27/03/2008 (The News- International, Pakistan), Karachi - Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) has started work on a big pilot project to cultivate palm trees in Balochistan to see if Pakistan’s reliance on imported edible oil could be reduced.
The project that involves plantation of palm trees over 12,000 acres of land in District Uthal is very significant since the price of palm oil in the international market has surged to a record high, PODB Project Director Waris Sheikh told The News on Wednesday.
“Local production of edible oil is only 30 per cent of total consumption,” he said. “And most of it is met from cotton, sunflower and canola seeds.” Pakistan’s total consumption of edible oil is three million tonnes and it pays hundreds of millions of dollars annually on import of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia to meet large part of its demand.
The edible oil price more than doubled to Rs140 per kg from Rs62 in January 2007 after the hike in imported cost of palm oil that peaked at $1,400 per tonne against $450 a year back. PODB plans to take up edible oil production from locally-produced seeds to 50 per cent by 2010-2011, Sheikh said, adding palm trees could be planted in Thatta, Badin and Tando Allahyar regions of Sindh and the whole coastal belt in Balochistan.
Though the endeavour to start local plantation of palm trees will take many years, he said, past experience has proved that it is possible if farmers are enticed towards it through monetary incentives.
“Cultivated area under sunflower has increased to 550,000 acres from 43,000 acres in the last five years,” he said, adding that happened after government increased taxes on imported sunflower seeds, increasing demand for local produce.
He said a better support price for domestic sunflower seeds also helped in motivating farmers. The government-fixed support price has been taken up to Rs1,600 per 40kg for current crop against Rs300 that farmers were getting in 2002.
“If similar measures are taken with regard to encouraging cultivation of palm trees then there is no point in not being enthusiastic about the project.” Sh Amjad Rasheed, a former chairman of Pakistan Vanaspati Manufacturers Association (PVMA), said the government should seriously ruminate about cultivating palm trees, especially when its prices were fluctuating continuously in the international market.
However, he said, any initiative towards that end would be futile without participation of the private sector. “The government should provide land to private parties on long-term lease.” He said palm oil seed was preferable over sunflower and canola seed as it was used in making ghee, which is much more popular edible oil product in Pakistan than cooking oil.
The project director of PODB said initially Tenera Hybrid seeds will be imported to cultivate palm plants in the country and subsequently the hybrid will be duplicated through tissue culture techniques.