MEETING GROWING DEMAND OF EDIBLE OIL
NEW STRATEGY SHOULD ENCOURAGE CULTIVATION OF DIFFERENT OIL SEEDS
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
June 15 - 21, 2009
Pakistan is the fourth largest edible oil importing country and its import costs a fortune to the country. The country consumes approximately three million tons of edible oil each year and mostly relies on import meeting more than 70% of the total demand. Out of the total edible oil consumed in the country, about 800,000 tons are contributed by cottonseed oil and sunflower oil. Cottonseed crop constitutes nearly half of domestic production.
Pakistan has been striving hard to reduce its reliance on imported edible oil. Unfortunately, there has been unabated increase in Pakistan's edible oil import, which stood at about three million tons during 2007-08 as compared to 1.5 million tons in 2003-04. As a result, Pakistan edible oil import bill went up from US$958 million to more than US$2.2 billion. The hike in import bill was also due to escalating international prices, decline in domestic edible oil production and smuggling to neighboring countries.
Lately, Pakistan has failed in increasing domestic production of edible oil due to dismal cotton production in the country. The edible oil traders believe that lower international prices of palm oil resulted in buying spree with shipments anticipated to exceed 350,000 tons. Therefore, edible oil bill is likely to remain high this year as well.
Cottonseed oil is among the big four sources of edible oil i.e. soya, corn, rapeseed and canola. Oil is extracted from cottonseed and reportedly contains low cholesterol. During refining particularly deodorizations and hydrogenation, certain undesirable ingredients are removed.
It is disappointing that even after more than sixty years of independence from the colonial rule Pakistan is not able to exploit cottonseed oil production despite the fact that the country is among the top five cotton-producing countries of the world.
The country has failed in exploiting the cottonseed potential and remained dependent on imported palm oil and wasting precious foreign exchange on its import. India despite massive population is taking all measures to enhance local production of edible oil by focusing on cottonseed oil production.
In the light of recent hike in commodity prices, particularly food items it is imperative that the government should focus on enhancing indigenous production of cottonseed oil. Yield can be improved through better crop management.
Over the last two decades, edible import has registered an average annual growth rate of around 15%. Share of edible oil import has increased from 3% in 2000-01 to about 5% in 2007-08. Lately, total demand for edible oil was about 3 million tons out of this less than one million tons was indigenous production and remaining quantity has to be imported.
Canola seems to be the most promising edible crop for meeting domestic requirement. While palm oil is the second most widely used edible oil in Pakistan after soya bean oil, it is mainly because of being one third cheaper than soya oil. Biomedical research shows that palm oil is high in saturated fat and develops heart disease. As against this, canola is generally recognized a safe oil. Regular use of canola reduces potential threat of heart attack. Researchers have also found that canola helps in containing cholesterol and blood pressure. Canola can be planted on all varieties of lands, except on saline and sandy soils. It is easy to cultivate and requires no sophisticated method of cultivation. It requires limited water and fertilizer. Due to its merits, it faces little competition from traditional edible crop.
In Pakistan, canola cultivation was initiated in 1985 on an experimental basis with imported seeds. The process of oil extraction from canola seed is rather simple and less time consuming. The added advantage is that canola oil is used by human beings and canola meal is used as feed at cattle and poultry farms. There is enormous potential for increasing canola production. Pakistan Oil Seed Development Board has developed new varieties of canola. It is found that canola varieties developed in Pakistan give higher yield. Canola enjoys better prospect of cultivation and potential to replace most other types of edible oil.
The area under sunflower cultivation increased from 875,000 acres in 2005-06 to 1,124,000 acres in 2007-08, an increase of 28.5%. About 264,000 tons of oil was extracted from the sunflower seeds for edible purpose. The total edible oil production in the country in 2007-08 was 833,000 tons; out of this, the sunflower contribution was around 32%. Sunflower yield is higher in Pakistan as compared to most of the developing countries. An increase in sunflower cultivation will substantially increase the domestic oil production and will significantly reduce the import of bill of edible oil.
Sunflower crop is easy to cultivate and manage. It needs less water and its harvesting time is short. It can often tolerate drier climate better than other crops. It takes 90 to 100 days to its maturity and gives a reasonable return if sown timely. The cultivation of sunflower is possible in autumn, spring, and winter seasons. Sunflower could be grown along with other crop. Its input cost is comparatively low but returns are high.
A serious problem is that the its sowing time clashes with wheat. Therefore, the farmers generally prefer to cultivate wheat. The sowing season of sunflower also clashes with cotton sowing season and the farmer prefer to cultivate cotton being a cash crop and also yielding higher returns.
The global production of sunflower is around 10 million tons annually under normal condition of production. Its seeds account for around 8% of the of the world's total oilseed production. Russia and Ukraine are the top two producers of sunflower production followed by Argentina, France, Romania, Hungary, China, India, and United States.
India, one of the world's leading sunflower producers, has become a major exporter. Farmers are encouraged by the government to cultivate and given subsidies. The area under sunflower cultivation has increased substantially due to better return.