SUNFLOWER is emerging as an important crop for farmers in Sindh offering them better returns than traditional crops.
However, with 90 per cent of the harvesting having been completed, farmers lament that the yield per acre has been lower than last year. The growers attribute the low yield either to seed quality, frost or the standing rainwater in farms.
Sunflower is grown on 0.5-0.6 million acres in the province particularly in the coastal areas.
The Sindh government had given subsidised package of sunflower to farmers in rain-hit areas last year. Besides, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had also provided support for 58,500 acres cultivation in four districts. Being drought-resistant and short-duration crop, sunflower gives yield of around 20 maunds per acre accruing better returns to farmers. Imported hybrid seed provided by a private sector company is mostly used by growers for its cultivation.
Sunflower can be cultivated under variable soil moisture conditions. It is a low-input crop, it doesn’t require much of irrigation water or fertiliser and investment in oil-extraction machinery while diversifying sources of farmers’ income.
“We have tried to create market linkages and have brought some machinery in the field for demonstration before farmers,” says FAO official Kashif Syed. “Such linkages between farmers and oil-extraction factories will be helpful for farmers who regularly grow the crop,” he adds.
The fluctuation in crop production is worrying growers. They say hybrid seed needs particular environment and they need guidance in this regard.
The seed is vulnerable to seasonal variations. The research department of the provincial agriculture department should look into this aspect to help growers. Climatic conditions of the coastal area suits the crop. In lower Sindh region, Golarchi taluka of Badin is known for this crop.
This year’s low per acre yield is attributed to various factors such as delay in sowing, seed quality and frost that hit the crop badly during its flowering in February. Growers say per acre yield remained between 10 and 15 maunds against last year’s average yield of 18-20 maunds. Sunflower is grown between wheat and rice crops. Price of the crop, however, remains stable in market, farmers say.
In lower Sindh region growers consider accumulation of rainwater, mixed with saline water the main reason for low per acre yield, while in upper Sindh farmers like Gada Hussain Mahesar attribute it to problem in seed quality.
According to Dawood Shah Jillani, a noted sunflower producer of Badin, salinity had hit his land which resulted in low per acre yield. “I don’t see any problem in seed as the germination was proper. It is saline water that had accumulated in our lands after rains and had affected the fertility of the soil,” he says.
Farmers say the government should ensure regulatory environment for crop’s marketing and introduce hybrid seed technology.
Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), general secretary, Mehmood Nawaz Shah, says agriculture research department should consider issues facing sunflower cultivation seriously otherwise the growers will be discouraged. “We should find the reason behind vast variation in crop yield per acre ,” he says.
Hybrid seed technology needs to be provided by the public sector. Farmers believe this will lead to a competition with the multi-national companies in respect of seed quality and price. Oil content and different characteristics of seed can be assessed locally. They point out that a private seed supplying company — main provider — had increased cost of seed to Rs997 per kg from Rs667 per kg last year. They demand that government should keep check on such exorbitant hikes.