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New onion varieties developed in Lower Dir

New onion varieties developed in Lower Dir

SOME new varieties of onion have been developed and introduced in remote parts of northern areas with the support of a foreign development agency under a project aimed at making local farmers self-sufficient in crop production. And it is being described as a big achievement.

The Livelihood Project Hindukash (LPH) launched in Talash Valley of Lower Dir by a Swiss development agency is a public-private partnership between a global onion seed company and a local farmers group called Onion Interest Group (OIG) growing basic category onion bulbs in the valley.

A feasibility study in 2011 described the valley as the most suitable for growing quality onion and bulb production.Major winter cash crops contribute about 30pc share to the income of farmers in the valley. Wheat, maize, tomato and onion are the main crops grown on about 400 acres of agricultural land.The Swiss company Inter-Cooperation, it is stated, is mobilising resources, and boosting value chains in selected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata with the financial support of the Swiss government.

In Khyber Pakhtunkwa, onion is grown as a winter crop which meets 50pc demand of consumers in the province. During 2014-15, total production of onions was 18,174,000 tonnes of which 41pc came from Sindh, 29pc from Balochistan and 20pc from Punjab. However, of late Punjab has taken measures to expand area of cultivation. From 286,000 tonnes in 2010, Punjab’s onion output shot up to 359,000 tonnes in 2014.

Onion in Punjab is mainly produced in southern areas such as Vehari, D. G. Khan, Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan districts. Nawabshah, Shikarpur, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and Hyderabad are main producing districts in Sindh. Similarly Swat and Dir in KP and Mastung, Kalat and Chagai in Balochistan are main onion producing districts.

The total world production of onion in 2014-15 was about 86.34m tonnes and Pakistan occupied 8th position with 2.25pc share. Leading producing countries are China (28.68pc), India (18.45pc) and the US (3.89pc). However, more than 90pc of onion is often consumed within the countries of production. The top 10 onion importing countries are Malaysia, Russia, the US, Japan, UK and Saudi Arabia.

Experts from Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department say that onion grown as a winter crop fulfills 50pc demand of consumers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, they say, a 30pc increase in the yield is possible if certified onion seed is used. But acquiring such seed is problematic for both the public and private sectors. They say only 2pc of certified seed is produced in the country and the shortfall is made up through imports mostly from India.

And it is interesting to note that India, although one of the leading exporters itself, is a regular importer of Pakistani onion whenever there is a shortage of the essential kitchen item. In an editorial captioned ‘Onion Diplomacy’ on Aug 23, 2013, the Wall Street Journal observed “Tensions between India and Pakistan may be running high over border clashes in Kashmir, but a crippling shortage of onions in India has now forced New Delhi to turn to Islamabad for help, though not everyone’s happy about going cap-in-hand to the neighbouring country.”

In 2015, some 10 trucks loaded with onions have been crossing the Wagah border daily. Each truck carries some 15-20 tonnes of the vegetable. Onions from Balochistan are now mostly available in the market nationwide. Pakistan is despatching hundreds of tonnes of onions every week to the UAE, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In 2012, the LPH project developed SWAT-1 variety of onion and also successfully produced certified onion seed. A batch of 80 farmers was trained in producing, storing and marketing the seed. Since then, more farmers, even those engaged in producing wheat, have shifted to onion seed production in the valley due to better margin. The basic onion bulbs produced under the LPH project in several locations of Punjab, Sindh and KP are transported to Chitral for certified onion seed production as its dry temperate climate suits the production and minimises risks of viral and fungal diseases.

In October 2014, the LPH arranged a trial of four pre-basic onion varieties to test against fungal diseases, yield and quality bulb. At least, 14 farmers of the OIG agreed to use their land for the trial. Two varieties — Amazone and Mustang — were found to be giving high yield as compared to SWAT-1.

After successful trial results in October 2015, the global seed company, MKS, formally entered into public-private partnership agreement with the OIG in Talash Valley to initially produce basic onion bulbs on 5.5 acres. As per agreement, MKS will provide quality inputs to 14 members of the OIG and guarantees buyback of the whole production.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, March 14th, 2016

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