The underway initiatives, among others, focuses on empowering local seed breeders and agricultural institutes to effectively engage in mass research, invention and production of improved and certified seed varieties for the key cash crop.
Statistics shows that the country spends at least 675bbn/- to import between 400,000 and 570,000 tonnes of crude edible oil annually.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Agriculture Minister Josephat Hasunga said the parent ministry has already tasked key seed research agencies and agricultural institutions like the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) and the Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA) to work round the clock in order to equip the vital sub-sector with enough certified and improved seed varieties.
"As we move forward with efforts to industrialise the country's economy, the sunflower sector becomes a vital side to fuel for mass metamorphosis of numerous industries, and thus, we have found it is of paramount importance to improve the sub-sector,” he said.
Hasunga said the plan is also to train involved farmers over best practices in cultivation of the crop, as well as capacitating extension officers with needed skills and techniques in readiness to guide the farmers more professionally.
“The initiative gears to empower more farmers to venture into mass cultivation of the crop through timely provisions and access to key inputs like fertilizers, pesticides as well as extension services,” said the minister.
TARI Director General, Dr Geoffrey Mkamilo said the institute had already started a special move to ensure improved production of improved sunflower seed varieties, with an eye to capacitate the performance of the sub-sector.
“Ever since the demand of seed is substantially higher for sunflowers, TARI, in its Ilonga centre is currently making a follow-up for the seed to be multiplied and made available to farmers from this year. It is notable that TARI has strategies based on the production of certified seed and promotion of these new varieties for adoption by farmers,” he expressed.
The national coordinator for sunflower research at TARI-Ilonga, Dr Frank Reuben, informed that the centre has already inverted at least three new varieties named TARI-ILO 2019 and TARI-NA 2019.
He said the varieties are of high yield of grains and oil, resistant to pests and diseases, but also are tolerant to drought conditions.
“These are appropriate seed varieties for small scale and large-scale farmers. The reason is that these seeds allow farmers to produce and distribute them in Quality Declared Seed (QDS) class within their farming community under the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) supervision,” he stated.
He said the demand for specific sunflower varieties have substantially increased among farmers, processors and pastoralists in order to meet key preferences, such as oil content and quality seed cakes.
Dr Reuben said the center, (TARI-Ilonga) was looking to get possible support to launch project for using modern sunflower breeding methods, to breed for improved hybrids which have more advanced disease and insect resistance anticipated with increased oil content and seed production per hectare.
In Tanzania, he said for years there was only one public variety "Record'' produced and distributed to farmers, a poor development which denied farmers to harvest pumpers.
However, due to high seed demand by farmers, the country permits other seed varieties registered in Tanzania to be imported to cover the demand gap. These include Kenya fedha, Swathi (NSHF 145), NSHF 36 and Hysun 33.
He said that TARI -Ilonga is responsible for maintaining cycles of the variety for the purpose of keeping its associated genes at a homozygote status. "The Sunflower Research Programme (SRP) at TARI Ilonga will keep on producing high quality seeds genetically identical to the cultivar released by the breeder.''
The seed production at TARI Ilonga also involves rouging, pollination, and seed stocks maintenance. The seed- stock maintenance increases the seed quantity and maintains precisely the specific characteristics of the parent stocks used in seed production.
"We use a comprehensive botanical description of each component variety to establish bases of reference. A basic requirement in the increase of parental stocks is familiarity with their plant types so that a typical plant can be eliminated entirely. The rouging programme involves the removal of off type plants which often are difficult to identify positively because of the normal variation in the variety,” he noted.
TARI- Ilonga has well established producers for the production of quality seed and the institute has the plan in place to release a considerable number of sunflower varieties adapted to both wider and specific agro-ecologies.
He added: “The seeds variety produced by TARI are being distributed in different classes (Pre basic, basic, Certified and Quality Declared Seeds (QDS) by TARI Centers, Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA) as well as other different companies of local investors like TEMNAR Company Limited (Mtwara), BioSustain.”
Sunflower is found to grow well in almost all regions across the country except Dar es Salaam, but despite such key economic opportunity, the country has continued failing to benefit from the sector accordingly due to, among others, limited uses of improved varieties as well as associated technologies.