People love having roasted peanuts ducking in their blankets during chilly winters but this year, that delight might come with a higher cost as one of the least-known cash crops got hit with a hike in the cost of production and a climate cycle not favoring the production zones.
Peanuts, also known as groundnut, is a cash crop and while it might come as news for some in big cities, its margins are not less if not higher than that of sugarcane, potatoes or corn. In fact, there is no single crop that offers similar returns in rainfed regions of Pothohar and surprisingly. But why are we talking about peanuts and what potential they can possibly have? Short answer? Huge.
Originating from regions in South America, from present-day Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, peanuts have come a long way in distance and contribution to global food security and economic output. It has a global market of nearly $87 billion and is projected to reach $107 billion by 2030. China, India, Nigeria, the United States, Indonesia, Argentina, Senegal and Brazil lead global peanut production, with China being the top producer.
China and India also dominate consumption and exports, contributing to over 36 percent of global peanut demand. Rising export opportunities in Southeast Asia and Europe, coupled with the growing preference for ready-to-eat nut-based snacks, and rising demand for peanut oil in the medicinal and personal care sector protein-rich foods, are the factors expected to boost the peanut market.
It’s primarily a leguminous crop means it’s root nodules can fix atmospheric nitrogen for it and has deeper roots to fetch water requiring far less water than its more intensive peers i.e. sugarcane, corn and rice. It also fixes nearly 80 percent requirements of nitrogen on its own from atmosphere, posing a huge benefit under current circumstances.
It can grow and adapt to a range of soils from sandy, sandy loam to light loam having 7-8 pH as long as the land is soft enough for the roots to penetrate deeper because that can affect pod size & colour and harm production. Simply saying, any soil inherently great for rice may not be a good option for growing peanuts and it has a lot more to offer.
Pakistan’s peanut production stood at 144,000 tons during 2021-22 from an area of 0.37 million acres and has shown a massive growth of 68 percent during the last five years primarily due to an increase in area and farmers divesting towards high-return crops amid challenging economic outlook.
Punjab alone accounts for nearly 95 percent of the national production followed by 4 percent from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one percent from Sindh. In Punjab, nearly all of the production is concentrated around eight districts of Rawalpindi and Sargodha divisions where ample rainfed conditions and limited irrigation resources have driven it’s adoption. Although this year crop production is likely to be affected by rising temperatures and evolving rainfall patterns.
Weather conditions were favourable during the early months of the year but the groundnut has experienced serious stress during the filling stage this year due to the rise in temperature and decline in rains which can affect this year’s production”, stated Manzoor Hussain, Senior Scientist and Incharge Ground Nut Research Station Attock while talking to ProPakistani
But he also added that the farmers cultivated their drought-resistant varieties and followed the production technology in letter and spirit, and their crops are still healthy.
Peanut As An Oil Seed Crop:
You must be surprised but Pakistan has a $8 billion food import bill and more than half of it, nearly $4.5 billion is spent on edible oil imports. Now before you go into the debate of how and why Pakistan is an agricultural country, how we ended up here and why we don’t drill down some ‘common sense’ in our policy-making circles, let’s talk some peanuts.
Peanuts have a 40-50 percent high oleic mix, rich in unsaturated fatty acids, making them not only more storable but also lowering blood lipids. The government has been trying for decades to convince farmers to grow more canola and other Rabi oilseed crops. It even subsidized the inputs but the problem is those policies clash with the wheat support system so we need to get that straight and choose an avenue to yield some actual results.
Peanuts on the other hand are something that farmers already know and have been growing for decades and they just need proper motivation and the right regulatory support so they can contribute towards reducing Pakistan’s edible oil imports. There is no way we are moving forward without saving those dollars and putting them to some more productive use and development.
Pakistan is cooperating with China’s Shandong Rainbow Agriculture Institute on introducing cultivars with 75-80 percent oleic acid content and raising productivity. China is a great example to follow as it generates a nearly third (32 percent) of its edible oil needs from peanuts but these efforts need to be expedited at a mass scale on a priority basis as it’s without a doubt, one of the biggest economic challenges.
Cash Crop That Can Turn Lives Around
Our farmers have been tuned, less by their economic circumstances and more by the government’s short-sighted policies, into growing a limited number of highly intensive crops, making them more vulnerable to climate change and pest & disease resistance.
Peanut cultivation cost (as per the government estimates) stands at Rs. 38,500 per acre while the average gross revenue can be roughly between Rs. 110,000 to Rs. 150,000 per acre if we take the average yield of 9.5 maunds (maund=40kg) per acre the varied price range of Rs. 11,000 to Rs. 15,000 per 40 kg in the wholesale markets. That’s massive profit margins right there and it can change the lives of farming communities in the Pothohar region and beyond if proper attention is directed towards it and that’s already happening for the last few years.
“It’s true that people take it as a crop of only Pothohar region and sandy soils and while sandy soils are recommended for rain-dependent regions, it can be cultivated in the irrigated soils across the country. People have been switching towards it gradually but there is more need to raise awareness around it and also focus on building industries around its value-added products including peanut butter, oil, flour and snacks” added Hussain.
He also said that they believe farmers can achieve yields of up to 50 maunds per acre under irrigated conditions while they have achieved up to 25-30 maunds per acre in rainfed areas already. But as I mentioned above, our average reported yield per acre is 9-10 maunds per acre and that’s because as per Hussain, a large majority of farmers are still cultivating old desi varieties which have little yield potential and adaptability to changing climate conditions.
Hussain also highlighted that Ground Nut Research Station Attock has introduced two latest drought & disease resistant and high-yielding varieties namely ‘Attock-2019’ and ‘Fakhr-e-Bakhar’ while a third advanced line is in the experimental stages but he said that research institutes can only produce seeds in limited quantity.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a leguminous crop which means it gets most of its needs on its own from the soil in terms of nutrients and water infant adds nitrogen so the next crop also requires less application of nitrogenous fertilizers. It’s a package deal to add to the tool kit for conserving the fertility of our soils and adapting to what climate change is bringing for our agriculture sector and farming communities.
We need to make our farmers understand that it’s not written in any book that only those in rainfed areas can grow these crops as those in central Punjab can also adopt them.
We simply need to put more options on the table instead of putting all eggs in one basket so our agriculture sector does not face climate change with mono-cropping on large swaths of land, putting the financial security of farmers and the whole country at immense risk.