Sep 1 - 7, 2008

LAHORE: Oilseed crops are very important crops for an economy like Pakistan, which largely depends on import of Palm Oil to meet its domestic consumption. The government under a comprehensive strategy is promoting sowing of Oilseed crops like Canola and Sunflower to meet the fifty per cent of the domestic demands by the year 2012 and ultimately reduce the import bill.

The Government set up Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) back in 1995 to enhance indigenous production of Oilseed crops and as a result of efforts made by it these crops have witnessed increase in the area under cultivation of sunflower and canola for the last three years.

This year only Punjab achieved a good crop production of sunflower having 800,000-900,000 tons produce. Overall during the season of 2007-08 the sunflower was cultivated in the country on record area of 1, 23, 851 acres against the target of 1, 100, 000 acres, highly placed officials in the PODB Punjab Directorate told Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE).

During 2007-08, sunflower was cultivated on record area of 1, 23, 851 acres in the country against the target of 1, 100,000 acres. It shows an increase of 1.2 percent against the target resulting in bumper crop. In Punjab the crop was sown on 429, 766 acres against the target of 400,000. Nevertheless, area brought under cultivation in rest of three provinces there was a slight decline in the target area. Sindh recorded sunflower production on 619,494 acres against the target of 620,000, NWFP 24, 637 against 25,000 acres and Balochistan 49,954 acres against the target of 55,000 acres.

The area in Punjab increased due to hard efforts of PODB field staff, active involvement of Solvent Industry and favourable international environment. Multan registered the growth in Punjab where the crop was sown over an area of 379, 890 acres against the target of 320,000 acres.

While on Canola side, national area target for the year 2007-08 was fixed at 151.76 thousand hectares for Canola cultivation. The assigned target was not only achieved but also surpassed by seven percent. All the provinces exceeded the target of sown area during the 2007-08 season.

Nevertheless, Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) Punjab officials and farmers faced a problem of properly marketing the increasing production and ensuring appropriate payments to the farmers.

The need for this demand was felt seeing the increasing area of cultivation and production in the oilseeds crops but exploitation of the farmers at the hands of middlemen and other circles to deprive them from their right. It happened during the current season with sunflower farmers in Punjab and evolving any such mechanism would safeguard the farmers' interest as well as encouraging them to bring maximum area under cultivation of oilseed crops.

Keeping in view the increasing international prices of Palm Oil and on persuasion from PODB, All Pakistan Solvent Extractors' Association (APSEA) announced a minimum procurement price for sunflower at Rs 1600 per 40 Kilograms for the year 2007-08, subject to condition of 8 percent moisture and 2 percent inert matters. Procurement went smoothly in Sindh and growers got reasonable prices ranging from Rs 1600 to Rs 1750 per maund against the announced price of Rs 1600 per 40 Kilograms, the sources added.

Nevertheless, the farmers of Punjab started facing problems in June this year as they were not given the due price of their produce. Sources said that it mainly occurred due to manipulations of middlemen who prefer short-term gain to long term national interest. At this moment PODB Punjab Directorate made efforts and in collaboration with the farmers, Solvent Industry and PASSCO made arrangements that PASSCO should buy the crop on behalf of the Solvent Industry at the rate of Rs 1600 per 40 kilograms

On this juncture, PASSCO announced to start procurement and setting up procurement centers in Southern Punjab at its wheat procurement centers while Solvent Industry also announced its procurement centers set up in areas where its members did not have factories and farmers had to face extra burden of transportation charges.

The news struck the market and prices started increasing and now farmers were getting very handsome return of their crops, the sources added.

'Foreseeing a serious marketing problem in Punjab and rest of the country in any such scenario in the future, PODB Punjab Directorate has proposed the government to develop any mechanism on permanent basis, where government can jump in to through its organisations like PASSCO to procure and store the produce and help stabilising the market in favor of the farmers to encourage them to further increase the cultivation of oilseeds," said PODB Punjab Director Syed Nasir Ali Shah while talking to PAGE.