THIS is not a good year for watermelon farmers.The market is flooded and prices have plunged by 200%.
Around this time last year, a 5kg of watermelon was fetching US$8.
But farmers would be lucky if they get US$3 for it today.
It will be very difficult for farmers to make profit from watermelons under present circumstances.
Consumers would enjoy the spinoffs of a market flood, but farmers are likely to take a massive hit. This happens often in agricultural markets, where farmers plant crops without assessing pricing dynamics.
But what has happened on the watermelon markets is also a clear indication that farmers are communicating less.
With proper communication, this overload of a single product in one market would be avoided. Elsewhere, demand for fine beans, peas and sunflowers has been blossoming. Sunflower farmers are set for massive windfalls this year, due to higher demand.
Rural citizens are buying sunflowers to make cooking oil, as prices rocket in Zimbabwe.
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They are also buying peanuts and soya beans for making cooking oil.
A hectare of sunflower requires as little as US$600 due to the crop’s simple planting processes. When planting sunflowers, farmers can broadcast seeds, and there is limited labour required.
In addition, land preparation for sunflower production is cheaper compared to many crops. The crop is only weeded once, which means farmers save on labour costs.
Sunflowers require minimal rainfall, which means that they can be grown in any part of the country Upon maturity, sunflowers are hand-harvested, which is also cost effective.
Cooking oil production in rural communities rely on basic machines.
By–products of sunflower oil production can be used as animal feed.
A sunflower farmer in Gokwe said: “I planted two hectares this past season, without fertiliser. I only used one kilogramme of glyphosate. The crop took 130 days to harvest. I process the seed myself and sell directly to customers”.
From the planted hectarage, the farmer harvested 1 800kg.
There is a consensus that yields per hectare must improve for this crop.
Seed companies have a role to play on this front. They must provide the best yielding varieties.
Other seed houses are giving free agronomic advice as an incentive to attract farmers. The success of any agricultural enterprise is underpinned by access to finance, market information, inputs and adherence to best practices. Oil industry players must take an active role in financing programmes that promote production.
Other value chain linkages should be strengthened. There is a need to promote the production of oilseeds. These are cottonseed, sunflower seed, soyabean, groundnuts and Sesame. This will help to sustain the current momentum, which has seen a significant increase in oilseed production.
Sunflower production is lucrative.
Currently, the average market price for sunflower is US$370 per tonne.
Sunflower cooking oil is of greater quality compared to oil from soya and cotton.
Its market price is also higher than available alternatives. On the production front, the international average yield stands at 1,6t/ha. With good agronomic practices, farmers can even exceed this yield in Zimbabwe.
Globally, Russia is the largest sunflower producer. Argentina, the European Union, China, India, Turkey, and South Africa are all significant producers.
Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or [email protected]