Dar es Salaam — Sunflower farmers complain about high prices of improved seeds.
To tackle the situation and improve productivity, they call for government subsidy.
The farmers also want agriculture research institutes to produce large quantities of high-yielding seeds.
Currently, a kilo of improved sunflower seeds is sold at Sh35,000 and mostly are imported from India.
Sunflower is grown in more than 10 regions, but farmers still use old ways that do not improve productivity.
As a result, the ratio between production and processing varies. Open-pollinated varieties are estimated to have an oil content of 15-20 per cent while the modern seeds have between 35-42 per cent oil content.
Tanzania imports 60 per cent of cooking oils despite having huge potential of sunflower seeds, according to a Bank of Tanzania report in 2017. The country spends annually $120 million on importing cooking oils.
Agriculture Development Trust has established a facility to tackle such hurdles.
According to National Sunflower Farmers Association chairman Samba Pununta, large-scale farmers have begun using modern seeds.
"The largest share of sunflower farmers is made up of small-scale farmers who cannot afford the current prices. If these seeds are produced locally they can be sold at Sh10,000 a kilo. The government should use local institutions to produce high-yielding seeds."
He was speaking during Sunflower Day held alongside the 42nd Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair.
The event brought together farmers, processors and other stakeholders.
"We are very grateful for the government for increasing tax on imported crude palm oil, but agriculture will not be improved if modern seeds are not distributed to all small-scale farmers who are the majority of growers... . They can't afford modern seeds as prices are high."
A study by the Agriculture Council of Tanzania (ACT) has revealed that poor quality of seeds was a major challenge in sunflower production. The ACT director for policy and planning, Mr Timothy Mmbaga, said the research established that farmers needed 3,000 tonnes of quality sunflower seeds annually.
To ensure that the majority of farmers get the seeds, the government should give a subsidy of Sh23 billion annually.
"After the government imposed tax on crude palm oil imports there must be an impact. So we must prepare strategies that will enhance the sector and the outcome should be seen," he said.
"We must have our local source of modern seeds whereby it will be available all the time."
According to Tanzania Trade Development Authority director general Edwin Rutageruka, the sunflower cooking oil has large market in Southern and Eastern Africa as well as Europe and Asia.
The chairman of the Tanzania Sunflower Oil Processors Association, Mr Ringo Iringo, pointed out that technology hindered processing.
That was why in 2016, Tanzania produced more than one million tonnes of sunflower seeds, but only 180,000 tonnes were processed.
That was in sharp contrast with South Africa where 970,000 tonnes of sunflower seeds were produced in the same year and 600,000 tonnes were processed.
"Ours is a big challenge," he said.