Wells for Zoë preschool Sunflower – The power of possibility
Witness Nyirenda of Kamsisi preschool in Mzimba North is very excited that she is providing nutritious food to her preschool learners now that she has been adding some sunflower oil to the porridge she prepares for the kids and cooking some relish with it, an act she never imagined would be possible from the yield of sunflower which they harvested from their preschool garden last june. In September 2023 the preschool was provided with 2 litres of cooking oil which was extracted from 5 kgs of sunflower seed which was collected by the WfZ team for processing.
Late last year, John Coyne, CEO of WfZ, realising the nutritional and food insecurity of 42 preschools which were being visited at the time, he decided to support preschools to create their own food gardens in which they would grow various crops using Sustainable Conservation Agriculture methods without the use of Chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Various seeds were provided to Kamsisi along with 41 other preschools. The seeds include sunflower, sweet potatoes, cassava, cucumbers, pumpkins, maize, soya beans, and ground nuts. This would decrease lack of food for preschools and in turn increase enrolment which usually tends to be poor during lean season.
"We used to completely have no porridge or any other food at the preschool and we relied on requesting parents and well-wishers to be contribute maize flour for the porridge which we cooked without any additives. During food scarce months (December to February) we would have no food for preschools as most households have no maize grain hence this would reduce the daily attendance of kids at the preschool but thanks to WfZ which would distribute porridge rations to us and other preschools during such months."
During the last year’s growing season, all preschools including Kamsisi prepared gardens on one hectare of land which was demarcated into plots and grew each crop variety provided by WfZ with additions of fruit tree seedlings, Aloevera and Banana suckers.
Sunflower is one of the most important Oilseed Crops, its one of the crops grown and being promoted amongst small scale farmers. Sunflower is a crop which when compared to other crops, performs well under drought Conditions, it does not require fertiliser to grow hence uses low input
Preschool gardens received 0.7Kgs of sunflower seed of variety called Milika and was planted in December 2022.
The sunflower was planted on a quarter acre land on a spacing of 30 cm apart in rows of 75 cm apart. 2 seeds were planted per planting station.
The activities carried out in the growing of sunflowers included weeding which was done 3 weeks after planting. The field must continue to be monitored for weeds in order to ensure good crop stand and yield.
Removing Sunflower from the fields was done just as any seed crop after cultivation the sunflower was dried up to a storage moisture content which after drying up determined the actually weight of the seed. On average preschools harvest one bag of sunflower which weighs 25 kgs since sunflower is lighter.
Processing of sunflower into cooking oil
Sunflower was collected from all the preschools in Mzuzu and Embangweni was taken to a sunflower mill at Embangweni where it was processed. On average one Kg of sunflower produces 300 mill litres of oil. However depending on variety and how sunflower has been grown, one Kg of sunflower may yield up to 700 mill litres of oil. A total of 640 kg was processed producing up to 192 litres of oil.
Sunflower potential if well taken up
Due to efforts to develop the oilseed sector, some farmer cooperatives have been producing and processing sunflower oil and selling it unrefined locally. Sunflower’s marketing structure is made up of several buyers, including vendors and large assemblers who supply the large urban processing companies which use sunflower seed as raw material for edible oils.
There are three major edible oil processors in Malawi: Sunseed Oil and Capital Oil Refineries are both domestic companies, while Tanzanian-based Mount Meru set up operations in Malawi in 2016. However, insufficient domestic production and uncompetitive production costs have forced those firms to import most of their raw materials from neighbouring countries like Mozambique and Zambia. This presents an opportunity for Women Self Help Groups and other farmers to exploit the sunflower enterprise.