In an effort to reduce dependence on edible oil imports, the government is considering measures to expand sunflower cultivation acreage, an agriculture ministry official said Tuesday.
Measures to revive sunflower production grown on 2.66 million hectares (mh) in 1993-94 include the provision of quality seeds, productivity improvement through the introduction of technology and promotion of processing and value addition.
According to the official, the acreage of sunflowers fell to 1.94 mh in 2005-2010. “Currently it is grown at only 0.2 mh mainly in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh,” the official said. In the past, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh also grew sunflowers.
Agriculture ministry officials said there is scope to expand sunflower cultivation in Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
“This is what we have been telling the government all along to promote the cultivation of oilseeds in the country itself,” said Atul Chaturvedi, president of the Solvent Extractors Association of India (SEA). Chaturvedi said at one point that the southern states produced at least a million tons of sunflower seed.
Agriculture Ministry officials said the lack of rewarding prices is the main reason for the decline in recent years. “Less involvement of private companies in seed production due to the smaller acreage of sunflowers has further reduced production,” said a memo from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Chaturvedi said the SEA is also pushing for similar steps for groundnuts and mustard, which are high in oil-containing seeds. “All of these seeds are part of our national mission proposal, which we have tried to convey to the government,” he said.
Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar last month discussed the promotion of sunflower cultivation with states, experts and other stakeholders.
Currently, India produces about 45% of its domestic edible oil needs. Soybeans (24%) and groundnuts (7%) are other oils that contribute to domestic production. Crude palm and soybean oil are mainly imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina and Brazil and make up 62% and 21% of edible oil imports respectively.
Due to its high import dependency, edible oil imports are estimated to be around Rs 1.5 trillion in 2021-22. India imports 13 million tons of edible oil every year. India is dependent on Ukraine for sunflower oil, which had a 15% share of the edible oil import basket in 2020-21. Ukraine is the largest exporter of sunflower oil in the world, producing nearly 46% of the world’s sunflower and safflower oil.