TIME FOR IMPORT SUBSTITUTE OILSEEDS FARMING
May 7 - 20, 2012
Pakistan is deficient in edible oil production. Its indigenous production is below consumption levels with a very wide gap between production and consumption. This gap is bridged through import of edible oil annually. At present, oilseed local production meets about only 25 per cent of the requirement. The edible oil imports bill rising from Rs77 million in 1969-70 to $800 million till 2010-11 and has overburdened the economy of the country. It is the second most important item on import list consuming a considerable foreign exchange.
The population of Pakistan has increased from 32.5 million in 1947 to 180 million currently. The consumption of edible oil has also been increased proportionally from 0.3 million tons to 3.5 million tons during the last two decades.
The population is increasing at a rapid rate but the production is meagre and fluctuating. Right now, Pakistan is the world's fourth-largest buyer of vegetable oils, with 13 kg per persons per year consumption, despite a strong agriculture base and one of the largest irrigation networks in the world.
Currently, palm oil is imported from Malaysia, Norway, Singapore and South Korea and soybean from Malaysia, Argentina, Singapore and Switzerland. However, there are two sources of edible oil, conventional and non-conventional crops, in the country. The former are cultivated traditionally and include cottonseed, rapeseed, mustard, sesame and groundnut.
Sunflower, safflower and soybean are non-conventional introduced in 60s in the backdrop of green revolution. The contribution of cottonseed and rapeseed in total domestic requirements is 80 per cent. Sesame and corn oil contribute three per cent. On the other hand, the contribution of non-conventional crops is only 17 per cent.
During the course of history, several governments have tried to increase its production. Efforts were made to increase the area under non-conventional crops. Neither area nor production could increase to a greater extent. Production is lower than the potential. In the same way, yield of oil crops per unit area is lower than other countries.
To deal with the looming edible oil crisis, stringent efforts are needed to enhance local production of edible oil by bringing more area under cultivation of oilseed crops as well as increasing per acre yield. Now, it is a high time that government puts its serious efforts on import substitute farming.
COCONUT & PALM TREE
For the plantation of coconut and palm tree, the best soils are deep loamy soils, rich in plant nutrients and in this regard nature has been kind enough to Pakistan. Soil and climatic conditions of the coastal areas in Sindh, especially the Thatta district, offer great opportunities for speedy growth of coconut and oil palm trees. The coastal climate of Sindh is favourable in the vicinity of 50 miles.
Coconut is a perennial crop and its economic life is generally over 60 years in the case of commercially popular varieties. Coconut trees display great variability in nut yields, with an average of roughly 60 nuts per tree per year.
The plantation of coconut and oil palm trees along coastal areas would not only make the country self-sufficient in edible oil, but would also help overcome the problem of declining trend in Pakistan's forest sector. Even the plantation of coconut trees requires a small investment as compared to other costly crops and this could also significantly help to reduce poverty.
Sindh forest department also created a coconut division with its headquarters at Thatta in 1982. The plan for a coconut plantation in Sindh was implemented during 1982-88. Under the scheme, a coconut plantation of improved varieties was established on government land at Gharo over an area of 95 acres.
After that, high quality seeds of tall and hybrid varieties were imported from Sri Lanka and seedlings were provided to farmers of that region at subsidised rates. A replacement project was started in 1988-89 where plantation has been increased to 225 acres. But, no prolific result occurred. Still there are many opportunities in the coconut sector in which small-scale producers can add value to coconuts through diversification, technology improvements, and enhanced market access.
In Pakistan, Canola cultivation started in 1985-86 on experimental basis with imported varieties. Commercial cultivation of Canola started in 1995 when it was planted on 100,000 acres compared to 8,000 acres of 1994.
Now, Canola has become a popular oilseed crop in Pakistan and is cultivated on an area of eight lac acres. Canola and sunflower are planted in barani tracts of Punjab especially in the districts of Rawalpindi and Chakawal.
Canola is a smoother crop because of its larger leaves, rapid growth and early canopy closing. In terms of cultivation, this crop is considered to be capable of growing under relatively harsh conditions. This crop grows successfully on rain and canal irrigated areas. It can be grown throughout the country and it requires minimum three irrigations at the time of its sowing, flowering, and seed formation.
Along with this, canola is also a good crop in rotation with cereals specially wheat and barley. Major agricultural area has been devoted to wheat and barley cultivation that does not have proper rotation. So, canola cultivation can be considered as a good choice and will result in decrement of weeds, pests and pathogens problems.
Some of weeds in cereal crops display resistance to herbicides and are out of control. Also, some of soil pathogens in different parts of country are scattered and cause severe lost of cereal yield in main production areas. These kinds of problems can be relatively controlled via cereal- canola rotation. Being economic of rapeseed cultivation is a necessity for applying this rotation.
Similarly, current estimates show that about 0.4 million hectares of land in Pakistan is being rendered useless every year by salinity. The consequences of this trend in terms of both economy and environmental quality are dire and far reaching, especially for countries like ours, which is heavily dependent on agriculture. After looking into the performance of different varieties of canola under various levels of salinities, it appears that oscar and rainbow are best varieties for growing up to saline environment equivalent to 0.4 per cent sea water salinity.
Sunflower is an important crop having potential to become major oil seed crop. However, its sowing season overlaps the sowing season of wheat. Owing to better support prices and marketing system available for wheat, farmers are bound to grow wheat.
In cotton zone, farmers are reluctant to grow sunflower because its maturity period overlaps the sowing season of cotton and thus causes delay in the sowing of the latter. This delay results in significant reduction of lint yield. Sunflower is an exhaustive crop. It consumes a large amount of nutrients essential from growth and depletes the soil from the nutrients. Farmers add huge amount of fertilizers to get good yield of cotton. After harvesting of sunflower, the attacks of insect, pest and diseases increase on cotton crop.
Inter-cropping of sunflower in sugarcane and potato is a best approach to enhance cultivation of oilseed crops. This would also increase cropping intensity that is less so far.
With proper planning, government can enhance per acre yields of sunflower and canola, the only two promising crops for increasing domestic edible oil production and hence curtailing edible oil import bill.
SESAME & MORINGA
Then there are minor crops like sesame, which is shorter and single-irrigation crop that can produce oil. Pakistan has been exporting sesame to the tune of Rs700 million but has not been able to turn the crop into one reducing oil import bill. It is because of official neglect of the crop. There are hybrid seeds available in the market that can increase the yield by three to four times. But, they have neither been acknowledged nor promoted.
Similarly, moringa is another option. The official planners need to consider local wisdom and knowledge before chalking out projects and grand plans.
Pakistan can significantly reduce its edible oil import bill by investing in the cultivation of indigenous seed-bearing halophytes, which are found abundantly in the country and can be grown in brackish water or seawater.
According to a laboratory analysis, their oil quality is comparable with the conventional edible oils such as those extracted from sunflower and canola seeds.
Along with this, this plant species known for their high tolerance to salinity has become a major focus of research throughout the world especially in water-deficient countries like Pakistan where increasing soil salinity, desertification and mismanagement of freshwater resources present a bleak scenario for human development.
If government supports the farmers, olive can also cultivate. The Potwar (potohar) area has great potential to lessen the import burden of the country to meet its edible oils demand. The potential is also found in the Balochistan areas, which include Khuzdar, Loralai, Quetta, Pishin, Zhob and Sibi etc. The weather conditions (high rainfalls) in the northern part of the Punjab and the Hazara area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are quite suitable for the olive oil cultivations. Both soil and climate support production of local olive. Thus, it may be time to involve some international firms, which can build certain, and limited, model olive area, which others can follow. Pakistan's barani (rain-fed) area is larger than of many countries making name in olive export.
Olive attempts have also failed because there was no local knowledge to back it up. In case of other edible oil crops, there is experience of centuries and farmers are completely comfortable with those crops. It is not to suggest that olive should drop down the priority list, but comprehensive training programs are needed for the education of farmers to understand the new techniques of farming.
Many other factors such as sowing of poor quality seed, late sowing, inadequate use of fertilisers and poor plant protection are contributing to low per hectare yield of oilseed crops. It is essential to bring more area under non-traditional oilseed crops to cope with the situation.
Domestic production of edible oil has been fluctuating for the last couple of decades. These fluctuations are due to indigenous marketing, low support price, and high cost of production, which is making these crops non-profitable to farmers.
Farmers prefer to grow cereals because of sound procurement system. In case of oilseed crops, there is nonexistent of sound marketing system. Therefore, the farmers are reluctant to grow these crops.
An efficient system of procurement is required to promote cultivation of oil seed crops. It is also essential that marketing system should not allow importers to exploit local producers, as it is a usual practice of importers to decrease the market prices of imported edible oil as the maturity period of crops approaches.
For oil seed crops, the foremost step is selection of seed and should not be based on advertising or sales but purely on yield performance. The farmers are, therefore, not afraid while using the yield trial information and look for hybrids that performed well before going for seed selection.
Seed performance should be measured keeping in view certain parameters including germination capacity, physical and genetic purity, seed maturity, seed health, and vigour etc. Soil type, soil nutrient status, soil moisture and weather conditions are the factors that affect these parameters.
A number of sowing techniques are practiced for the cultivation of oil seed crops that have great bearing on seed germination, plant growth, development and production. Bed plantation of sunflower gives 15 per cent higher yield than traditional broadcast method and also ensures conservation of about 45 per cent water.
Inputs like fertilisers, irrigations, and pesticides vary with respect to type of cultivar, soil type, soil nutrient status, growth stage and climatic conditions. Certain non-traditional crops such as sunflower require more nutrients. The farmers should use fertilisers in balanced amount in a bid to obtain high yields.
There is thus no reason why Pakistan can not only bring its edible oil import bill down but also earn foreign exchange. It is a matter of time, effort and planning.