture kernel oil and the remains can be used to make soap.
“We are currently processing the oil from home, but it is a laborious exercise and the final product is not well-refined,” he notes.
Titus Omengo, a Kakamega county official, says palm tree farming is in the County Integrated Development Plan as one of the crops which need to be promoted.
“We are also looking for partners on the issue seedlings which are currently hard to come by, beefing up technology and training,” he says.
The county is promoting the crop during field days, exhibitions like agricultural shows and other farmers’ forums so that more people can take it up, he says, adding the crop is rich in vitami E.
The enemies of palm oil include ants, birds, moles and wild animals.