The government needs to rethink its policies to make the country self-sufficient in quality edible oil production and reduce huge import bills
The federal government has recently reorganised Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) in Ministry of National Food Security & Research (MNFS&R), for the development of oilseed promotion in federal areas only. Established in 1995, PODB has a countrywide infrastructure and pool of experts and technicians, for promotion of oilseed crops, prior to 18th Amendment. It was the only valid authority on this field with effective national and global linkages. Ironically, it was wound up under 18th Amendment in June 2011.
After its devolution, the local area under oilseed cultivation in the country has reduced by more than 75 per cent, resultantly the import has risen from $1.75 billion in 2011 to about $2.75 billion in 2014.The area under Sunflower and Canola crops has dropped below 0.5 million acres this year, although owing to cost and health advantages its cultivation is on the rise globally. Sadly an amount of 1.5 billion rupees that was spent on olive cultivation in KP, Punjab Potohar and Balochistan, during 13 years experimentation and commercialisation processes is destined for total waste of government expenditure.
Each province has its own traditional patterns for agriculture in their policies, where oilseeds did not yet find its well-deserved attention and space. Paradoxically, the federal government imports 75 per cent of edible oil to meet the needs of the provinces. In view of the above situation, restoration of PODB at federal level is a decision in the right direction and it deserves to be facilitated to succeed independently across the country.
During the 1980s, per capita consumption of edible oil was below 5 kg and has now hiked to 14 kg per annum. According to a survey in Peshawar district, 20 per cent ready-to-eat meals and 25 per cent of edible oil is unnecessarily wasted in kitchens and restaurants. This wastage is equal to the quantity that we were producing locally. The post-harvest losses of food grains that reach 20 per cent in some cases is also an issue of grave concern. It means that beside the promotional efforts for oilseed cultivation, a strong and thorough awareness campaign is also needed to reduce the wastage of food grains, besides, meals and edible oil in homes and public places.
The reorganised PODB, apart from skilled professionals, also boasts office buildings, vehicles and some machinery & equipment in the country, specially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including a functional seed processing plant, olive extraction unit and a well-established 200 acres olive valley, that can be further improved with the help of the provincial government.
Ministry of Food Security and Planning Commission can coordinate with provinces in planning and implementation strategies, for the promotion of an important ingredient of food security. There is a dire need to establish provincial and regional coordination offices of PODB in all provinces and a directorate for FATA for the following responsibilities:
1) Coordination with provincial government organisations in policy formulation, collection and sharing of data, future planning, exchange of technical information and sale of farm produce.
2) Plantation of olive’s trees and oilseed crops, on the roadsides of Grand Trunk Roads, highways, motorways, railways tracts, military farms, government lands and wastelands, on scientific lines.
3) Awareness campaigns to reduce wastage of ghee and oils in kitchens and ready-to-eat meals.
4) Preparation and distribution of leaflets, brochures in local languages, focusing on region-to-region information about various oilseed crops and trees and other issues related to food security.
5) Field days, seminars, workshops and publicity campaigns about food security issues in general and edible oil sector in particular.
The federal government, apart from countrywide restoration of PODB, may also consider establishment of "research and development centres for olives in KP and Balochistan, sunflowers and other oilseed crops in Punjab and Sindh" that may carry on advanced research and development on these crops.
It can be done within already available infrastructure developed through huge investments in the sector, and by developing a strong coordination and collaboration with Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC).
The centres should have a clear mandate, power and financial autonomy in its operation and future vision. For example, "The Olive Research Institute Izmir Turkey" is doing a good job for the sector since long. We need to initiate strong and long lasting relationship with the government of Turkey for assistance and to exploit their expertise in all aspects of olive cultivation.
It is hoped the decision-makers will rethink their plans for making the country self-sufficient in quality edible oil production and reducing huge imports that is a burden on our economy.