MAXIMISING sunflower production and its cultivation as an alternate major Rabi crop in Sindh is handicapped due to acute shortage of required technology, quality seed and unfair market price for the crop, farmers complain.

Sunflower is grown on approximately 550,000 to 600,000 acres in the province. Farmers get better returns on it as compared to wheat support prices whose procurement and purchase are cumbersome for farmers to follow.

Usually, per 40kg of sunflower is sold for Rs2000 to Rs2,200 and at times at a rate as high as Rs2,500 to Rs3,000. If growers get 12-15 maunds of sunflower per acre with relatively lesser farm inputs including irrigation water, they feel comfortable. However, they believe that per acre yield can be improved significantly.

Agriculture department’s figures show that 341, 641 tonnes of sunflower production was achieved from 266,964 hectares in 2010. But then production dropped in 2011 the when lower region of Sindh suffered heavy rains and water couldn’t be drained out on time. About 187,379 tons of production was achieved in that year as the crop was sown on 188, 663 hectares.

The provisional figures of 2012 season indicate that crop was grown on 143,631 hectares, and so far 150,140 tonnes of production has been reported. Some officials claim that this year they received complaints about quality of seed and its price that may affect per acre yield.

Being low delta crop the issue of non-availability of water doesn’t make a big difference to sunflower’s sowing and that’s why it is grown as early as October and as late as February. Growers cultivate it under variable soil conditions and residual moisture in farmland. Upper Sindh farmers now prefer sunflower as Rabi crop over wheat.

In lower Sindh, farmers get a better deal since the mills are also in fair number as compared to the upper Sindh districts where they fall prey to middlemen. Sunflower production was promoted as part of relief efforts by the government as well as private sector in the wake of massive floods in Sindh’s districts located on the right bank.

Director General Agriculture department Hidayatullah Chajro’s believes that sunflower is a better option as an alternate crop for farmers in winter season because it requires lesser intake of inputs and improves soil fertility as well. There are some issues related to marketing which need to be tackled, he says. Also, establishment of small oil extraction plants can help farmers sell their crop at a better price.

The crop has the potential to cut imports of edible oil , if the government focuses on its cultivation. A private seed company representative Ghaffar Khanzada believes that sunflower production gained acceptability among farmers after 2010 floods and that was the time it was grown on a larger scale. Vast lands remained under floodwater and farmers started cultivating it as soon as their lands had dried. The climate of Badin and Thatta — located on the coastal strip — is famous for the production of sunflower. Other areas, like Umerkot and Kunri, are also known for its production. Farmers need to be educated about sunflower as being a major crop option.

Growers in Badin, Thatta and Nawabshah and Shikarpur don’t face major problems but those of Jacobabad, Qambar-Shahdadkot and Larkana need guidance, he says.

In upper Sindh farmers are confident that if technology is made available at union council level, sunflower production can increase significantly. In many areas they don’t have oil extraction plant and they have to send their crop to urban centres like Sukkur which makes them vulnerable to exploitation by millers and middlemen.

Farmers claim that they are offered reasonable price of crop on telephone. But when deliveries are made, deductions are made on various grounds like moisture in the crop, denying the seller the quoted rate.

According to Gada Hussain Mahesar, a major rice grower from Larkana, almost 50 per cent of rice growing area can be used for sunflower cultivation but apparently agriculture department is not interested in promoting it. “I have been requesting agriculture officials to hear some of our issues but they don’t have time”, he says and adds that China has introduced mini oil extraction plants that can be installed in every district of Sindh. “The central bank and government will have to facilitate investors to get interest-free loans and relaxation on import duties. Establishment of such plants will enable farmers to sell their crop directly to plant managements instead of taking their crop to other centres”, he argues.

Lower productivity is attributed to technology issues. For instance, seed drill machine is not available in many areas. The machine facilitates growers to use proper fertiliser and ensure proper sowing of seed.

It results in improved per acre production as compared to conventional methods of sowing. Farmers are confident that if the mechanisation issue is resolved, they can get 20 maunds from an acre.

According to Mehmood Nawaz Shah, sunflower cultivation will not threaten wheat production even if the former’s area of cultivation is increased to one million acres.

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