Paul Njuguna

Paul Njuguna at his cooking oil processing plant in Kitale.

| Peter Changtoek | Nation Media Group

Engineer oils his way into sweeter retirement

What you need to know:

  • From soya, canola and sunflower, Paul Njuguna extracts oil that he sells in supermarkets competing with the big boys.
  • Mr Paul Njuguna's processing plant hosts pressing and refining machines that cost him some Sh6 million.

Dressed in a black trouser, an orange overcoat and matching T-shirt, Paul Njuguna turns a knob on a huge machine with several cylindrical tanks at his cooking oil processing plant in Kitale. The machine roars to life.

The agricultural engineer, who retired in 2019, runs the oil plant at his home, where he processes products from sunflower, canola and soya, selling them to various supermarkets.

“I started with sunflower in 2000. My wife keeps some 1,500 chickens, and there was a time she used to grapple with substandard feeds. So we decided to source sunflower cake, the protein ingredient in animal feeds, to make our own ,” he explains.

But getting the cake became a daunting task as she was competing with established millers. However, the couple would readily get unprocessed sunflower in Kitale, thus they thought, why not squeeze the oils from the sunflower to end up with cake that they would mix with maize germ to make chicken feeds?

“When I started, I was doing very little, intermittently processing some 60 kilos at a time using a cold presser that I bought at Sh20,000 but when I was approaching retirement, I decided to scale up the venture,” says Njuguna, who once worked at Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) as the engineering manager.

His processing plant hosts pressing and refining machines that cost him some Sh6 million, with commercial production starting in 2019.

Njuguna says the total investment in the business named Elgon Fine Enterprises Limited stands at Sh16 million.

“I am now processing 90 tonnes of canola, sunflower and soya in a year and my goal is to hit 300 tonnes, which is the capacity of our machines. But first, we have to expand the market of the oils and the by-products and refine the system,” says the 63-year-old.

Raw materials

Although he grows sunflower and soya on 10 acres, he buys most of the produce from some 100 farmers he has contracted.

“Last season we were buying a kilo of sunflower at between Sh36 and Sh40 while soya goes from Sh50 to Sh60,” says Njuguna.

He buys the sunflower from Busia (Teso North), Bungoma and Trans Nzoia while soya from farmers in Kitale and Bungoma. On the other hand, canola comes from Uasin Gishu (Eldoret) and Mau Narok.

“The farmers aggregate their produce at specific centres then they call us when ready to go and inspect and collect,” says Njuguna, who has branded his soya, sunflower and canola oil products Elsun.

To end up with the oil, the raw materials are cold-pressed before they are refined to remove fatty acids.

“From there we do gum removal, and then bleaching, that is the removal of chlorophyll and poisons or anything like aflatoxin within the seeds, since the farmer might not have dried the produce very well,” he explains.

“From bleaching, you filter to remain with clean oil. Finally, we go to de-odourising, that is, all the volatile compounds are removed. Finally, you have an oil that has no odour, and has original taste. Again, you stabilise the smoking point. We normally do it at about 2300C, so that we end up with a very smooth oil,” he adds.

According to him, the process is labour-intensive as pressing and refining take a day each while de-odourising six hours to remove the smell.

Paul Njuguna

Paul Njuguna at his cooking oil processing plant in Kitale.

Photo credit: Peter Changtoek | Nation Media Group

“We process 250-300 litres of oil at any one time,”  says Njuguna, adding for one to run such a business, they need a licence from Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and county government.

He further makes poultry feeds and soap from the by-products.

“We sell the by-products of the crops to those who make livestock feeds and also make some for sale at between Sh40 and Sh45 per kilo and for our chicken,” says Njuguna, who employs seven people.

They pack the oil in one, two, three and five litres containers, which go for between Sh280 and Sh1,500.

He supplies the edible oil to Transmart Supermarket (Kitale and Eldoret branches), as well as Woolmart Supermarket and Hygienic Supermarket, both in Nakuru.

But the business is not all a smooth ride. The challenges he has to grapple with include lack of enough working capital and high cost of power.

“Last September, our electricity bill shot up from an average of Sh30,000 per month to Sh420,000. We have engaged our lawyers to sort out the issue with the utility firm. One also has to pay high licence fees to Kebs and the county government every year.”

The other challenge is erratic weather. The sunflower planted by most of their contracted farmers in the second season is not doing very well, because of lack of enough rain thus the oil content is going to be low.

Retirement lessons

He advises those who would like to get into such a business to be very patient, passionate and not to shy away from investing.

“You don’t have to start big, start small then expand. Our plan is to expand and be able to compete effectively with larger companies. We’re advising farmers to grow the crop to diversify from maize. Besides, oil crops boost soil health because they fix nitrogen.”

One of the retirement lessons he has learnt in the business is that one has to be competitive.  

“It also teaches one a lot, from having contracts with farmers to arranging for processing and marketing.  You have to balance everything, which keeps you on your toes and very active.”

Faith Ndungi, a specialist from the Department of Human Nutrition, Egerton University, says that oil production requires plants that accumulate large amounts of oil.

“Proper handling and storage of oil-containing materials is also very important, as it minimises deterioration and maintains quality of both contained oil and the meal.”

“It is recommended that they are stored in vertical cell-like bins. The bins for the oilseeds should be equipped with aeration ducts to cool the seeds,” adds Ndungi.


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