Sustainable Food Value Chains Knowledge Platform

High-quality seedlings and knowledge dissemination to unleash the potential of the palm oil value chain in Tanzania


Palm oil is the most widely consumed edible oil in Tanzania, yet 98 percent of the demand is currently met by imported products. Palm oil value chain development thus offers great potential for import substitution, but requires significant increase in production efficiency.

Under the ongoing letter of agreement with FAO, the International Cooperation Centre for Agronomic Research Applied to Development (CIRAD) conducted a capacity assessment in Kigoma region, which is home for 90 percent of palm oil domestic production. The evaluation focused on the production, distribution and planting of palm seedlings in three districts, hosting a total of almost 50 000 oil palm farmers. It provides a clear picture of the sector’s capacity in terms of strengths, weaknesses and available assets, as well as a capacity development plan.  

Challenges hindering the breeding of high-quality seedlings  

One of the main challenges in improving the efficiency of palm oil production is the poor quality of seedlings. Most farmers use the traditional “dura” variety, which is well adapted to the relatively rare growing conditions in Kigoma but has lower oil content and yield than the “tenera” variety.

The limited use of improved varieties is due to the lack of finance to purchase improved varieties, as well as the lack of knowledge to properly manage them. Extensionists themselves have insuffisiant capacity to address the technical issues raised by the farmers. An increasing number of farmers join the recently established Agricultural Marketing and Cooperative (AMCOS) at district level. However, the  limited financial, human and logistical capacities of such cooperatives result in a low magnitude of agricultural extension services, and does not ensure the timely access to affordable fertilizers.

Most of the seeds are being produced by the Tanzanian Agricultural Reserch Institution (TARI), a government agency, along with the private sector. The field visits conducted in a representative sample of pre-nurseries and nurseries highlighted numerous challenges hindering the breeding of high-quality seedlings, such as insufficient or inappropriate technical skills, quality standards, material and infrastructure.

Systems-based solutions

Palm oil generates an average annual income of 1 500 USD per farm that can be dramatically improved. Unleashing this potential will be achieved through the planting and cultivation of improved varieties, which requires ensuring the availability of high-quality seedlings and the dissemination of agricultural good practices.

Field visits of research facilities and a network of certified nurseries in Benin showed concrete examples to enhance seed production activities in TARI. A recommendation arising from the capacity assessment was to breed high-yield seedlings with good resistance to disease (Fusarium and Ganoderma). However, implementing a breeding programm is a long process, as it takes approximately 20 years to guarantee a pure batch of an improved variety. Due to its inherent complexity and level of risk, this activity is more likely to be outsourced.

Developing agricultural extension services is critical to disseminate the appropriate knowledge among the smallholders. A massive training program will improve agricultural extension officers’ knowledge of breeding, nurseries, crop preparation and establishment, intercropping, pest (Oryctes) and diseases management, harvesting and processing. The dissemination of a practical guide through the Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies (AMCOS), women’s groups, and village organisations, will help raising awareness on sustainable farming practices aiming at improving soil fertility, water retention capacity and limiting erosion.

Finally, involving public and private financial insitutions will be key to design financial services tailored to the needs of smallhoders.

The succesful implementation of the capacity development plan will contribute to developing this national strategic crop while boosting smallholders farmers’ earnings.

Language: English
Location: Tanzania

Commodities: Oil palm fruit
Topics: Inputs and services support upgrading, Business enabling environment upgrading, Planning and Implementation