Growing Sunflowers and Growing Faith in Rural Communities in Tanzania

By Chris Manktelow with Andy Sharpe and Jesca Mgimba (translator), July 2023

Utengule Imarika Group Harvesting Sunflowers
Chris with IMARIKA Group


Late July is harvest time for sunflowers in Tanzania. When me and Andy arrived in Utengule, the IMARIKA group had already cut down the sunflowers they had planted by hand. Men and women were sitting on mats, hitting the dead flowerheads with sticks to remove the seeds. The seeds were then gathered up into sacks, ready to be sent to the market in Iringa to be sold and processed into sunflower oil.


IMARIKA means ‘to be strengthened’ in Swahili. It is a rural development project that aims to mobilise churches, build livelihoods, and improve the environment. Local churches start village community banking (VICOBA) groups with training support from Emmanuel International. These VICOBA groups improve lives as members save shares and take out cheap loans to pay off debts and run rural businesses. The 47 group members in Utengule had decided to use a loan to buy a plot of land to grow sunflowers.

Salesia, member of Utengule IMARIKA group


Salesia, who has been an IMARIKA group member since 2017, told us about how the IMARIKA group are planning to expand their sunflower growing business.

‘We are saving money to buy a machine that will help us harvest the sunflowers more quickly,’ she said. Salesia has also benefitted personally from being a group member. ‘Before I was part of IMARIKA, I couldn’t afford the school fees for my 7 children. Now I can afford to send my children to school by getting loans from VICOBA.’

IMARIKA and Conservation Agriculture

IMARIKA group members are given training in beekeeping, animal husbandry, tree planting, conservation agriculture, and entrepreneurship. Beekeeping provides honey, which has health benefits, and can be used to provide an income. One hive can produce up to 20 litres of honey. This can be sold for up to TZS 200,000 (£60). Animal husbandry provides a source of protein and generates an income as village groups sell eggs, meat, and milk.

With conservation agriculture, group members are taught how to look after the land through mulching, planting cover crops and minimizing how much they disturb the soil. Group members also learn how to plant fruit trees and about how to grow trees for timber. The entrepreneurship training gives group members the skills they need to understand business laws and to run their own business.

One IMARIKA group member, Josephat, offered to show us how he had put the conservation agriculture training into practice on his farm. We followed him on his motorbike to a field full of maize, avocados, courgettes, lemons, and potatoes.

Josephat with an avocado tree that he planted 4 years ago
Josephat harvesting potatoes

‘I’ve learnt how to improve the soil through the IMARIKA training and how to graft avocados,’ he told us. We now have better yields for our avocados. We have also used the money we’ve saved to purchase three cows, which we use to sell milk. I can use this money to buy more shares for VICOBA.’

According to Josephat, the community leaders can see that there is something different about the IMARIKA groups.

‘The community sees that there is a benefit to having IMARIKA,’ he said. The community leaders know about other VICOBA groups, but the difference with IMARIKA is the training that comes with it, like learning about how to graft avocados. They also pray before the start of the group, but the other VICOBA groups don’t do that.’

Andy and Emmanuel at Josephat's farm

IMARIKA and Growing Faith

All the IMARIKA groups receive Christian discipleship training from Jesca, who works for Emmanuel International. Members always pray before the start of meetings and EI staff usually lead a short Bible study to encourage group members and to tell them the good news about Jesus Christ. One of the group members in Utengule has recently started reading the Bible because he wanted to find out more about the Christian faith.

It was very encouraging for me and Andy to see how the kingdom of God is growing, both physically through the planting of sunflowers, and spiritually as group members believe in the gospel and grow in their faith. With God’s help, we are sure that the IMARIKA groups will continue to transform lives in rural communities in the Iringa region of Tanzania.

Sunflower seeds after harvesting

This article was written for Operation Agri’s Autumn 2023 magazine and provided here with permission.

Operation Agri White Background

Operation Agri supports sustainable rural and urban development projects, attacking basic causes of poverty among some of the most disadvantaged people in the world. The projects they support help people to address their own problems, rectifying injustice, establishing their role in the community and improving their lives physically, mentally and spiritually. They partner with EITZ in the IMARIKA project in Iringa.

IMARIKA growing sunflowers and faith
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