Improving productivity and profitability of the sunflower value chain

Gloria Joel Kilamian , sunflower farmer from Tanzania.
Gloria Joel Kilamian , sunflower farmer from Tanzania.

Smallholder farmers, particularly women and youth, invest considerable time and effort in producing for consumers. Despite their dedication, the returns often fail to match their efforts. Shockingly, women, who comprise 68% of Tanzania’s sunflower production, and represents only 17% of smallholder farmers, limiting their market access. This disparity is primarily attributed to land rights issues, a crucial factor in food production, income generation, and accessing credit. The challenges faced by women in the sunflower value chain mirror the broader struggles within the agricultural landscape.

Amidst these challenges, the Farmers Organisations Leading Research & Innovation on Agroecology for Sustainable Food Systems (FORI) project has been striving to improve the productivity and profitability of the sunflower value chain by enhancing women’s participation in the Arusha Region of Tanzania through farmer-led research and innovative agroecology practices for sustainable food systems.

The five-year project is targeting to reach 4200 smallholder farmers, out of which 2300 are female. It is implemented by We Effect in partnership with Mtandao wa Vikundi Vya Wakulima na Wafugaji Mkoa wa Arusha (MVIWAARUSHA) and Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI).

In Tanzania, 6% of the land under production is used to cultivate sunflower. In regions like Dodoma, the area under sunflower varies from 1 – 10 acres per household. According to FAO, the average yield of sunflower is 979 kilograms per hectare. In 2013, sunflower seed production in Tanzania reached approximately 1 million tonnes, cultivated by over 2.5 million smallholder farmers. This could increase the crop productivity and farmer’s income in the future (CIAT & World Bank, 2017).

Despite the relatively good production and business environment for producing sunflower, Tanzania remains a net importer of edible cooking oil, utilizing only 40% of locally produced sunflower oil to meet national cooking oil requirements.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, usually, the world’s top producer and exporter of sunflower and seed oil, has resulted in a shortage of sunflower oil globally, leading to significant price increases in the market as supply struggles to meet demand. However, the story has been different in Tanzania. Farmers have been the lifeline in ensuring the quality supply of sunflower oil, translating to improved livelihoods. MVIWAARUSHA has been promoting and facilitating farmer-to-farmer learning through its members.

Pastoralist embraces sunflower farming

Gloria Joel Kilamian, a 47-year-old farmer, does sunflower farming on her two-acre land in Ekenywa village in Arusha, District Council, in Tanzania.

Gloria, working on her sunflower field in Tanzania. Photo: Imani Hezron

Her farming has metamorphosed, having been raised in a pastoralist community. “You know what, being born and raised in a pastoralist community, you must be strong and determined unless otherwise, you will be down your entire life,” she explains.

In 2022, Gloria was among the farmers who volunteered and agreed to plant sunflowers on their farms. Despite sunflower farming being new to the area’s community, she decided to allocate a section of her land for the trial demo plot for the research of sunflower farming.

When we started sunflower farming, many people who are mostly pastoralists or tobacco farmers were surprised how this could work in our area; some of them mocked us for wasting our time farming crops incompatible with our land,” she adds.

Gloria’s sunflower farm. Photo : Imani Hezron

“Allocating the farm for the research was not an easy decision because I am a woman, and men always decide land on issues in our community,” Gloria adds. With support from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), she achieved the best yield from her plot. After processing, she harvested 108 Kg of sunflower and 35 liters of sunflower oil. I sold a liter for 5000 Tsh, which has enabled me to pay school fees for my children. Glory has vowed to continue farming the sunflower because it is a crop that has changed her life for good.

Our community believes in a tobacco crop, but, for me, sunflower is the real deal because it has been of great benefit for me, my family, and my land,”—adds Gloria.

Additionally, TARI developed effective agroecological practices for enhancing soil fertility. Gloria is now grateful to FORI because she understands her land’s status. After all, FORI supported the soil test services, something she believes will help her decide what to grow shortly.

FORI project has established innovation platforms central to knowledge sharing and solutions to challenges facing smallholder farmers in the sunflower and leguminous crops value chain. Through these forums, the project has reached and attracted young people to the agriculture sector, a sector that employs 65% of the population.

Farmers have reported high grain yields, attributing their success to effective management practices and a low incidence of pests and diseases. These outcomes can be attributed to various factors, including soil variations, differences in predominant agroecological practices, technical aspects of sunflower processing, and the efficiency of the processing facility.