Coastal-line of Sindh & Balochistan offer great harvesting opportunities

Jan-07- 13, 2002

Despite having a strong agriculture base with the largest irrigation network in the world, Pakistan has to spend a large chunk of its hard-earned foreign exchange on the import of edible oil every year.

According to latest estimate, country's total edible oil requirement is around 1.9 million tons to 2 million tons out of that 71 per cent is imported while remaining 29 per cent requirement is met through local resources.

Out of the total imports, the lion's shares goes to palm oil imports mainly from Malaysia while other imports of edible oil include soybean, canola and sunflower. The money spent on imports varies from Rs33 billion to Rs40 billion a year pertaining to the level of international prices.

Although the governments in Pakistan have made claims in the past to develop a green belt alongside 700km long coastal belt spread over Sindh and Balcohistan shores yet practically speaking the claims remain merely statements for the public consumption.

Kaukab Iqbal, Chairman, Pakistan Coconut and Oil Palm Society said that forestation level in Pakistan is already at the lowest level, which comes hardly 5 per cent of our total forestation requirement in accordance to the total area of land in Pakistan.

Due to lack of forestation our environmental conditions especially in the urban areas are declining alarmingly. In fact we have criminally neglected the available natural resources and in a sense failed to fulfil our national obligations.

Nature is kind enough to Pakistan. The soil and climatic conditions of coastal areas in Sindh and Balochistan offer great opportunities for speedy growth of Coconut and oil palm trees.

Harvesting of coconut and oil palm trees alongside the coastal areas not only make the country self-sufficient in edible oil but overcome the problem of declining trend in forestation sector in Pakistan.

Since harvesting of coconut trees requires a little amount of investment as compared to other costly crop, this can help the government in accomplishment of its poverty alleviation programme, which is on top of its priority lists, Kaukab said.

He strongly recommended that groups of the willing farmers of coconut and oil palm should be sent to Malaysia and Sri Lanka on government expenses to provide them on job training regarding plantation, harvesting, oil extraction and other commercial use of the two crops.

Kaukab Iqbal observed with a sense of concern that apart from known and established edible oil marketing companies which are selling edible oil in accordance with the norms of health and hygiene, a number of unscrupulous marketing companies are also selling UN-refined palm oil which is highly dangerous to the human health.

He said that this unhygienic edible oil easily available in the market and attracts the poor consumers due to low price is more hazardous than the bullet of a klashnikov. One of the major reasons for eruption of cardiac diseases in an epidemic form is the consumption of sub-standard edible at an alarming level, he warned.

Engr. Farida Essa, General Secretary of the society suggested that a separate stretch of coastal belt be earmarked and develop the same as coconut and oil palm estate.

This is mainly intended for small farmers and identification of whom will be the joint responsibility of the society and concerned government department. She was of the view that in order to attract the land-less farmers, incentives are offered to them in the shape of land and seeds at an affordable price. They should also be provided road approach, drinking water facility, low cost sanitation, primary education, basic health facilities, oil extraction mill and market to the nearest township to enable them to sell the fruit, seed, oil and inter-cropped vegetables. This facilities if provided in the proposed estates there is not reason why the projects would not be result oriented, functional and economically viable.

Corporate farming

Farida also said that as an integral part of government policy, the society suggested to carryout corporate farming for oil palm in coastal area in interior Sindh depending on the availability of government agriculture and forestry land feasible for the investors. Pakistan edible oil producers importing oil seeds and palm oil can also be persuaded to cultivate the oil palm within the country and providing favourable environment can also attract foreign investors.

Research/ development

Pakistan Coconut and Palm Oil Society strongly desires to set up a research and development institute which is an important requirement for assisting farmers in the following manner to enable them to attain the objective of oil palm and coconut cultivation in Pakistan and to develop small industries related to the product of farm to reduce import and stop draining foreign exchange to a great extent.

This R&D facility should be formed with the following objectives:

•To provide a permanent forum for consultation.
•To encourage the farmers to set up oil palm and coconut farm in a systematic way.
•To promote much needed field of research and development in the country.
•To direct ways and means for getting finance for small farmers.
•To set up an information service and database
•To support existing information and other data centers and encourage the extension of their products.
•To arrange workshops, seminars & conferences.
•To impart training to researchers and technicians.
•To select disease resistant and healthy seeds and saplings.
•To select agro-ecologically viable varieties of coconut and oil palm trees.
•To advise proper use of various types and quantities of fertilizers.
•To develop model nurseries.
•To provide soil testing facilities and develop hybrid varieties for their mass scale plantation in different areas of Sindh and Balochistan, and to act as a bridge between farmers and the government.

According to Dr. Haji Khan Keerio, coconut is a perennial crop and its economic life is generally over 60 years in case of commercially popular varieties. Coconut trees display great variability in nut yields. Detailed studies in Sri Lanka have revealed that a healthy coconut tree yields on average about 60 nuts per tree per year.

The coconut requires warm climate with temperatures of 22°C or higher. Lower temperatures do not cause damage but check growth and development. Coconut requires rainfall between 1300 and 2300 mm per annum. Coconut can be grown in wide range of soils. The best are deep loamy soils, rich in plant nutrients. Water logged and too much saline soils need to be reclaimed before carrying out plantation. The soils must be well drained. The coastal climate of Sindh and Balochistan provinces is favourable in the vicinity of 50 miles. The bearing improves near the coast.

Dr. Keerio said that efforts were initiated in 1956 when 300 coconut seeds were imported from Sri Lanka and Goa through FAO. These nuts were planted at Korangi farm Karachi and seedlings were distributed among the farmers of Karachi area. During 1979, scheme on variety trial was approved and four varieties were planted over an area of 5 acres at Korangi, Karachi. During 1980, a consignment of 2000 seed nuts of dwarf variety was imported from Indonesia and distributed between Sindh and Balochistan. During 1984, 25000 seed nuts were imported from Sri Lanka by Pakistan Agriculture Research Center (PARC) and distributed to Sindh 10,000, Balochistan 10,000. PARC raised about 4000 seedlings in Karachi and supplied to 35 progressive growers of Karachi and Thatta districts.

Sindh Forest Department also created coconut division with its headquarters at Thatta in 1982 and the scheme "coconut plantation in Sindh" was implemented during 1982-88. Under the scheme, coconut plantation of improved varieties was established on government land at Gharo over an area of 95 acres. Good quality seed of tall and hybrid varieties was imported from Sri Lanka and 1,15,977 seedlings were provided to the farmers of the area on subsidized rates. A replacement project was started in 1988-89, where plantation has been increased to 225 acres.

Pakistan International Airlines also established coconut nursery and distributed seedlings to the farmers of Sindh and Balochistan.

Despite all these efforts, a noticeable emergence of coconut culture is still beyond the sight, which means the programme needs more concerted efforts to produce desirable results.

According to Afsar Saeed Khan, vice chairman of the society, coconut based farming systems can have several components such as intercropping or multi-storey or mixed cropping livestock raising etc. underplanting of young coconut plants for edible pith, nursery farm to produce planting materials and aquatic farming. This is possible because the morphology and architecture of the coconut palm allow adequate sunlight to penetrate the palms for other plants to grow. Cultivation practices associated with the production of these understory components also favour the coconut.

In South Asia, the benefits of coconut-based farming systems include efficient resource conversation, lower production cost as a result of sharing of labour and fertilizer inputs, higher coconut yields and enhanced farmers incomes. In a study conducted at the regional Maharashtra State of India six perennial spice crops were planted in separate blocks of 0.2 ha each under coconut. The nutmeg block generated the highest net profit of Rs53951 per ha. Followed by the cinnamon block with Rs37,128 per ha. The profit from the coconut block alone was only Rs12346.

This experiment proves that coconut farms can also be used for raising other crops to harvest double profit with minimum use of land.


Coconut is grown in nearly 90 countries spread along the tropical belt. Total area under coconut is estimated at 11.1 million hectares and around 93 per cent, was found in the Asian and Pacific region. Indonesia and the Philippines, the world's two biggest producers, have about 3.7 million hectares and 3.1 million hectares, respectively, while India comes third with 0.632 million hectares. Papua New Guineas leads in the pacific region with 260,000 hectares. Tanzania recorded the largest extent in Africa and Mexico in Latin America at 281,955 hectares and about 150,000 hectares respectively, accounting for about one-third of the total area under coconut in that region. The world's total production of coconut was estimated at about 51.3 billion nuts or 9.8 million tons expressed in copra equivalent. In the last twenty years, there was a continuing marginal increase in both hectare and production of coconuts. While world area under coconut increased by nearly 5 per cent per annum, remained low and in some countries, it even showed a declining trend.

The coconut producing countries continue to produce it in view of the importance of the coconut as a social crop. These countries have realized the potential coconut holds in economic development and poverty alleviation particularly, among the rural population. For most of these countries, coconut is still the backbone of their economy and it could be the base on which their rural economies are based. Continued research and development activities in the producing countries have contributed largely to the improvement in the income of the coconut farmers.

Product diversification

The coconut is a very versatile tree. It yields multi-products, perhaps more products of use to mankind than any other tree in the world. Even the root as one might wonder, has also its uses. In some countries, the root is used as toothbrush and some say has healthy effect on the gum. In Indonesia, they said that uses of coconut could be equal to the number of days in a year.

Diversification enhances exports, attracts additional revenues but also eradicates importation of coconut products or substitutes.

Traditionally and the emerging products from coconuts number to about 70 items that are produced and exported by coconut producing countries.

Philippines lists about 40 non-traditional coconut products ranging from coconut oil-based fatty alcohol to handicrafts while India and Sri Lanka ship out a wide range of fiber products.

There are numerous opportunities within the coconut sector in which small-scale producers can add value to coconut through product diversification, technology improvements and enhanced market access. Production of coconut sugar is one of them. It was observed that the income of coconut farmers is five times higher if they tap the tree and process the sap into sugar rather than depend only on its fruit. Traditionally, it a cottage industry in the Philippines and has been a source of brisk income to augment the measly wage of coconut farmers. Charcoal making, handicrafts are some of the large number of traditional products that could be derived from coconut fruits and trees. It is a "no-waste tree" as even its waste products provide ample opportunity to augment farmers' income. Through R&D the once considered wastes have been put into use and even turned up to be an income generating industry. Choir dusts the major by-product of choir production and considered a pollutant, is now being sought to conserve the environment. It is now being exported and is becoming a significant foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka. The midribs, twigs, spathe, leaves are also now being utilized in the manufacture of handicrafts — another non-traditional export product from Philippines.

Oil palm

Malaysia and other countries currently known for producing palm oil, in fact brought the oil palm tree from West Africa, which is the native place of the oil palm trees. This tree has a long history of food use with archaeological evidence going back 5000 years, said Iftikhar Ahmed. However, improved varieties have been planted widely in the Wet Tropica in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia.

The oil palm crop grows under the tropical condition that is hot and humid. The crop needs lot of sunshine and rain uniformly spread through the year. The ideal growing conditions exist 10 degree north and South of the Equator.

The oil palm starts to bear fruit within 2-3 years after plantation in the field and has an economic life span of over 25 years. Its continuous reduction throughout the year has a major advantage over other annual oil crops. It permits efficient utilization of labour and equipment for harvesting and oil extraction. Fruit is processed within hours of harvesting. So the crop storage facilities are not requirement.

Oil palm is the most productive oil crop with an annual yield of 3.5 to 5 tons of crude palm oil per hectare i.e. about ten times as productive as other oil crops.

Palm oil is the second major oil produced in the world after soybean oil. The world's production of palm oil in the year 2000 stood at 21.5 million tons. The share of the palm oil in the world's total production of oils and fats was 21 per cent. For the same period the share of palm oil in the world's trade of oils and fats stood at 35 per cent. In this way, palm oil was the largest oil trade in the world markets. The major producers of palm oil in the world are Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Colombia. Similarly, the world's production of palm kernel oil was 2.7 million tons. It is the second major Laurie oil produced and consumed after coconut oil.

Due to the unique physical and chemical properties, palm oil is used in numerous food products such as vanaspati, cooking oil, margarine, shortenings, bakery and confectionery fats, similarly, palm kernel oil can be used in ice cream and chocolate fats.

For non-food products, these two oils are used in the manufacture of chemicals, soaps, detergents, cosmetics and other personal care products. In general, about 90 per cent of palm oil are used for edible purposes and balance 10 per cent goes to the inedible use.

Poverty alleviation

The present government has launched a drive to eradicate absolute poverty from the society. In this regard, various schemes are being implemented and financial institutions like SMEDA have been formed to provide finances for small business.

The coconut and oil palm society suggests that utilization of government land by distributing them among the poor and with small amount of funds and know-how can produce multi-faceted results. According to an study, even a small coconut holding of 0.4 ha can sustain the livelihood of four to five family members when it is devoted to intensive integrated farming. Hence the coconut-based farming systems have to be promoted in all coconut growing areas to ensure resource conservation, sustainable levels of coconut production and most importantly enhance on-farm income and employment.

Dr. Hafeez Shaikh, the finance minister for Sindh, known for his dynamic views for speedy resource development in every sphere of life has agreed with the view of the Pakistan coconut and oil palm society and has constituted a task force in this regard.

Apart from economic and commercial gains, the development of a green belt alongside the beautiful shores of Sindh and Balochistan are of vital importance especially for environmental protection deteriorating at an alarming pace due to ever increasing industrial pollution in Karachi. This would be a sight for the souring eyes also.