As we drive into Shainul Remtulla’s expansive 80-acre farm, one is astounded by the sheer size of the farm, the variety of crops that she is growing, and the breathtaking view of the landscape that is a golden yellow on the side where she is growing sunflower. As we walk towards the porch, a jovial Shainul welcomes us to her home, standing next to a table adorned with stems of bright golden yellow sunflowers, placed in an equally colourful vase.
Shainul tells us that being surrounded by the expansive farm, and the calmness that nature provides, is what drove her to leave the high-paced life in Dar es Salaam to settle in the sleepy town of Nachingwea. The additional beauty provided by the golden yellow sunflowers, adds an extra sparkle. But don’t be fooled, Shainul is not growing sunflowers for their beauty, this enterprising former salon-owner-turned-farmer is keen to tap into the sunflower oil market in Tanzania. As she is relatively medium scale farmer in the area she manages to reach markets by sending her produce for processing, packaging and she then sells sunflower oil. Shainul is keen to grow her production levels so that she can set up her oil processing facility and also provide processing services to other farmers tapping into the high demand for oil which she has experienced already. She has been retailing her sunflower oil direct to consumers in Nachingwea district town and so far the market response has been promising. She sees the opportunity for farmers to expand their production scales as well as well as other entrepreneurs to venture into value addition/processing business which would create markets for local farmers especially women and youth.
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.
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 such as Shainul, to tap into the 60 percent gap which is currently being filled by imports. Although the project targets more the productive poor farmers, Shainul serves a s model farmer and an early adopter motivating others to adopt the crop and the promoted improved practices as well as providing tractor services for hire. As she manages large farm with variety of crops, other farmers especially youth benefits from casual employment that she offers periodically at her farm.
“I started farming five years ago, and I have been planting a range of crops including sesame, cowpeas and sunflower which my family used to grow when I was growing up and I was keen to obtain health edible oil. When I started, I was not too keen on good agricultural practices, and was mainly planting traditional sunflower seeds. This changed when I was introduced to Nicholous Kabambo, an AKF staff based in Nachingwea,” Shainul recounts.
“Through AKF I was introduced to seed companies such as Bytrade and SDC. I have bought their seeds and that is what I planted this time round with their proper agronomic advisce. While I am yet to harvest, I can already see a difference in how the sunflowers are blooming,” “The good thing about sunflower, it is much more drought tolerant and does not require a lot of investment in pesticides and management which offers a good opportunity for women farmers” Shainul says.
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. While Shainul has her own tractor, majority of farmers in this region are not able to afford or access one on time and would require more tractor service providers to serve this market.
Other challenges that need to be addressed are availability of extension officers, access to affordable credits, and inputs to the farmers.
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.
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).