Friday September 29, 2023

Hopes of better profits push farmers to kalonji, ajwain crops

February 22, 2022

HYDERABAD: Despite high input costs, small-scale farmers in parts of Kunri, Kaloi, Naokot, Jhudo and other parts of Sindh prefer cultivating traditional crops like kalonji (Nigella sativa), isabgol and ajwain (bishap’s weed) in hopes of earning higher profits.

Kalonji is considered a lucrative conventional crop, which many farmers cultivate fondly despite challenges of water scarcity and increasing cost of inputs. Kalonji price in the domestic market ranges from Rs20,000—22,000/maund this year. Sometimes the rate go beyond the expectation of farmers due to its growing demand. The harvest will start in March, reports reaching here said.

Some leading farmers in Kaloi, Tharparkar district have also taken the initiative to revive the tradition set by their forefathers long ago to spare small pieces of land for this conventional crop. They are hopeful of getting an average yield of 15—18 maund/acre.

Kalonji cultivation coincides with wheat season, starting from October and November in advanced areas – mainly the southern parts of the province. The farmers use around three-four kilograms of seed for one acre. This year kalonji seed cost was Rs500-600/kg (Rs20,000-25000/maund).

According to farmers, per acre yield depends on the situation of water availability, fertiliser, soil fertility and weather. Normally, farmers get at least 12-15 maund/acre. Last year farmers sold the produce at reasonable rates of Rs25,000-26,000/maund, which inspired many other neighbouring farmers to follow suit.

Kalonji is a known flower crop, which is sensitive in terms of water shortage as well as weather changes. This crop requires water weekly or fortnightly with three bags fertiliser, weed management and care. In case of water shortage, the plant may lose flowers in 15 days, which results in low yield.

For many farmers in tail-end areas like Kaloi and Naokot water arrived late in the watercourses in a timely manner, which affected traditional cultivation methods.

Farmers here in southern parts of Sindh, mostly Mirpurkhas division, seem aware and have built makeshift ponds. Each pond has capacity to store water for four-acre land to save the crop. This water can be used for irrigation when needed via diesel or solar-powered generators.

Those farmers who do not have access to such water storage facilities, cannot get proper yield. Farmers in village Jumo Lakho, Tando Muhammad Khan said as they have cultivated kalonji, isabgol and ajwain with hopes of earning more profit.

Kalonji has medicinal value, and people have been advised to use its seeds to strengthen their immune system since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged. Besides this, it carries herbal properties, which help cure many health problems.

Farmers said that due to increasing input cost, they wanted to cultivate short-period crops, which neither needed more water nor chemical input. That was why most farmers have spared small pieces of land this year for kalonji.

However, they lamented lack of support from the government in cultivating these conventional crops, which were not only beneficial domestically, but could also help the country earn foreign exchange via exports.

After harvesting farmers follow the traditional practice to avoid loss, as the seed is thin and scatters instantly in the direction of wind. Kalonji product will come to the market at the end of March and farmers expect to earn around Rs250,000-300,000 or more/acre. About input cost, the farmers feel it was easy to buy three-four bags of fertiliser because of increasing rates.