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Fate of sunflower production in Pakistan

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is an important crop which is cultivated around the world for food and oil purposes. 

The seeds of sunflower are either consumed directly or they are extracted for the oil which is used for cooking and other purposes. Mainly sunflower is cultivated for oil purposes, while the majority of peoples do not know about the nutrition of its seeds. The seeds of sunflower are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and potassium. Seeds of sunflower improve digestion, the functioning of the cardiovascular system and brain power (Organic Facts, 2019).

Pakistan is a dynamic agricultural country where multiple crops are cultivated and sunflower is one of them. The sunflower was introduced in Pakistan during the 1960s when the Green Revolution was introduced in the country. Since then it has been cultivated in different parts of the country including Attock, Faisalabad, Vehari, Sialkot, Thatta Badin, Swat, and others. However, the area under sunflower cultivation is very low as compared to other crops like wheat, rice, cotton, and sugarcane.

The cultivation of sunflower in Pakistan has seen a declining trend since 2010. The major constraints related to lower cultivation includes lowered yields and low market value. Most of the farmers, who used to harvest around 1.97 tons per ha has dropped down to around 1.48 tons per ha.  Many farmers in the country have claimed the fact that the price of production is higher while the return price is very low for sunflower in Pakistan. Others constraints include low availability of seeds, the low market value of the crop and expensive seeds. 

With decreased sunflower cultivation, the production of edible oil has also decreased. Pakistan only meets for 30% of domestic oil requirement through local production while 70% of oil is imported from other countries. Pakistan’s import bill for edible oil has reached more than $2.5 billion a year. Such a high import bill for single commodity strongly suggests that there is dire need to increase the local production of edible oil. Looking at the oil content of sunflower, it can be clearly said that this crop has the potential to eliminate the oil crisis from the country.  

The government of Pakistan has yet to take some serious steps for the uplifting to sunflower cultivation across the country. No subsidy has been announced by the government for sunflower cultivation since 2010. Due to the result of this, the country has seen a huge decline in sunflower production. Sunflower cultivation requires considerable investments in inputs, which ultimately increases farmers cost of production. This is where the government has to step in and support farmers with an incentive-based program. For this to happen, the government could curtail its oil import bill to ensure indigenous oilseed production

Only the provincial government of Punjab Pakistan has launched a program this season for farmers under the slogan of "gandum khanay kay liye aur oilseed munfay kay liye" (In English: wheat for consumption and oilseed for income) to attract them towards oilseed crops. It promised a subsidy of Rs. 12350 (equivalent to $87.19 USD) per ha for sunflower cultivation and a price of Rs. 2500 (equivalent to $17.65 USD) per 40 kg in case market prices fall below this benchmark. 

But policymakers in other provinces of Pakistan have yet to take notice of a persistent decline in the province’s sunflower production. Initial reports from coastal areas of Sindh indicates that acreage has dropped during this season as well.  Similar declining trend has been noticed in Baluchistan and KPK (Khyber PakhtunKhwa) also.

On 10th April 2019, Sindh Abadgar Board and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Pakistan LTD jointly conducted a seminar to highlight the issues related to sunflower cultivation and also increase the area under sunflower production in Sindh Pakistan. The seminar was attended by growers, researchers, academicians, and students from different places. It was concluded from the speeches of different guests that many farmers in Sindh province has ended up or reduced sunflower cultivation due to inadequate price and lower yields.

Sunflower can play a key role to reduce the import of edible oil in Pakistan. Minimizing the gap between local production and import can save a lot of money which can be used in the agriculture sector. Such an alarming situation of sunflower in the country is knocking the doors of government, scientists, and youth engaged in agriculture. The government needs to focus on sunflower production and also provide subsidy to promote its cultivation across the country. Moreover, research centers should be established across the country to carry out basic research on sunflower crop. Local markets should be established in order to avoid post-harvest losses in terms of transportation. 

Being a researcher, I will also try to work on the fertilizer requirements of the sunflower crop in order to develop new fertilization recommendations. Scientific professionals working on sunflower should develop new high yielding varieties with fewer input requirements to bring back the lost charm of sunflower crop across the country young professionals working in the field of agriculture should play their part by researching sunflower production to develop new production technologies for sunflower cultivation in the country. 

Youth should also run awareness programs on farmer fields to highlight the value of sunflower crop for oil production and human nutrition. Women who are often neglected in agriculture should be provided equal opportunities to men. Engagement of women in sunflower production can increase labour availability across the country and also will make this sector more productive. 

 

Picture credit: FAO