05/11/2007 (The International News) - Despite efforts to meet bulk of edible oil requirements from indigenous sources, Pakistan’s dependence upon imported edible oils is constantly rising, registering a record increase of 200,000 tons during the last financial year, when the country imported1.8 million tons of edible oils from the earlier average of 1.6 million tons per year.
Meanwhile, the annual consumption of edible oil has also increased to three million tons, while the quantity of edible oil obtained from seeds produced indigenously has decreased when considered in the context of the country’s overall imports.
Pakistan used to meet some 30 per cent of its edible oil requirements from oil seeds produced locally and the rest – 70 per cent, from imports. However, the ratio of edible oil extracted from seeds produced locally has now declined to 25 per cent of Pakistan’s total demand as a result of 7.7 per cent annual increase in edible oil consumption in the due to population growth and increase in per capita consumption. At about 14 – 15 kilograms per capita, the consumption of edible oil in Pakistan is much higher as compared to Europe’s average of three kilograms.
Pakistan has been extracting 600,000 tons of edible oil from cotton seeds, but the ratio of edible oil extracted from this source has reportedly declined and it is estimated that this year the country would get some 500,000 tons edible oil from cotton seeds.
Of late, the government has been mulling steps to meet bulk of the country’s ever-growing demand for edible oils from the local sources. To achieve this goal, the government has decided to increase the area under sunflower cultivation by 10 per cent this year (2007-08) by growing the crop over 1.1 million acres against one million acres last year to produce 223,000 tons of edible oil
Over the years, the cultivation of sunflower has emerged as a popular cash crop and the area under it has increased by more than 500 per cent, during the last seven years, because of its profitability vis-à-vis other competing crops. Besides, this crop needs little water while its harvesting time is also short.
The private sector has also announced to purchase sunflower seeds at Rs1200 per 40 kilogram this year against Rs900 per 40 kilogram last year. Apparently, the 33 per cent increase in the purchase price of sunflower seeds is a considerable incentive to the farmers to bring more area under sunflower cultivation. However, market compulsions seem to have forced the local oil producing companies to announce the increase due to international price of the crop, which is currently hovering around $700 per ton in the international market.
In addition to cotton and sunflower seeds, other primary sources of vegetable oils are: coconut, corn, oilpalm, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and rapeseed; while almond, poppy seed, pumpkin, sesame and walnut seeds are used as oil sources in seasoning or salad dressing. In Pakistan, edible oil is mainly obtained from cottonseed, canola/rapeseed, sunflower and imported soybean.
With temperatures ranging between 24 to 35 degrees centigrade, the coastal zones of Sindh and Balochistan, according to Coastal Development Authority, are best suited for oilpalm cultivation at places where fresh water is available for irrigation.
Over 500,000 acres of land have been identified to be “well-suited” for massive plantation of oilpalm along Pakistan’s coastal zones. Some 300,000 acres of land identified suitable for oilpalm cultivation lies in Sindh, while 200,000 acres are in Balochistan. The potential areas suitable for oilpalm plantation are Matli, Tando Muhammad Khan, Nindo Shah, Tando Bago, Kunri, Umerkot, Digri, Jhudo, Jamesabad, Tando Allahyar, Tandojam, Mirpurkhas, Khipro, Hala, Talhar, Keti Bandar, Chohar Jamali, Thatta and Ghulamullah in Sindh province and Hub, Somiani, Vinder, Pasni and Gwadar in Balochistan.
Oilpalm is a cash crop of great economic importance, which provides food, fibre and oil. Each hectare under oilpalm yields ten times more oil than most other oil crops and income far exceeds expenditure when both inter-cropping and oilpalm plantation is done simultaneously.
During the seven to eight year period required for the maturity of the oilpalm tree, income can be generated through inter-cropping of banana, papaya, fodder and vegetables between two rows of plants.
In addition to foreign exchange savings, other likely socio-economic benefits for oilpalm plantation are self-sufficiency in edible oils or at least moving in that direction, increase in industrialisation and income of growers, round-the-year utilisation of rural manpower, environmental upgradation and, above all, poverty reduction.
However, this would require sustained efforts, in particular for creating awareness among growers, establishment of oilpalm nurseries and estates, setting-up of oil extraction factories and provision of technical know-how in addition to easy availability of loans to the growers during the gestation period.
Plantation of oilpalm, on experimental basis, was initiated in Pakistan’s coastal region in the late 70s when seed imported from Sri Lank, Indonesia and Malaysia was planted there. The success of the results led the government to motivate the farmers to undertake plantation of oilpalm, which is a primary source for vegetable oil and is mainly used in cooking and making margarine, confectionery, non-dairy products and soap. The byproducts of the plant are used in manufacturing rugs, ropes, coconut Jharos (brooms) etc.
Rich returns have attracted farmers, both in Sindh and Balochistan, to the cultivation of the plant. In addition to a public sector 360 acre farm in Sindh, oilpalm has already been planted over 2,200 acres in the private sector in both the provinces.
Oilpalm is a perennial crop that has an economic life span of about 30 years. It needs fresh water for irrigation and grows to a height of 30 metre (100 feet). It is a unique crop in that all of its parts can be used. Its fruits yield two types of oils, palm oil from the mescarp and palm kernel oil from the seed or kernel both of which have different physical and chemical properties. Besides the fruit itself, the terminal bud, called the palm cabbage, and young stems are edible and in some areas considered a delicacy. It also holds tremendous business opportunities in the value added downstream oleochemical industry. Generally, palm oil mills use fibre and shell as fuel to generate steam and electricity to meet their energy demands. Palm-based fibrous materials are suitable for the manufacture of a broad range of products, including medium density fibreboard, pulp and paper, furniture, cushions and mattresses.
As some 75 per cent of the total requirement for Vanaspati ghee is now being met from palm oil imports, whose prices in the international market are constantly rising, the country needs to re-double its efforts for meeting bulk of its edible oil requirements from the local sources otherwise the edible oil import bill may soon cross one billion US dollars.