Sesame Seed: Viable alternative cash crop

15 Aug, 2021 - 00:08 0 Views
Sesame Seed: Viable alternative cash crop

The Sunday Mail

Word from the market

Sesame production in Zimbabwe has been limited in the past three years. However, due to growing health aiding benefit of the crop, global demand has soured. It is this unmet demand that presents opportunities for development into a viable cash crop locally and for the export markets.

Sesame is an annual summer crop with tiny seeds grown primarily for its high value edible oil. Lately, global demand for sesame seed has risen as the product gains momentum as a health aiding food. It is also widely used in the production of dietary supplements, oils, confectionaries, pastes and health snacks, ingredient in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Sesame has a growing international market; therefore, an export market is ready. Figures from Trade Map show that global exports of sesame seed in 2019 amounted to US$3 billion, up from US$2.7 billion in 2018. Of this, Zimbabwe’s share of the export market was US$85 000, an indication that more needs to be done to grow exports of sesame seeds.

Venturing into Sesame production therefore presents an alternative cash crop especially for small scale farmers.

More than 1 200 small-scale farmers are currently producing the crop.

However, there is low recognition of sesame seed as a viable crop for Zimbabwe due to the lack of knowledge on the farming methods, benefits, and potential markets of the crop. Its tolerance to drought makes it suitable for cultivation in drought-prone areas such as Manicaland and Matabeleland.

In addition, sesame varieties are adaptable to a range of soil types, but generally prefer well-drained fertile sandy loam soils. Sesame will do well in the same soils where cotton does well.

Currently Zimbabwean farmers are growing local varieties and an imported Tanzanian variety called Lindi.

There are no locally available improved varieties of sesame, but the dark and white coloured seeds are very popular.

The Government was targeting 100,000 tonnes of sesame crop during the 2020/21 summer farming season. Production of the crop was being targeted at cotton growers and spearheaded by the Cotton Company (Cottco).

Production costs per ha are modest, being equal to or less than for soya beans or sorghum. The oil content of the seed varies between 40 and 60 percent.  Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicate that the world production of sesame in 2017 was around 5.5 million tonnes and most of it grown in Africa and Asia.

The crop is extremely susceptible to moisture stress at germination and seedling stage hence a critical need for water during the seedling, flowering, and grain filling stages. Heavy rain at flowering will drastically reduce yield. For optimum growth, sesame requires frost free and warm areas.

A temperature of 25 to 27oC encourages rapid germination, initial growth, while temperature below 20oC for any length of time inhibits germination.

For optimum development and yield, sesame requires 25 to 37°C temperature throughout its growing period.

Low temperature at flowering can result in the production of sterile pollen, or premature flower fall while high temperatures, 40oC or over at flowering will seriously affect fertilization and the number of capsule sets will be low.

Agronomic Practices

For best results it is ideal to first carry out soil test for fertiliser recommendations. The crop is not a heavy feeder and depending on the cropping sequence, can be grown on residual fertility or limited fertiliser applied. In the absence of a fertiliser recommendation, one may apply basal fertiliser in the form of compound L.

Sesame is ready for harvesting 120 to 142 days after planting depending on variety. According, to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Centre, sesame yields in test plots average 1000 to 1500 kg ha-1 grain; 454-680 kgs per acre, though as much as 1,050 kgs per acre have been produced on irrigated fields.


According to FAO, global sesame seed market will reach US$17.77 billion by 2025. Production is forecast to reach 9.26 million tonnes by 2040, up from 5.53 million tonnes in 2017. The demand for sesame in China alone is expected to reach 2.56 million tonnes in 2040, up from 1.3 million tonnes in 2016.

According to the International Trade Centre’s Market Price Information portal, the average price of sesame seed in international markets between January this year to date is US$1,133/tonne.

There is also a huge demand for organically grown sesame. Raw sesame can be exported to China, United States, Europe. Locally it is mainly sold to the confectionery industry. There is potential for growing demand from pharmaceutical industry.

Ethiopia, where sesame is the second most profitable export after coffee, is among the top producers of sesame seed in the world.

Other producers within the SADC and COMESA region include Mozambique and Tanzania.

Word from the market is a column produced by the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) to promote market driven production of agricultural crops. Department of Research and Specialist Services contributed to this article. Feedback [email protected] or [email protected]

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