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 Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani
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 Brecorder - Pakistan
 Chronic problem of edible oil shortage

(May 17 2003) : It is an undisputed fact that Pakistan has been confrontedwith the problem of short production of edible oils since Independence. Asa result, the country has to import them in large volumes at the expenseof the hard-earned foreign exchange year after year.

Efforts made in the past and at present being half-hearted andill-thought-out could not make any effective impact on improving thesituation. On the contrary, it is going from bad to worse.

In this regard it is considered opportune to refer to the ambitious claimmade in 1998-end by the then Food and Agriculture Minister (FAM), forwiping out the deficit of edible oil within a short span of five years bybringing about increase in the production of sunflower and conola seeds.

Since then, more than seven years have elapsed. How far this claim hasturned out true needs no elucidation.

Strangely enough, instead of wiping out the shortage of edible oil throughincrease in the production of non-traditional oilseeds, the deficit hasincreased manifold.

As a matter of fact, the pace of increase in the output of non-traditionaloilseeds has not been encouraging at all. Their annual production, despitegiving various incentives has not been appreciable.

Wasn't it an ambitious plan to turn out into reality? Not only, no moreidealistic, FAM's utopian thinking was more ridiculous when in the samebreath, he uttered that after implementing the then Prime Minister'sscheme of planting palm oil and coconut trees in the coastal belt, thecountry would not only be able to achieve self-sufficiency in edible oilbut would also be able to export it.

If it was just a case of political expediency well and good? But if, inreality, it was a viable project based on facts and figures, the nationwould have very much liked to know its details with all its economicimplications.

However, by analysing the edible oil situation now obtaining at present,it is revealed that attaining self-sufficiency in this commodity is not aneasy job.

The main traditional sources of obtaining edible oil in Pakistan arerapeseed (mustard) and cottonseed.

While the rapeseed oil is used as such and also with little processingoccasionally to do away with its unpleasant odour/smell, the cottonseedoil is mechanically transformed into vanaspati ghee and being in greatdemand, is a popular cooking medium.

The domestic output of both rapeseed/mustard and cottonseed is far shortof country's requirements. Thus, huge quantities of edible oil has to beimported from abroad by footing an enormous bill in foreign exchange tomeet the deficit.

It is disheartening that no serious effort has ever been made to improvethe situation either through price incentives or adoption of modernproduction technologies.

Production figures of rapeseed/mustard and cotton seed for the last fiveyears provided in the table below would bear testimony.

========================================Annual production of main oil seeds(in '000' tonnes)========================================Year rapeseed/mustard cottonseed========================================1996-97 286 30001997-98 292 29991998-99 279 29891999-2000 297 38232000-2001 273 3649========================================Source: Ministry of Food and Agriculture (GOP).

The fact of the matter is that ignoring the necessary steps nothingconcrete has ever been done to arrest the declining trend of production ofthis important commodity.

On the other hand, some concerned agencies have been endeavouring toincrease the production of non-traditional oilseeds like sunflower,soyabean and conola.

But, how the present or future production, being a drop in the ocean cancontribute substantially towards the required supplies in the foreseeablefuture.

To be specific the annual production of sunflower during the last fewyears, despite all-out effort, ranged between 30,000 and 35,000 thousandtonnes and that of soyabean and sunflower has amounted to 1.3 thousandtonnes and 0.5 thousand tonnes respectively.

One, therefore, wonders if the increase in the production ofnon-traditional oilseeds as was claimed by the FAM could have improved thesituation in a 5-year span of time.

Oilseeds production is difficult to increase unless a significant changein official policies pertaining to production and consumer prices iseffected.

It is, therefore, essential that like other import substitution measuresproduction of oilseeds and processing of cottonseeds into vegetable gheeis given adequate protection in order to foil the outflow of large amountof foreign exchange with relatively low price of oil abroad andlow-administered vegetable ghee retail prices within the country.

There seems little incentive for the industry to promote with relativelyhigh cost of oilseeds production.

Therefore, there is need to raise the prices of domestic oilseeds as wellas those of vegetable ghee for consumers to have the desired result.

As a long-term process it is worthwhile to suggest that high-yieldingvarieties of oilseeds may be found out through adequate research by PARC(Pakistan Agricultural Research Council) which with necessary expertiseand financial resources has not yet made any happy impact on the country'sagricultural development.