FARMERS in the Matabeleland region should grab the opportunity to grow sunflowers and earn more income as well as contribute to import substitution of cooking oil related products.
Agronomists say the region has suitable soils and climate for successful sunflower production.
The crop is also drought resistant and recent market indications show that its pricing is attractive when compared to other cash crops, said Innocent Nyathi, an agronomist for Matabeleland South.
Sunflower production is one of the key focus areas under the Presidential Input Scheme Programme, which has seen the Government providing sunflower inputs to equip farmers.
The interventions are expected to reduce imports of crude (cooking) oil, which has seen the country importing between 55 000 to 65 000 tonnes every year at a cost of millions of dollars.
Mr Nyathi said in the past years the market has been starved of cotton produce hence prices have shot up due to high demand for the commodity.
“Matabeleland is suitable for sunflower growth and farmers can grab this opportunity in growing this easy to grow crop as it is drought resistant and can survive even with little rainfall,” he said.
“A tonne of sunflower is now being bought at $150 000 followed by soya beans, which is at $125 000 and small grains at $70 265 per tonne.
“Therefore, this is a good opportunity for farmers to get money from farming,” said Mr Nyathi.
Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development Minister, Dr Anxious Masuka, who also decried the country’s reliance on crude oil imports said the Government has engaged the Rural Development Authority (Arda) to drive sunflower production, working closely with farmers.
Speaking during a recent two-day visit to Mashonaland Central, Dr Masuka said from this season onwards, the Government would add cotton and sunflower in addition to soya beans as oil seed crops.
He said the country has started importing sunflower seeds from South Africa.
“We want to ensure that each household includes a plot of sunflower, which is currently the highest paid crop,” said Dr Masuka.
However, Mr Nyathi noted that most farmers had already put more hectares under maize and other crops, which will require additional space and inputs to grow sunflower.
“The programme came at a time when much of the productive land has been put under maize and other crops,” said Mr Nyathi.
“Therefore, for this sunflower to bring better yields, the Government should give farmers enough inputs, which include not seeds only, but herbicides and fertilisers because many farmers will be forced to use the poor land left after growing other crops.”
Meanwhile, Mr Nyathi said the Intwasa/Pfumvudza conservation farming scheme was doing well in Matabeleland South where it has been embraced by many households.
Riding on the initiative, he said the province was looking forward to a good season.