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Why sunflower has economic potentials locally and globally

Sunflower is a crop with huge opportunities for farmers in Tanzania, as it can be grown in almost all the country’s 26 administrative regions.

Although Dodoma, Singida and Manyara regions are major sunflower producers, the crop can also be profitably cultivated in the regions of Morogoro, Lindi, Mtwara and Iringa.

Other regions in which sunflower would flourish are Njombe, Mbeya, Songwe, Katavi, Rukwa, Tabora, Simiyu, Geita, Kagera, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mwanza, Mara, Tanga, Coast and Kigoma.

Opportunities range from areas for seeds multiplication and the manufacture of cooking oil. Both products are highly demanded locally and internationally.

Speaking to The Citizen, the chairman of the Tanzania Sunflower Oil Processors Association (Tasuba), Mr Ringo Iringo, said sunflower seeds demand in Tanzania is 5,800 tonnes, while the country produces only 1,340 tonnes.

About 1.7 million tonnes of seeds are required to manufacture 700,000 tonnes of cooking oil. However, Tanzania has only 360,000 tonnes of seeds: enough to produce 290,000 tonnes of cooking oil.

“The country’s annual demand for cooking oil is 600,000 tonnes – but produces only 290,000 tonnes, leaving a deficit of 310,000 tonnes,” he said.

Launching a national campaign in Singida Region in June 2021, aimed at increasing sunflower production – and, therefore, the amount of cooking oil produced domestically – Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said Tanzania spends Sh474 billion a year to import 360,000-400,000 tonnes of cooking oil.

“Increased sunflower production would enable the country to spend the Sh474 billion on implementation of development projects, including schools, health centres, roads, etc,” he said.

Mr Majaliwa also said that the money could be saved through implementation of the launched strategy that also involves other crop seeds like palms, cotton, ground nuts, sesame, etc, that are used to manufacture edible oil.

But, Mr Iringo said farmers in Tanzania are challenged to close the deficit gap in the local market – and start exporting the extra.

“There are huge markets in South Africa and India, requiring 650,000 tonnes and five million tonnes respectively after adversely being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Sunflower seed husks are used to manufacture animal feeds, shoe polish, motor car brakes, as alternative charcoal, etc. Therefore, they provide another area in which farmers can benefit.

According to him, sunflower seeds are mainly used for the manufacture of cooking oil. The husks from its seeds are thrown away as waste, instead of being processed to increase the value chain.

Furthermore, he said, farmers earn Sh3.1 billion from 450 tonnes of sunflower seeds produced locally per year, instead of Sh38.9 billion that would be generated from the total of 5,528 tonnes of seeds required.

“Therefore, farmers lose Sh38.9 billion annually that is spent on seeds imports. Investment efforts should be increased in the area for farmers to benefit more,” Iringo said.

According to him, Tanzania has 773 cooking oil factories requiring 1.7 million tonnes of sunflower seeds a year, worth Sh1.1450 trillion in total, at Sh850 per kilogramme.

But, as only 352,908 tonnes worth Sh299 billion are produced locally, farmers lose Sh1.363 trillion in benefits from supplying to small, middle and large scale processing firms.

Speaking on the available land for sunflower production, Mr Iringo said the crop could be grown on the 706,000 hectares of rain-fed agricultural land – and that the size could be increased through irrigation farming.

“The Dalberg Survey of 2018 showed that the country has 1.6 million farmers, but that number could be increased to 2.4 million after improvements. The number of people working in the sector’s value chain could also be increased by 7,500-10,300 from the current 2,800,” he said.

He called on the government to increase the land for sunflower cultivation to two million hectares in order to meet the 600,000-tonne demand for cooking oil domestically – and export the surplus.

“The government should distribute subsidised seeds to farmers – and the Tanzania Agriculture Development Bank (TADB) should reach out to more rural farmers. Commercial farming should be supported, and the regions that are blessed with long rain seasons be empowered to enable them harvest twice,” he said. According to Mr Iringo, the government should establish a Sunflower Board after the Crops and Other Produce Board (CPB) failed to bring about improvements in the crop’s production.

The deputy minister for Agriculture, Mr Hussein Bashe, last month toured the five administrative regions of Lindi, Mtwara, Ruvuma, Njombe and Mbeya to mobilize farmers’ engagement in sunflower production.

“You can’t depend on one crop such as cashews, sesame, etc, in seeking to alleviate poverty. Consider adding at least two other crops – such as sunflower and soybeans – as the government plans to provide subsidized seeds,” he repeatedly told farmers across the board.

Sunflower cultivation

Sunflower – which is scientifically known as ‘Helianthus Annus’ – can produce 35 to 45 percent of cooking oil. Besides, it thrives in a semi-arid climate.

In Tanzania, farmers harvest an average of three-to-five bags per hectare, instead of 10-to-12 bags due to poor crop production practices.

The crop has long roots – approximately one and two metres long – and produces flowers that range from 15 to 30 centimetres diameter. A sunflower head is approximated to have 800-to-3,000 small flowers which can produce seeds.

It consists of yellowish petal flowers that attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Weather and soil profile

Sunflower is a drought-resistant crop that can be grown in coastal areas and up to 2,600 metres above sea level.

Varieties

Sunflowers are grouped into long and short varieties, with the long ones ranging between 1.5 and 2.5 metres.

The varieties include Zebra, Black, Record, Kilimo, Serena, Black Lulu, white and Jupiter.

The long varieties takes 120 to 150 days from cultivation to harvest. But, they are less produced in the country than the short varieties.

The short varieties are mostly hybrids that range from 1.2 to 1.4 metres long, and they produce small-head flowers – but more seeds.

Sunflower cultivation systems

Apart from the mono sunflower production system, the crop could be cultivated through mixed, rotation and bee-pollination cropping.

Maize is the recommended crop for mixed cropping with sunflower, because the two share similar care and time needed until harvests. The two should be sown in one or two rows of 75 centimetres and 30 centimetres respectively.

Possession of long roots enables sunflowers to reach water and nutrients deep in the soil, compared to other crops – making them favourable for rotation cropping.

It is advised that the crop should be rotated with maize and/or millet to eliminate pests that attack sunflowers.

Bee-pollination cropping is an informal sunflower cropping. But, it is normally used to increase harvests as bees are the major pollination insects compared to others.

Farmers cultivating sunflowers close to bee hives usually harvest more – especially when using hybrid varieties, despite the fact that the varieties are famous for their self-pollination.

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