SITA study reveals health benefits of East African sunflower oils

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June 21, 2019
Inauguration of KPR Export in Ethiopia’s Mekelle Industrial Park
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  • In April 2019, the results of a SITA commissioned study on the chemical composition of East African virgin sunflower oil were published in the International Journal of Nutrition
  • The study reveals that  East African virgin sunflower oil contains high levels of “health-friendly” cholesterol-blocking sterols and stanols; and could be well- suited for frying purposes
  • In March 2019, SITA attended the annual general meeting of the Uganda Oil Seed Producers and Processors Association where stakeholders expressed their appreciation for SITA’s support in facilitating testing of East African SFO in labs in the United Kingdom.
  • SITA will continue to build on the results to assist processors in tapping into health-conscious international markets.

The chemical composition of East African virgin sunflower oil (SFO) offers significant health benefits, expanding market opportunities for these products both regionally and internationally. This is according to a study commissioned by SITA as part of its efforts to support the development of the sunflower sector in the region, the results of which were published in the International Journal of Nutrition in April 2019.[1]

The story began in 2016 when SITA undertook missions to Uganda and Tanzania to assess the status of sunflower oilseed processing technologies and processes. At the time, it was found that SFO products in Uganda and Tanzania could be classified as “virgin” as they had not been exposed to harsh chemical refinement processes. SITA then supported select millers to test their products in labs in the United Kingdom.

According to the results of the study conducted by Professor Martin Grootveld, an expert scientist from De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, East African virgin SFOs have a notably higher percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and a lower percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), compared to commercially- available refined EU oils. The enhanced MUFA: PUFA content indicates that these SFOs may be better suited for frying purposes due to potential resistance to thermally-induced oxidation. The higher levels of ‘health-friendly’ cholesterol-blocking sterols and stanols found in East African SFOs proffer a clear marketing advantage, both regionally and internationally to a growing health conscious consumer market.

Mr Juma Ngomuo, SITA’s National Coordinator in Tanzania said,  “These results not only benefit the processors who sent their samples to the labs in the United Kingdom but also  to the sector associations and regulatory authorities in Tanzania and Uganda, will now be in a better position to improve services to their stakeholders.”

In June 2018, the initial findings of the study were first presented to stakeholders in Uganda and Tanzania at workshops organized in the two countries. Over 50 stakeholders from the sunflower oil industry including representatives from farmer cooperatives, the public sector, and sunflower processors and producers were in attendance.  

The workshops  were  held as part of SITA’s work to strengthen the capacity of the sunflower oil industry associations in Uganda – Uganda Oil Seed Producers and Processors Association (UOSPA)- and Tanzania – Tanzania Sunflower Processors Association (TASUPA)- by sharing knowledge and best practices from model industry association in India – the Solvent Extractors Association of India (SEA of India). 

Indeed, the results of SITA’s support for institutional strengthening were clear in March 2019, when SITA participated in UOSPA’s Annual General Meeting, which was attended by over 150 stakeholders. At the AGM, businesses and government leaders acknowledged SITA’s work. Several millers expressed their deep appreciation to SITA for helping them undertake quality tests in a UK lab, a process they were optimistic would enable them make meaningful progress towards export readiness for EU Markets. They also pointed out that the exposure in Globoil – a large trade fair focused on edible oil – in India had helped them focus their attention on improving milling technologies and equipment to improve milling capacities and yields.

Mr A. K. Devaiah, Task Team Leader- SFO, SITA, said, “Sunflower Oil is currently fetching a higher price in the domestic markets in Tanzania and Uganda compared to the international market. However, owing to the cyclical nature of commodity markets, export preparedness and exposure to international markets is vital to ensure sustainability of the sector.”

SITA will continue its support of value chain development and institutional strengthening in the SFO sector; with the ultimate objective of promoting sector transformation including through assisting in obtaining relevant food safety certification and facilitating increased international exposure for companies. 


[1] Benita Percival, Etienne Savel, Gilbert Ampem, Miles Gibson, Mark Edgar et al. (2019) Molecular Composition of and Potential Health Benefits Offered by Natural East African Virgin Sunflower Oil Products: A 400 MHz 1H NMR Analysis Study. International Journal of Nutrition – 3(3):22-43. Access here: https://openaccesspub.org/ijn/article/1020

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Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.