Elita Chikwati Senior Agric Reporter
A local contractor has moved in to boost sesame production in the country, a move that is set to improve farmers’ livelihoods, uplift standards of living and contribute towards the well-being of the economy.
Sesame production is also targeted at increasing feedstock for cooking oil manufacturing and as an import substitution strategy.
Globereach Agro Pvt Ltd is contracting 5 000 farmers countrywide to produce sesame.
Farmers in Hoya, Mahuwe, Muzarabani, Mt Darwin, Rushinga, Chipinge, Masvingo, Triangle and Mashoko in Bikita, among others, have since last year been benefiting from the out-grower project being spearheaded by Globereach Agro.
The farmers are contracted for one hectare of the crop and the company has not yet moved to commercial farmers.
Sesame is a climate smart crop that can produce significant yields even in the dryer-most parts of the country.
Sesame is a short season variety that takes 110 days to achieve physiological maturity.
The crop is grown for its seeds, which are used in food flavouring and from which a prized oil is extracted.
In Zimbabwe, farmers had been producing sesame using their own resources and exporting to Mozambique and other neighbouring countries.
Globereach Agro chief executive, Mr Decent Chitsungo, said they were contracting farmers to do one hectare each to ensure proper management of the crop.
“Our farmers are growing it as an organic crop and it gives an attractive premium,” he said. “If done at a large scale, the crop may end up requiring use of chemicals for pests and disease control. The crop is also labour intensive during harvesting.
“A hectare of sesame gives a yield of 600 kilogrammes and some farmers are getting way above that. Some farmers in Chiredzi are getting 1,2 tonnes per hectare.”
Mr Chitsungo said sesame exudes a bad smell and this pressures off pests from the crop.
“We are encouraging farmers to do small plots so they can manage on harvesting,” he said. “Harvesting should not be delayed as the crop can be wasted in the field or it can get contaminated. Actually, we harvest just before the sesame dies.”
Mr Chitsungo said many farmers who were growing sesame were exporting to Mozambique where they were getting poor prices.
“Besides being ripped off by the foreign buyers, farmers will also be depriving the country of the foreign currency,” he said. “We encourage local farmers to deal with local merchants. We have been carrying out awareness campaigns on the importance of selling locally.”
Sesame is a close and best alternative crop to cotton and is cheap and easy to grow compared to other oil seeds.
Under the project, Globereach Agro mobilises farmers into groups of 30 within a village. Inputs distribution buying and payments are then done at the village level.
Globereach Agro exports the sesame to South Africa and is looking at opportunities to diversify into Europe.
“Sesame is highly on demand,” said Mr Chitsungo. “We started producing the crop last year and we exported 2 500 tonnes to South Africa. We are now in the second year. We started with less than a thousand farmers under our project.
“We have extension officers and also work closely with Agritex officers in educating farmers on the production of the crop.”
Mr Chitsungo said the sesame project was complimenting Government’s efforts to boost rural development as smallholder farmers will be earning foreign currency and also contributing towards the attainment of Vision 2030 and objectives of the National Development Strategy 1.
“We are also looking at value addition of the sesame seed,” he said. “We are working on establishing a processing plant in Muzarabani and Gokwe so we can produce bottled oil. We believe when we double production we create employment.
“By processing sesame seed, we will also be able to manufacture stockfeeds.”
Mr Chitsungo said the sesame project was not in conflict with cotton production, but aided cotton farming.
“We are also looking at ourselves as a cotton player in the near future,” he said. “We will be contracting farmers to do both cotton and sesame. For a farmer to benefit from the sesame seed, he or she should have done a hectare of cotton.”
Experts say the diverse uses of sesame, from direct consumption as food to an ingredient in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, makes it a high-value product in regional and international markets. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says the growing world’s population, changing consumption patterns and health awareness of consumers are some of the reasons that has led to a boom in sesame market.
Figures from Trade Map show that global exports of sesame seed in 2019 amounted to US$3,07 billion, up from US$2,7 billion in 2018 and US$2,2 billion in 2017.
Information gleaned from ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, shows that of these global export figures, Zimbabwe’s share of the export market is a paltry US$85 000.
ZimTrade said increased awareness to consumers on the benefits of sesame seed and support to farmers on production and marketing will enable the more than 1 200 small-scale farmers currently producing sesame to increase production. As a way of increasing sesame crop growing, Government targeted 100 000 tonnes of sesame crop during the 2020/21 summer farming season through cotton growers and was spearheaded by the Cotton Company (Cottco).
Major global exporters last year were Sudan (US$606 million), India (US$529 million), Ethiopia (US$332 million), Nigeria (US$289 million) and Tanzania (US$189 million).
The largest importers last year were China (US$1.2 billion), Japan (US$303 million), Turkey (US$267 million), India (US$196 million), Korea (US$145 million) and Israel (US$119 million).
At present, sesame crop farmers in Zimbabwe are battling to find a market for their crop.
Agricultural analysts say it could be time to turn to ZimTrade, to provide market insights and linking them with potential buyers within the region and beyond.