Kavango's sunflower project blossoms

Namibia’s quest to ensure food security has seen the country rolling out numerous green schemes particularly in the Kavango and Caprivi region. 

Through these projects Government plans to empower the youth and to promote self reliance among rural communities. 

One such project is the Shadikongoro Irrigation Project (SIP) in the Mukwe Constituency of the Kavango Region where the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry last year built a sunflower oil production unit on its farm premises. 

The project has taken off and recently it received a barcode to sell its cooking oil brand locally. 

This project was established in line with Government’s commitment towards the sustainable utilisation of the country’s natural resources to benefit the citizens and to put 30 000 hectares of land under food production by 2030 as part of Government’s long-term plan to fulfil food security. 

The idea was to supply the unit with raw sunflower produced from its own fields and purchase additional amounts from small and large growers in the immediate area of Berg Aukas from the National Youth Service Scheme and other interested growers. 

Last year the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) sought the services of a consultancy to draw recommendations from the identification of the level of production, costs of production, profitability, challenges and opportunities of sunflower production in the Kavango Region as experienced by nine small growers in the Mukwe Constituency in 2010 and SIP. 

The consultancy which was carried out by Jonas Chigariro was meant to complement and feed into a pre-feasibility study to determine the economic and market feasibility of a sunflower oil processing unit that was done by Michel Mallet. 

The study established, based on the gross margin analysis and the proximity of the sunflower market at SIP, that there is possibility in promoting sunflower production in the Mukwe constituency. 

According to this pre-feasibility study, the major bottlenecks in the production of sunflower with the current out-growers seems to be at land preparation, harvesting, threshing and pre-cleaning of the crop.

“Extending subsidised ploughing services to Mukwe constituency will assist the farmers prepare sizeable pieces of land which eventually will generate more income. 

“Mukwe constituency farmers need to be advised on how to get credit facilities or the subsidised fertilizers in order to increase their yields per given area,” Chigariro wrote adding that to this end support in terms of input supplies and services is required “otherwise continued production at the current yield level will not be sustainable”. 

According to the consultants, negotiated production contracts between the oil processor and the out-growers to supply seed and fertilizer are recommended. 

“Training and extension support by NAB or the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry should be intensified to boost the level of sunflower production in Mukwe and the surrounding areas,” the consultants maintained. 

However, increasing production of sunflower will need to match the demand of the crop at the processing unit which is highly dependent on how efficiently the processor can sell its product. 

It was recommended that market research on the size of the local market for the cooking oil and sunflower cake be commissioned. Service threshing and at least winnowing to pre-clean the grain will reduce the disadvantages of relying on the processor’s pre-cleaning. Reasonable sized threshers or at least a winnower can be sourced from within the SADC region to ease this problem. 

The market is highly centralised and therefore a mechanism has to be put in place to avoid depressing production through poor rewards to the producers. 

It is recommended that NAB subsidize purchase of the sunflower seed by the processor to ensure sustainability of the industry during the early stages of development. Research needs to be carried out to establish sunflower oil varieties that are suitable for the Namibia growing conditions. 

“Yield per hectare can be improved by good crop husbandry and provision of inputs but there is a benefit in producing high oil varieties to optimize on the value of the cash crop.”

Meanwhile, in some parts of the Mukwe constituency the introduction of the cooking oil processing plant and selling of the cooking oil at competitive prices resulted in a significant drop in the general cooking oil prices in the shops. 

“Thus apart from improving access to cooking oil, a demand for sunflower crop was stimulated,” Chigariro maintained. 

“An investigation may be required to establish how much sunflower seed demand was driven by the introduction of this cooking oil on the market,” he added.