By Vahid Oloro
EAST AFRICAN BUSINESS WEEK
Some of East Africa's widely grown crops are among the commodities that will run agro-business in the 21st century.
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector were told on November 1 that sorghum, cassava, soy beans, palm oil and Jathropha curcas, are the five crops that will run agri-business this century.
The remarks were made by Mr. Peter Kegode, an agrobusiness specialist in Kenya, during a one-day seminar organised b y the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE) to familiarise stakeholders in agri and agro-processing sectors on the financing opportunities available through the stock market.
The five crops, Kegode said, have a wider product map with a potential for the processing of non-food, animal and human food products.
Jathropha for instance, is currently used in India to run all the country's trains. The initial imports of Jathropha by India were solely sourced from Kenya. Its production in Kenya has however dwindled over time.
India's train network has the largest number of passengers per year in the world.
Jathropha, also known as physic nut, is a crop that can be used in the production of bio-fuel that can be used in running a wide range of engines. After residual decantation and filtration, pure Jathropha oil is used as a suitable fossil diesel substitute.
The press-cake that is an extraction byproduct is used as a high-grade organic fertiliser.
Jathropha is also increasingly being recognized as a reforestation crop in tropical countries. The crop thrives on degraded soils and because of its drought resistance it can play a crucial role in combating desertification.
Jathropha is not eaten by animals and therefore can be used as a fence to protect food crops. Its seeds contain about 35% oil. Experts say that depending on seed yields, a hectare has a potential to produce up to 2200kg of oil. Its raw oil can be obtained by simple cold pressing of the seeds.
Ironically some of these crops, especially sorghum and cassava, are easily available in the region but remain under-utilised. In countries such as Uganda where cassava is widely grown, it remains largely used as a food crop with limited or no industrial use derived from it.
Speakers and participants in the seminar underscored the urgent need for a paradigm shift in the agricultural policy so as to link increased crop production to optimum utilisation of the potential benefits. Participants said there was so much emphasis on increased production without a focus on the business end in crop production.
Research institutions such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) were urged to have a balanced policy on research on increased yields.