According to one estimate, Pakistan imported edible oil worth $3.2 billion last year. Economic Survey of Pakistan 2019-20 says sunflower was grown on 257,000 acres in 2018-19 and 219,000 acres in 2019-20, while 2.748m tonnes edible oil worth around Rs321.535bn ($2.046bn) was imported during FY2020. Sunflower cultivation can help lessen pressure on the import of edible oil and save foreign exchange.
In Sindh, sunflower acreage, which rose from 38,530 hectares in 2001-02 to 253,713ha in 2008-09 and to 266,964ha in 2010-11, has come down to 39,856ha in the current fiscal year.
Sindh seems reluctant to join the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Emergency Programme worked out at Rs309bn in 2018-19 for which the federal and provincial governments were to offer their respective 40-60 share. Part of the 10-point agriculture emergency programme, the “National Oilseeds Enhancement Programme” worth Rs10,176m has not attracted Sindh so far, according to a federal government source dealing with the oilseeds enhancement programme.
“Sindh government has not pitched its 60pc share to avail the Rs5,000 per acre subsidy for farmers.”Remarks an official.
The program is underway in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “The reluctance is perhaps due to the ongoing friction between the two governments. It is the third consecutive year Sindh has not become part of it,” he adds.
Sindh being a major contributor in sunflower production would have been a major shareholder in the Rs11bn project if it had opted for the facility.
A progressive farmer, Nadeem Shah, has given up cultivating sunflower crops on his land in Sujawal, one of Sindh’s coastal districts that suit its cultivation climatically. He looks disappointed with this otherwise short-duration crop for a variety of reasons.
“I got a better return for pulse Masroor cultivation which I sold for Rs4,200 per maund after purchasing seed for Rs2,25 per 10kg whereas sunflower seed costs me Rs2,220 per kg. At least 2kg-3kg seed [per acre] is required depending on soil quality. With 12 maunds per acre production of pulse Masoor, I got Rs50,400 per acre return against sunflower’s Rs24,000 per acre last year. A deduction of two kilogram in the crop on moisture ground is to be usually borne by the farmer.”Explains Nadeem.
He says the drop in sunflower’s average production is disappointing.
Sunflower acreage was highest in the 2010-11 period when many farmers cultivated it on their lands in flood-hit districts located on the right bank districts. Large swathes of land were hit by super-floods in 2010 in Sindh.
In the wake of super-floods 2010, farmers’ bodies such as Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) also encouraged farmers to cultivate sunflower, which was of short duration and could also be an alternative for wheat. It could be grown on the strength of residual moisture in any farmland. The decline in its acreage had started in 2011-12 when the crop was grown on 188,663ha.
Sindh’s areas of Thatta, Badin, Sujawal, and Umerkot have witnessed considerable cultivation of the crop. It is considered a cash crop but farmers like Sathio feel that an adequate rate is not offered in the market and the level of residual moisture in crops serves as a negative indicator in terms of fixation of price.
Until recently Sindh has been the second-largest contributor at the national level in sunflower production after Punjab but a decline in the crop acreage is there in Punjab too. The yield gap is there, says a Sindh agriculture official and this needs to be addressed to get optimum yields.
Former chairman of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) Dr. Yusuf Zafar believes solvent industry (All Pakistan Solvent Extraction Association) prefers import of edible oil, 85pc of which is palm oil with high cholesterol content and detrimental to health.
He says cheap oil is imported and consumers get it at a high price. He adds: “Like corn, the sunflower will have been a success story had the farmers been protected.”