Experts say boosting production massively may benefits farmers and substitute edible oil imports
Farming of sunflower, a crop mainly cultivated to produce edible oil, is gaining popularity across the country as farmers see higher yields and profits at affordable costs.
The increased demand of sunflower oil due to its health benefits have also attracted the growers.
Massive production boost of the vegetable oil may substitute the country’s edible oil imports and save public health as well, experts said.
“Sunflower oil is considered healthier than other types of edible oil. It does not contain the harmful substances like cholesterol which other oil contain,” said AFM Jamal Uddin, professor at the Horticulture Department of the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.
“On the other hand, our most consumed soybean oil is genetically modified organism (GMO), which in the long run is harmful for the liver, while mustard oil contains erucic acid and causes heart and lung problems,” he informed, adding that sunflower oil was comparatively safe.
Mentioning that the crop was climate-friendly, he also said the farmers could make good profits cultivating sunflower.
“If we can boost its production in huge quantities, it can help us reduce import dependency as the country heavily depends on edible oil import,” the professor said.
For production increase, further research works need to be conducted, he added.
Smile on farmers’ faces
Mohammad Mahmud, from Khajurtola of Barguna, harvested 10 maund of sunflower seeds and earned Tk17,000.
His initial investment was only Tk2,000.
“I was not confident about profit, especially in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic but within two months I made good profit,” he expressed his satisfaction, adding that the profit doubled than that of other crops like Boro, soybean or mastered.
Farmers from other parts of the country also said the same, adding that the crop was easy to cultivate and higher yielding.
“Each wheel of sunflower contains about 1300 seeds but this year we got 2000 seeds. This is called bumper yield,” said Monirul Islam, a farmer from Bhola.
Around 18-20 liter of oil could be obtained from one maund of seeds, he said, adding that they sold oil at Tk260 per liter and seeds Tk1,600-1,800 per maund.
Monirul said they were used to earn around Tk500-600 only for each maund other crops like aus paddy.
To make more profit, farmers from different parts of the country, especially from the Barishal, Lakshmiur, Bhola, Noakhali regions, started farming the sunflower simultaneously with other crops.
Potential of sunflower oil
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the country has a demand of 51.27 lakh tons edible oils including soybean, mustard and other varieties every year whereas majority portion, 46.21 lakh tons, come from imports which costs the country’s $3.20 billion approximately.
Simultaneously with other edible oil, the import of sunflower oil was gradually increasing. It comes from Italy, Malaysia, Ukraine, Turkey, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Russia.
Experts repeatedly said that the country could produce its needed amount of sunflower oil, for which the government should encourage people widely in farming the seeds..
AFM Jamal Uddin believes that people are now being conscious about their health, especially during the age of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the demand for sunflower oil would increase rapidly.
Other uses of the crop
The farmers said the oil crop cultivation was suitable for all salt-affected soils for all seasons. It could be harvested within 90–110 days, they informed.
Besides, it needs fewer fertilizers.
According to the Agriculture Information Service (AIS), the sunflower wastage khail can be used as fish and domestic animal food, tree for fuel.
Besides, farmers simultaneously cultivate honey in sunflower fields. No part of the sunflower can be thrown away.
Project to promote the farming
Government funded financial institution the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) in association with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and several other non-government organizations were promoting the sunflower farming under the project Agricultural Commercialization and Enterprises (PACE).
With this initiative 750 farmers received training, technological and financial support. This year they grew sunflowers in 100 acres of land amid the pandemic.
Value Chain Project Manager of PKSF Masum Sarker said they already observed a good response among the farmers.
More farmers are coming to cultivate sunflower day by day, he added, saying that more funding to develop farmers’ skills on sunflower farming was needed.
Project Coordinator of PACE Dr Akond Md Rafiqul Islam informed that his project made a linkage with an online shop https://organiconline.com.bd/ where farmers can easily sell their produced sunflower oil.
Besides, several companies also showed their interest to buy seeds directly from the farmers, he added.
PACE’s Rafiqul Islam said the challenge was to make consumers aware of the nutrition and health value of the vegetable oil.
It would take time, he said.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit Dr. Agnes Kalibata emphasized on an effective supply chain system and said only huge production could not help farmers to get good prices.
She suggested a channel like middlemen or suppliers who understand the needs of the market for eradicating the challenges of farmers in selling their produced goods.
“Through the middle platform the farmer can go to an international market place, and we can ensure that farmers get paid their actual price,” she added.