SUNFLOWER farming has been practiced for a long time in many parts of the world, including Tanzania, targeting at increasing oil production.
However, in some areas, not enough effort is put to come up with best yields in quality and quantity.
The plant consists of the characteristic large flowering head, and leafy stem. Sunflower plant grows best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil, and is propagated by means of open pollination.
The plant also grows a deep tap root system that affords the plant some level of drought resisting capabilities. As climate change effects bite, reducing harvests of different crops in many areas, it means that sunflower can therefore be planted in less fertile and semi-arid areas.
Sections of growers in Mvomero District, Morogoro Region have been enabled to understand that, and have since shifted to cultivation of sunflower, enjoying it in the process. Stakeholders in agriculture and environmental conservation heard of success stories from beneficiaries who got training on best practices in growing sunflower, including use of quality seeds, spacing and not mixing the crop with others.
The beneficiaries are from different folds; organisations, individuals and students.
Ms Julie Bwire is a farmer and a leader, with about 80 farmers under her, from Msufini, Dihombo and Dihinda villages in Hembeti ward, Mvomero District, who now realize an average of 15 bags of sunflower seeds per hectare instead of a single bag they used to get before they engaged in the new project in 2013.
The leader attributes the success to training that is being provided by Nakya Group, whose agricultural experts also make follow-ups in the fields, to ensure adherence to the best practices in farming. She says that farmers, including her, have since built houses and educate their children without unnecessary hassles.
Ms Bwire who resides and grows sunflower at Msufini village, unveiled that as a result of the project, she has initiated other projects, such as poultry farming, preparation of high quality nutritional flour and rice that she has been sending to clinics, and at the same time offers advice to mothers for their babies.
Earlier on, she used to intercrop sunflower with maize or other crops, but since she got training on best practices, she sets different plots for each crop. She processes the sunflower seeds and later gets cooking oil and cattle feed from the same.
Nakya Group Director, Ms Elizabeth Samanyeta, says they started the project in 2012, targeting to change ‘business as usual’ type of agriculture through offering training to citizens.
She said they used to degrade the environment by encroaching Uluguru Nature Forest Reserve (UNFR), that is the source of water as well as tourism attraction.
The director says that by mid-August this year, they had received 36m/-from the Eastern Arc Mountains Conservation Endowment Fund (EAMCEF), so as to have people change their ways of life, get alternative economic activities and earn income as well as volunteer to conserve the environment. She says the people have changed a lot, since they no longer quarrel with the government because they do not degrade the forest at UNFR.
It comprises the former Uluguru North, Uluguru South, Bunduki I and Bunduki II forest reserves and Bunduki ‘gap’ corridor, where the forest is being restored on former farmland to provide for biological connectivity between northern and southern parts of the Nature Reserve.
An Extension Officer with Nakya Group, Mr Laizer Sule, says farmers are getting positive results after they set some pieces of land for sunflower instead of banking on rice and maize only.
He said while the ward used to get about five tons per season, last season they garnered 35 tons, and in the new season they target to harvest 50 tons of sunflower seeds.
“Farmers are really sensitized; if they go on like this, we are going to harvest a lot, and the good thing is that sunflower oil is on high demand because it is cholesterol- free, while the remains feed cattle and make soap,” he says. Hembeti Primary School is another beneficiary of EAMCEF’s funding to support environmental conservation and livelihoods.
The school is under a project meant to improve growth of sunflower to communities living around UNFR. Mr Johari Mbwilo, the head teacher, says they were supported by Nakya Group to initiate the project in 2017. Unfortunately, the weather was so bad and some seeds/ crops were destroyed by birds. However, he says the amount they got went for students’ lunch in terms of oil.
The head teacher says that in this season, they hope to get more, which will also be used by students who have another project in banana production, hence they used to have banana for lunch.
He is happy that pupils learn through the project and in future they will be growing sunflower in their families’ fields. From environmental point of view, Mr Mbwiro says that since sunflower itself is greenish, it reduces carbon dioxide from the school environment. “It is good for us on different ways; environmentally and as a source of oil or money if we decide to sell it. Children learn practically here, but we also give the pupils seeds to plant at their home fields.
This year we are going to use all the sunflower oil on the pupils,” says Mr Mbwiro.
Nasra Ali is a standard six pupil who says their project has been beneficial to them because they are now nourished by its oil. She says they learn a lot from the project and hopes when she grows up she will become a good farmer.
Bakari Ali, another student in standard six, says after school, they could employ themselves, even on part time basis, on agriculture as they learn in theory and practice. He says the project has helped them perform well academically because they eat well and hence do not fall asleep in class.
EAMCEF Project Officer, Ms Rosemary Boniface, says the organization wants communities to have alternative means of income while conserving the environment, and that the children should grow up knowing the importance of the same. “We want the children to grow while getting understanding of how important conservation is, how to get alternative projects and know that there is life without environmental degradation or encroaching the Eastern Arch Mountains where there are catchment forests,” says Ms Boniface. Sunflower has many economic applications, namely; Edible oil production, biofuel, animal feed and potentially latex/rubber production.
The edible oil has both favorable economic and nutritional implications. It contains a higher level of healthy monounsaturated fats than most other natural oils, making it nutritionally superior to synthetic edible oils and even the much-touted olive oil.
The sunflower oil industry also provides employment at the SME level and offers opportunities for export and import substitution at the macro level. The cake, that is a byproduct of oil production, is high in protein and can be used as feedstock for poultry, small animals, and pigs, dairy and draught animals.