Sunflower production stands a chance to become an alternative food and cash crop in the southern regions of Lindi and Mtwara that famers need to grab its employment opportunities and reap benefits of increasing their income.
Traditionally, the major cash crops in the area are cashew nuts, sesame, coconuts and pigeon-peas, the crop whose export market has recently fallen due to changes in Indian pulses-import regulations.
Speaking at one of farmers field days organised by seed companies and extension workers for farmers to get information and knowledge on using a variety of sunflower seeds (hybrid seeds) through demonstration plots, the Ruangwa District Commisioner, Joseph Mkirikiti emphasized that it was high time that farmers embarked on sunflower production as alternative crop to those whose market were unpredictable.
“Through these demo plots, it has been proved that our area has potential to grow plenty of sunflower besides other crops whose markets have dwindled. If youth, women and men can turn our vast arable land under sunflower cultivation, we could be among the regions with high sunflower production even more than the central regions…
Fortunately, we have all the government support as far as the industrialization agenda is concerned. In our district alone, we have about seven sunflower processing factories, which are currently closed due to lack of sunflower grains and other investors willing to put up new refineries, we need to see this as an major opportunity to increase production because of the ready-market,” he said.
He told more than 300 farmers gathered in Nandagala village that the government has announced sunflower as one of the strategic crop for good reasons that its planting was allowing farmers also to attend other crops such as cashew, and that if its production increased, households will improve their health by consuming quality edible oils.
The Nandagala village demo plot, is among the 226 sunflower demonstration plots whose formation were facilitated by the Aga Khan Foundation to stimulate the market for improved sunflower seeds which have higher yield and higher oil content.
Building upon its work in Agriculture and Food Security, in 2017, Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) with funding from Agricultural Markets Development Trust (AMDT), launched a Sunflower Market Systems Strengthening Project. Through this project AKF aims to increase opportunities for economic inclusion in Lindi and Mtwara regions by supporting the establishment of a sustainable and inclusive sunflower value chain. The aim of the project is to support farmers to tap into the 60 percent gap which is currently being filled by imports.
Tanzania is one of the countries in the world producing sunflower oilseeds for raw materials in processing cholesterol-free edible cooking oil with a by-product used as livestock feeds. Currently sunflower oil makes about 13% of the world edible oil production.
According to documented national data, Tanzania imports 60 percent of its total edible oil requirement despite having vast and promising production potential in the sunflower sub-sector. A 2017 research published by Bank of Tanzania indicates that the production potential is missed as the national average yield is 0.6 tonnes compared to potential yield of 2.0 to 3 tonnes per acre. Despite the promising potentials in the sub-sector, sunflower production still is relatively low and benefits from its value chain have not been adequately realized.
Through the SMD project, AKF and its partners aim to support farmers to use good agricultural practices, access better seeds and other farm inputs with a view of improving production.
This led to the procurement of a total of 810 kgs of hybrid and 3,300 kgs of OPV by smallholder farmers. A local seed company TEMNAR Co. Ltd sold 1,100 kgs of Record seeds resulting in an increase in the company’s seed sales. A total of 1,520 kgs of sunflower seeds (Record) have been sold through five agro-dealers – a significant increase in sales.
“I never used to sell seeds, and when AKF approached me to stock sunflower seeds, I was apprehensive. Farmers in this area never used to grow sunflower, and I was not too sure if there would be demand for the seeds. However, AKF assured me they would refer farmers to buy sunflower seeds. I agreed to stock the shop, albeit with a lot of apprehension and my initial investment was very minimal,” says Abdalla Saidi Luyaya, an agro-dealer in Nachingwea town.
AKF linked Abdalla to Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA) from Morogoro, and the company supplied him with sunflower seeds. Shortly after farmers started buying and the demand has continued to grow, increasing Abdalla’s income significantly.
“When I started this business, we were only three agro-dealers in Nachingwea. Now, this number has grown to 15. People are keen to invest in this sector because they can see the benefits we are reaping.
Some of the challenges leading to the low yields include farming methods, with majority of farmers at 50 percent using hand hoe, 32 percent oxen-plough, 16 percent power tiller, and 2 percent tractor.
Other challenges that need to be addressed are availability of extension officers, access to affordable credits, and inputs to the farmers.
Sunflowers in Mtwara and Lindi regions, like in other parts of Tanzania are grown mostly by small-scale farmers. Therefore, the development of the sunflower oil sector has a great potential for improving livelihoods and the welfare of relatively poorer households. The project aims to support farmers to strengthen the sunflower value chain, growing households’ income in the process.
Through this project, AKF is focusing on stimulating the market for improved sunflower seeds. AKF in collaboration with private sector partners, local agro-dealers and government extension works, are creating awareness on sunflower hybrid seeds, which have higher yield and higher oil content. Using demonstration plots, government extension workers are supported to demonstrate performance of hybrid seeds varieties and OPV.
In Namatutwe village in Masasi, AKF is working with a group of 25 farmers (10 female, 15 male), to enhance their skills in sunflower growing.
“Through AKF we have received knowledge on how to improve our yields. We have been empowered on which seeds to use, how to plant, including correct spacing. We are optimistic that our yields will be good. Our only concern now is to ensure that we have access to markets,” says John Mtambo a member of Mshikamano B farmers group.
As part of the project, AKF is supporting farmers to access seeds, and information through agronomic training delivered by government extension workers. The Mshikamano B group members, have a demo plot where they have planted sunflower using the various seeds they accessed through the links provided by AKF. Through the demo plot, the government extension worker can demonstrate correct agronomic practices, with the hope that the farmers will use the same on their individual farms, and share knowledge with other farmers in the area.
“We can already see a difference in how the crop is fairing and others in the community are increasingly curious and coming to us for tips. Other groups have been formed and registered based on what they are seeing us do,” says Idano Hamisi.
24-year-old Electo Ernest the chairperson of Mshikamano B group, says the overall objective of the members is to become economically empowered, and able to provide for their families.
“We are confident that sunflower production will grow our income. Our hope is to grow in scale and production, to the extent that we can invest in our own processing plant, so that we can produce, package and sell sunflower oil,” he says.
The group’s financial credibility is slowly growing and recently they successfully applied for a loan, which they intend to reinvest in their farms.
Since the project inception, an estimated 5,208 smallholder farmers have planted sunflower crop in the project area. This is an increase of 420 percent from the average number of sunflower farmers in the area, which was estimated to be 1,000 before the start of the project. Over 5,000 farmers with over half being females, have received good agronomic practices training from their respective government extension officers and from seed companies through the demo plots.
To support farmers, AKF is working closely with various partners including local government and private sector. Some of its partners include, AMSHA (a local NGO based in Kilwa), Bytrade, Mount Meru Millers, Sungold Ltd, TEMNAR Ltd, CRDB Bank and Private Agricultural Support Trust (PASS).