Tanzania targets ending shortage of edible oil and reliance on imports

Arusha. Edible oil is currently one of the products that are in a huge shortage with prices rapidly climbing causing some househods to stop buying it because they cannot afford it.

The trend has been the case for over a year, even before the start of the Russia-Ukraine war that began in February, this year.

The price of a 20-litre container of edible oil shot from around Sh55,000 around June 2021 to about Sh130,000 in May, 2022.

Only recently has the prices been easing to around Sh94,000 per 20-litre container.

However, the government has been strategising with the view to increasing local production of sunflower and palm oil seeds so as to reduce dependence on importation and end price fluctuations.

The goal is to produce at least a million tonnes of sunflower.

Data provided by Tanzania Sunflower Processors Association (Tasupa) shows Tanzania is a net importer of 395,000 tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia.

Furthermore, Tasupa says that Russia and Ukraine are world largest sunflower producers at 25 and 22 percent respectively.

However, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has adversely affected the supply of cooking oil from the two nations to most countries causing hiking of prices.

But, the government through the Ministry of Agriculture told The Citizen in an interview that it aims to make the country cooking oil self-sufficient by 2025.

The strategy targets at meeting the current edible oil demand ranging between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes and surpass it to one million tonnes.

Agriculture Seeds Agency (ASA) has been instructed to produce 15,000 tonnes of quality seeds for distribution to farmers in various regions reaching 2025.

“We expect to produce and distribute 5,000 tonnes of quality seeds this year, double the amount to 10,000 tonnes by next year. ASA is expected to triple production reaching 2025,” said Agriculture minister Hussein Bashe.

During the interview, Mr Bashe said the ministry aimed to increase quality seeds production to an average of 120,000 and 150,000 hectares of palm oil production.

“We are planning to plant 20 million seedlings of palm oil in the 120,000 to 150,000 hectares in order to get a minimum of 18 million palm oil trees,” said Mr Bashe.

He said plantations will be located in Kagera, Katavi, Kigoma, Tabora and Coast regions where farmers will be distributed with palm oil seedlings for transplantation in their farms. President Samia Suluhu Hassan directed the ministry to ensure the sector attains significant growth, increases productivity and creates jobs for the youth.

ASA’s commitment

Agency’s chief executive officer Sophia Kashenge told The Citizen that the strategies will end the shortage of edible oil in the country. She said the country’s annual demand for quality seeds stood at 187,197 tonnes.

According to her, by April 2022, about 35,199.39 tonnes of seeds was available for farmers use; 11,340.2 tonnes from imports and the private sector, 20,436.39 tonnes was produced by the agency while 3,422.80 tonnes remained from last season.

Dr Kashenge said 2,000 tonnes of standard seeds of sunflower have been distributed to crop farmers in 21 regions.

She said the Sh5.84 billion worth sunflower seeds have been distributed in 72 districts in 21 regions of Tanzania Mainland.

She named the regions that have received sunflower seeds as Tabora, Shinyanga, Simiyu, Mtwara, Singida, Dodoma, Manyara, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Morogoro, Katavi, Njombe, Iringa, Kigoma, Kagera, Mwanza, Lindi and Coast.

According to her, regions that have received palm oil seeds are Tabora, Kigoma, Tanga, Coast, Morogoro, Njombo, Rukwa and Katavi.

“Already, some regions have started showing huge relief in the access and costs of edible oil after farmers have started harvesting planted sunflower seeds,” she said during an interview.

New seed farms

Dr Kashenge said in the 2021/22 ASA increased an area of land for seeds production by starting cultivation in 1,639.6 hectares.

She mentioned the farms and respective districts in brackets as Msimba (Kilosa)-815 hectares; Mwele (Mkinga)-305 hectares, Bugaga (Kasulu)-30.8 hectares, Kilimi (Nzega)-300 hectares, Namtumbo-88.8 hectares and Msungura (Chalinze)-100 hectares.

“Of the total area, 1,158.6 hectares are used for production of sunflower seeds. ASA has also signed contracts with stakeholders including companies, institutions and individuals. These stakeholders utilise farms owned by the agency to produce quality seeds, hence increasing seeds utilised for production of edible oil,” she said.

She said currently, ASA has 13 farms, with a total area of 16,588 hectares, noting that 12,731 hectares were the ones suitable for agricultural farming.

“The overall area used for seeds multiplication, including hectares belonging to the private sector, is 30,000 hectares. As compared to the country’s increasing demand for quality seeds, the agency requires 300,000 hectares,” she told The Citizen.

She hinted that demand for land for quality seeds production keeps growing following the fast expansion of the agriculture sector.

Challenges of seeds multiplication

Dr Kashenge said climate change, especially rainfall before the beginning of the season, adversely affects entrance and operations of farm implements such as tractors.

“Last season, this forced the agency to change its seeds production plan by reducing the size of cultivated land to 3,776.2 hectares and therefore producing 4,965.5 tonnes,” she said.

She said the agency was expected to annually increase seeds production from 3,033 tonnes in 2021/22 season to 4,965.5 tonnes in the 2022/23 season.

Improved seeds production trends

According to ASA, the agency has been increasing the size of land used for production of quality seeds and adequate amount of produced seeds annually.

Agency’s statistics shows that ASA cultivated 520 hectares in 2016/17 producing 784 tonnes of seeds, before increasing to 983 hectares in 2017/18 giving 1,220 tonnes of quality seeds.

In 2018/19, 1,017 hectares were cultivated producing 1,436 tonnes, 1,461 hectares planted in 2019/20 produced 1,750 tonnes of quality seeds and 2,081 hectares gave 3,033 tonnes of yield in 2020/21.

Budgetary support

Agriculture deputy minister Anthony Mavunde said the government has increased the ministry’s budget from Sh294 billion to Sh751 billion in the 2022/23, something that will enable the agency to meet its seeds multiplication target.

“We’ll work day and night to ensure the sector is growing and realises the target of 10 percent growth reaching 2030. We have summoned all ministry executives in Dodoma, where they will be given directives in relation to President Hassan’s directives,” he said.

According to him, the ministry also has the strategy to increase the size of land used for seeds multiplication from 15,000 hectares to 250,000 hectares in order to increase the quantity of seeds produced annually. Arusha Regional Commissioner John Mongella commended the ministry for its strategies.

“Being a farmer, I’m faithful to ASA and the ministry in general. My hope is that the target of producing quality seeds that will ultimately address the challenge of edible oil in the country will be realized,” he said.

ASA board chairman Ashura Kihupi was happy for government support to the agency, noting that they have enabled the agency to efficiently fulfill its obligations.

She said the agency has reorganized itself to produce enough seeds in order to address the challenge of seeds used for manufacturing of cooking oil, therefore reducing reliance on imports.