Pakistan sees‘all-time high’ sesame exports amid market challenges

By Shahid Shah
May 30, 2024
Sesame seeds are being crushed in a bowl. — Unsplash

KARACHI: Pakistan’s sesame seeds, renowned for their sweet taste and high oil content, have emerged as one of the fastest-growing export commodities in recent years, The News has learnt.


Sesame seed is predominantly produced in Punjab and Sindh, and its exports have reached a new milestone, soaring by an all-time high of 115 per cent and amounting to $392.43 million, according to an exporter. This comes with a 38 per cent increase in quantity during the first 10 months of FY24 compared to the same period last year.

However, the surge in exports has also led to significant challenges in the domestic market. Sesame seed, being a seasonal minor crop, has seen a substantial price hike domestically, making Pakistan less competitive in major markets such as China during the off-season.

Between January and March 2024, China imported sesame seeds worth over $10.37 million, with Pakistan exporting 6,137.044 tons during this period.Prices in the international market for sesame seed have dropped sharply from $2,400 per ton to $1,500 per ton, causing a decline in Pakistan’s month-on-month exports. This price crash, coupled with illegal border trade smuggling to Iran and Afghanistan, has exacerbated the situation.

Smugglers purchasing sesame seed from the open market have driven up demand and local prices, without repatriating the much-needed dollars back into the country.Due to a decreased demand from China and other markets, domestic prices are now falling as hoarders release their stocks. Currently, domestic prices are around Rs16,000 per 40 kgs and are expected to decrease further with the upcoming harvest in August, which promises a good yield.

“We are offering sesame seed at $1,550 per ton, but our bulk buyers are waiting for the new crop,” says Shamsul Islam Khan, a leading exporter and commodities expert. In April 2024, Pakistan exported 4,226 metric tons of sesame seed valued at $5.361 million, compared to 4,715 metric tons worth $6.158 million in March 2024. This represents a month-on-month decline of 10.36 per cent in quantity and 12.94 per cent in value. Year-on-year comparisons show a drastic drop of 75.83 per cent in quantity and 64.87 per cent in value, as April 2023 saw the exports of 17,490 metric tons valued at $15.258 million. The focus of Pakistani exporters on a limited number of destinations, coupled with a lack of investment in value-added products, has further hindered growth. Pakistan has significant potential to increase its sesame seed exports if the government adopts more open and supportive policies, per Khan.

The Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of National Food Security & Research need to modernize their approaches to enhance the export trajectory. According to Khan, CEO of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) Zubair Motiwala has been instrumental in driving export growth, especially in agricultural products.

Under his leadership, TDAP has organized initiatives such as the FoodAG event in August 2023 and a trade delegation to China, the world’s largest sesame seed importer. These efforts aim to boost exports and leverage Pakistan’s sea freight advantage over European markets.