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New Ideas for Potwar Agriculture         
Shahzada Sohail Ijaz and Shahbaz Ahmad
PhD Scholar at University of Arid Agriculture Rawalpindi
Prof. and Dean Faculty of Food and Crop Sciences, University of Arid Agriculture Rawalpindi

Agriculture in Potwar area of Pakistan is totally dependent upon rainwater. The insufficient amount combined with uneven distribution of rainfall increases the risk involved in crop production. That is why farmers usually prefer only one crop in the whole year. Water scarcity coupled with land fragmentation has lowered the income of the farmers to such an extent that the farmers of the area consider it a part time business only. Keeping in view the scenario it is highly desirable to look at the Potwar agriculture from entirely a new point of view.

New Ideas for Potwar AgriculturePakistan has to meet 70 percent of its ever-increasing edible oil demand by spending billions of rupees on its import. A huge amount in foreign exchange is spent every year for the import of edible oil. It was Rs 0.135 billion in 1970-71, which reached Rs 40.53 billion in 1998-99. During 1999-00 the import bill decreased to Rs 21.40 billion and in 2000-01 to Rs 19.04 billion but again rose to Rs 39.28 billion in 2002-03. This indicates that during last eleven years bill increased due to increased per capita consumption, increase in prices of edible oil, higher inflation rate and increase in population.

The Potwar area has great potential to lower down this import load of the country. Just like rice and cotton zones the Potwar area can be dealt as edible oil zone. There is a big contingent of oil seed crops that have proved to be promising in Potwar area including rapeseed and mustard, groundnut, sunflower, sesame and olive.

Rapeseed and mustard have been grown for oil production for years, however their oil was not fit for human consumption because of its pungent smell and bitter taste due to presence of toxic compound called erucic acid. Recently, cultivars named canola have been evolved whose oil is fit for cooking and human consumption. Rapeseed-mustard are unfortunate in the sense that these have direct competition with wheat, as both are grown in same season. Farmers prefer to grow wheat, as it is a staple food and subsistence crop. Rapeseed monoculture on large blocks of 5 to 10 acres is rare. It is now diverging mostly into intercrop with winter fodders and wheat and catch crop in “Zaid Kharif” season. Assuming no change in production incentives, it is logical to expect a further decrease in area even years to come.

Groundnut or peanut is an important oilseed crop of the dry farming system. Groundnut oil is edible and serves as excellent cooking oil. The nuts (un-shelled) have 33% oil. It is free of toxic compounds and contains no linolenic acid which causes oxidative rancidity (off- flavor) in other vegetable oils. Groundnut requires light soils, which is necessary for the penetration of the flower pegs into the soil for pod formation. Light soils also offer easy digging and minimum harvest losses. Due to this specific requirement, its cultivation remained confined to sandy and light soils, which are abundant in Rawalpindi division.

Sunflower seed contains 25-32% oil. It was introduced in Pakistan during the early sixties as an oil crop. Its expansion remained restricted due to the absence of systematic follow up and adequate market mechanism. The sunflower was grown on maximum area of 144,190 hectares, during 1998-99, with 194,540 tons production. During 2002-03, it was grown on an area of 107,720 hectares producing 128,530 tons seed. Sunflower oil is comparable to olive oil. It is rich in linoleic acid, the essential fatty acid. Hence it is valuable cooking oil. It can be successfully grown in summer –fallow lands.

Safflower is a low moisture-loving crop and therefore, can do better in rainfed areas and on residual moisture. It has deep roots and can meet its water requirements from zones as deep as 2 to 3 meters. Because of the same reason, it can help reclaim soils with high water table. However, the spiny nature and long maturing period of the crop, subdue its promotion and acceptance even in the presence of such strong advantages. Mechanization in the harvest or production of new spineless varieties can help to overcome this constraint.

Sesame is one of the most ancient oilseed crop grown in the Indo-Pak sub-continent. It requires more heat and light but is sensitive to low temperature. Its seed contain 45 to 55 % oil. The oil is of good quality, odourless and not liable to become rancid due to the presence of sesamolin in the oil, which on hydrolysis yields a powerful antioxidant sesamol. The most attractive trait in sesame is its very short duration, besides its tolerance to marginal lands. Therefore, it has large scope for expansion in rainfed areas.

Olive is a popular oil crop of the world. The tree bears fruits, which contain edible oil. It is well known cooking oil. The domesticated varieties of olive can be planted successfully in the Potwar area.

Although some of the oilseed crops are already grown in the area but most of them have failed to compete with the common cereal and cash crops for lack of market. Farmer is wise enough to choose the crop, which fetches him more income. All efforts to proliferate oilseed crops will go in vain until farmers find excellent market of their produce. The best market opportunities in this regard can be provided by installation of oil expeller in the area. The success stories can be seen in case of sugar mills. Where there is a sugar mill, farmers prefer to grow sugarcane. The same has been observed in the areas where corn-processing unit has been established; the farmers have started growing more and more corn. Moreover factories themselves ensure the production of the desired crop by providing incentives to the growers so that they do not fall short of raw material.

Thus the need of the hour is to install oil expellers and processing units for brassica, groundnut, sesame, sunflower, and olive in the Potwar area. The ease in market will play a key role in dramatic boost up of the oilseed production in the area. The farmers will prefer to grow oilseed crops. This will help the farmers to make more money out of their lands, and the country will be able to save a huge amount of foreign exchange by lowering down the edible oil import bill. So just like rice and cotton zones Potwar area needs to be dealt as an edible oil zone.

Shahzada Sohail Ijaz is a permanent contributor to;

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