Dar es Salaam — Four new sunflower varieties are expected to increase the crop yields.
The production of cooking oils is also expected to increase.
Currently, Tanzania imports 60 per cent of cooking oils despite having vast potential of sunflower seeds, according to a Bank of Tanzania report of 2017.
The national average yield is 0.6 tonnes compared with the potential yield of 2-3 tonnes per acre.
However, the new varieties developed through the support of the Agricultural Markets Development Trust (AMDT) are expected to turn the tables.
The programme aims at improving sunflower seed varieties and production practices.
The programme was established by Denmark, Ireland and Sweden to facilitate the private sector to invest in supplying improved seed varieties. It also encourages the public sector through responsible research institutes to invest in developing the breeding capacity for new hybrid seed varieties in the longer term.
Through the AMDT grant, the Quality Food Products (QFP) is working with Ilonga Agricultural Research Institute (Iari) to conduct two year-field trials.
Upon completion, four high oleic sunflower hybrid varieties will be released.
The new seeds will add to other two sunflower hybrid seeds that recently entered the market and already showing good results.
"Then we will go through a national performance test in the third year and our objective is to take four varieties across four locations in Tanzania that represent various altitude, climate differences and conditions in growing, so that after these seeds get released we can offer the seeds to our sunflower farmers," said QFP chief executive officer Sherrie Woodring.
Currently, most famers use local or open-pollinated varieties that have oil content of about 15 to 20 per cent only.
The new seeds will have up to 35 to 42 per cent oil content.
"If you look at the current market price, sunflower farmers get about Sh500/kilo but with the new varieties we will be able to offer up to Sh850/kilo because we know our seeds will have high oil content upon processing and because of that we will be able to sell in the market. The other aspect is that the processors will get more oil and healthier cake for the animal feeds than that obtained using local seeds," she explained.
The Ministry of Agriculture is said to be supportive in the production of the varieties.
The government is supporting the company with storage facilities around areas where commercial hubs are established to avoid any post-harvest losses of sunflower as the company does collection. Another area that the company was working with the government is mechanisation services, whereby tax makes company services expensive to farmers.
"We are also working on irrigation so that sunflower farmers can do rotational farming with other high-value crops under irrigation. It is our hope we will continue to get all level government support so as to build a sustainable programme that the community can embrace, and other players can later adapt and crowd-in," said Ms Woodring.
Speaking on the progress of the evaluation of the high oleic sunflower hybrid seeds trials, Iari researcher Frank Reuben said the trials were progressing well.
He said germination was almost 100 per cent of in Milundikwa in Rukwa with plant vigour promising caused by right planting timing.
However, other sites experienced some germination challenges due to heavy rainfall and that they had to repeat the planting.
"Data collection is in progress for testing crop maturity and other scientific factors but we have observed better performance in terms of early maturity, yield, diseases, pests' resistance and drought tolerance."
We are yet to conclude other data analysis such as oil content," he said.
Iari hosted QFP to conduct trial inspection in Hombolo and Makutupora in Dodoma, Ukiriguru in Mwanza, Tumbi in Tabora and Milundikwa in Rukwa.
The research institution facilitates the planting of the new high oleic four hybrids -- Michel, Archeo, Ancilla and Soleado -- at all trial locations.
The field trials test how all four varieties respond to different land preparation techniques, different inputs and new protocols.
High oleic sunflower varieties give oil that has neutral taste and are more stable at high heat, so they are less likely to produce harmful compounds during cooking and they fetch premium prices in global market for pharmaceutical industry.
The Great African Food Company and QFP in collaboration with World Vision Tanzania and Vision Fund Tanzania under the support of AMDT are implanting a project that seeks to increasing farming income through use of technology (sunflower hybrid seeds), financial services, good agricultural practices, business ethics and quality inputs.