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January 24, 2021

As sun sets on sunflower, mustard lights up farmers’ hopes


January 24, 2021

HYDERABAD: Farmers in lower Sindh, particularly Umerkot, parts of Tharparkar, Sujawal, Thatta, and Badin districts have switched their priorities from cultivating sunflower to rapeseed-mustard this year, considering it a better option to earn a living.

Sharing their experiences, small-scale farmers said due to the declining average product of sunflower they were more and more inclined towards cultivating rapeseed-mustard.

For example, previously they used to get 20 to 30 maunds (40kg) of sunflower per acre, but now the yield has dropped to only 15maunds/acre or less. In some areas farmers could not get more than two—three maund per acre.

That is why they have changed their mindset to cultivate mustard, which does not require too much water or chemical input. Some farmers pin the low yield on locally-sold substandard seeds that have a low germination rate.

The price of sunflower in the local market ranges from Rs2,200 to Rs2,800/maund. About the rapeseed-mustard, farmers believe that since they do not have to invest on anything except seeds they can earn more from this crop. The price of mustard seed is Rs4000-5000/maund.

Gulab Shah, a farmer in coastal area of Keti Bunder, Thatta district, said in the past farmers in many areas used to cultivate sunflower, which once had a very good market for a long time; however, after sometime the yield started declining because of the bad seeds.

“This year the scene has changed altogether as farmers have cultivated mustard in a wide area instead of sunflower,” Shah said. Sadiq Khaskheli, a small farmer in Kaloi area of Tharparkar district, said people in flood-hit area got an advantage to sow mustard and isabgol (Psyllium husk) after the water receded in their area.

“Now their hopes were high for a bumper mustard and isabgol crops. These crops do not need more water, fertilizers, or pesticides at any stage from sowing to harvesting,” Khaskheli said. He said many farmers did not even wait even for ploughing the land and sowed mustard hurriedly in muddy fields as soon as the floodwater started receding.

“Presently it (mustard) is the bumper crop in the flood-affected area near Kunri and parts of other districts. Kunri itself is one of the main markets for rapeseed-mustard seed.

There is a mustard oil mill, which supplies fine quality oil to a wide area,” he added. Reports gathered from farmers of coastal districts of Thatta, Sujawal and Badin showed lands that were once under sunflower were now covered in mustard fields.

Noor Muhammad Thahimor, a community activist of Jati, Sujawal district, said farmers might not be able tell the debased sunflower seeds from the good ones, which was why the yield was declining.

“There are three varieties of sunflower seeds in the market but due to negligence at the part of government authorities certain seed dealers provide adulterated seeds, which have disappointed farmers,” Thahimor said.

Allah Wadhayo Gandahi, a researcher, teaching soil science at Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam said previously Golarchi area of Badin district itself used to cultivate sunflower on 300,000 acres of land, which this year had probably more than halved.

The sunflower grows in rice producing area in Sindh province where farmers cultivate it after harvesting of rice, Gandahi said adding the unavailability of certified seeds had created problem for farmers who were forced to by substandard seeds.

He said this simply jacked the cost of input without much output; therefore, disappointed farmers opted for alternatives like mustard and vegetable crops to utilise their lands. “Some farmers have also replaced sunflowers with tomato and other vegetables, which previously were not being produced there,” Gandahi said.

Reports show that after cotton, rapeseed-mustard is the second most important source of oil in Pakistan. Farmers have been cultivating this traditional oilseed crop in the sub-continent for centuries.

In Pakistan it is cultivated over an area of 307,000 hectares with annual production of 233,000 tons, and contributes about 17 percent to the domestic production of edible oil.

Nawabshah district is considered the hub of mustard production where farmers continued cultivating mustard to keep the tradition, set by their ancestors, alive. Akram Khaskheli from Hari Welfare Association in Nawabshah said his family had been cultivating rapeseed-mustard on a small piece of land for a long time. “Some farmers cultivate this crop to rehabilitate saline land,” he said.

Khaskheli said rural people also loved to consume rapeseed-mustard leaves (sarsoon ka saag), considering it nutrient-rich food stuff. “That is why before harvesting, farmers sell those green leaves as vegetables at local markets,” he said.