Dar es Salaam — Efforts are being made to address challenges in sunflower farming and marketing.
Already Agricultural Markets Development Trust (AMDT) has been established as a long-term facility to tackle such hurdles.
It has partnered with seed companies to conduct field trials for high-yielding and pest-resistant sunflower varieties.
This is aimed at providing better seeds and advocating a more inclusive business environment in the crop. Trials have been conducted in nine out of the 12 regions where the sunflower programme is being implemented and have shown success in transforming smallholder farming into agribusiness.
The regions include Iringa, Njombe, Songwe, Rukwa, Singida, Shinyanga, Manyara, Lindi and Mtwara.
The trials were conducted outside the normal sunflower season and were in wetlands or areas where irrigation farming has been undertaken.
Farmers who tried the hybrid seeds have reported that production challenges may be addressed to meet the demand.
Mr Bernard Lema, of Mtinko Village in Singida District, has spoken about rising production. "I normally harvest six sacks of sunflower in one acre. In the trials, I bought four kilos of seeds for sowing in one acre. After following expert recommendations such as proper spacing, use of required fertilisers, weeding and observing proper harvesting time, I harvested 16 sacks in one acre."
Ms Grace Msambala, of Makambako in Iringa, also speaks highly about the hybrid seeds but would like them to be delivered in time.
Mr Zakaria Mpagama, a sunflower processor at Sokoni Street in Njombe, has found that 20 kilos of hybrid sunflower seeds generate 6.5 kilos of crude oil, up from traditional seeds that produce 5.3 kilos of crude oil. "I prefer the variety that has high oil content, but the supply is inadequate. Traditional seed varieties have relatively low oil contents and many other quality issues," he says.
"My advice to farmers is to start using hybrid seeds. The low productivity is due to use of traditional seeds that hinders the development of processors as well as the smallholder farmers in our areas."
Ms Noelia Emmanuel is a member of a group of women dealing in refinement of crude sunflower oil in Sumbawanga, Rukwa.
She says processing of hybrid sunflower seeds is easier than that of traditional ones. "Sunflower is a seasonal crop and that is the main challenge we face. Sometimes supply of the sunflower seeds is inadequate and our group stays idle for most months in the year," she says.
AMDT's knowledge management and communications specialist, Mr Al-amani Mutarubukwa, says the main goal of the trust is to develop market systems in an effort to improve the well-being of smallholder farmers as well as operators of small and medium enterprises.
About 500,000 smallholder farmers are targeted in five years to 2021.
"We would like to see their incomes increasing by 50 per cent, job opportunities created and commercial farming stimulated," according to him.
"Also, we emphasise the involvement of youth to create more inclusive productivity of edible oils while combating unemployment."
Demand for edible oils has been rising as the population has been growing rapidly.
Tanzania produces 180,000 tonnes of cooking oils annually while demand stands at 400,000 tonnes. The deficit is bridged by importing the commodity.
Although the country has a processing capacity of 300,000 tonnes, inadequate oil seed supply hampers production.
Currently, Tanzania spends annually $120 million on importing cooking oils.
Sunflower oil is reputed to be cholesterol-free.