IN December last year, Government announced the pre-planting producer prices for summer crops, with the
ZWL$150 686,20 per tonne price set for sunflower attracting growers to consider producing it.
In the past seasons, sunflower has not been a crop of choice for commercial production for most farmers.
The lucrative returns are expected to boost production levels.
If production of the crop increases, the country’s cooking oil requirement would be addressed.
Sunflower is an important source of oil and stockfeed, however, there has been lack of interest from local farmers to take up the crop if the current production figures are anything to go by.
According to the second-round Crop and Livestock Assessment Report 2020/21 season, the estimated production for the season was 14 000 tonnes.
The figure represented a 50 percent increase from the prior season, boosted by good rains and increased Government input support towards the crop.
However, the production levels did not meet national annual requirements.
When it comes to the preferred oil seeds by local farmers, sunflower seems to have found place at the bottom.
At one point, sunflower production peaked to an annual figure of 60 000 tonnes.
The low levels of sunflower production has resulted in the oil industry and seed houses investing in alternatives such as soya bean and cotton.
According to a statement from the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA), lack of market for the crop and highly informalised value chain were some of the factors affecting local production.
“A lack of structured market information has led to suppressed production,” said AMA.
“In addition, a highly informalised value chain has made it difficult to ascertain with accuracy who requires the commodity, at what quantities and price.
With the nation not producing sufficient edible oil to meet local requirements, venturing into sunflower farming presents an opportunity to increase income and livelihoods.
Furthermore, farmers can realise more income by engaging in value addition.”
According to one oil industry player, Agri-Value Chain, with capacity to process 15 000 tonnes of sunflower seed annually, is struggling to get the commodity on the local market.
“Over the past seasons, we have realised farmers have adequate capacity to supply sunflower needs but might not be interested,” said Agri-Value Chain spokesperson.
“Local farmers can seamlessly produce enough for national consumption.
“Estimates show that local industry requires 50 000-70 000 tonnes annually.”
Zimbabwe needs 150 million litres of cooking oil per year and Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) executive director Paul Zakariya said there is need to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the whole value chain to gather and show the business case.
“Farmers have the capacity but currently the value chain is not on its feet, hence capacity is underutilised,” said Zakariya.
Zimbabwe has ideal climatic conditions for sunflower production and the crop is good for the drier parts of the country.
It has immense benefits that arise from low input costs, short growing period and tolerance to dry conditions.
However, there is a consensus on the need for improved higher-yielding varieties.
Seed companies have a role to play through providing the best yielding varieties with a high oil percentage.
Local seed manufacturer Mukushi Seeds said it only supplied one variety, veronica, which was preferred by local farmers.
This variety has an average of 52-53 percent oil.
Other seed houses are giving free agronomic advice as an incentive to lure local farmers into sunflower farming.
The commercial success of any agricultural enterprise is underpinned by access to finance and market information, inputs and adherence to best practices.
The crop has several uses that include manufacturing of edible oil expression, livestock feed and confectionery products.
Sunflower cooking oil is of greater quality compared to oil from soya and cotton.
On the production front, the international average yield for the crop stands at 1,6 tonnes per hectare and with good agronomic practices, farmers can even exceed this yield in Zimbabwe.
The largest producer is Russia.
Argentina, the EU, China, India, Turkey and SA are all significant producers of sunflower