Why sunflower oil lovers need to worry about Russia-Ukraine war

India imports about 90% of sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine; but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has severely affected imports; besides, Indian cultivation of sunflower has declined by 90% in the last 30 years 

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Monday 02 May 2022

Sunflower cultivation in India has dropped by 90 per cent in the last three decades, according to the minutes of three meetings held last month to discuss the issue. The situation is only going to get worse as the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on since India imports most of its sunflower oil from both countries.

Sunflower was cultivated on 26.68 lakh hectares in India in 1993-94. This has now come down to 2.26 lakh hectares in 2020-21, according to the minutes of the meetings, which are with Down To Earth.

India relies on imports for sunflower oil like other edible oils. Sunflower oil constitutes 16 per cent of total oils being imported, according to data from the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

Seventy per cent of the sunflower oil imported by India comes from Ukraine, while 20 per cent comes from Russia. But imports have been severely affected after the invasion of Ukraine.

Ministry officials at the meetings held in April 2022 decided to work towards increasing the acreage of sunflower, since its production is very low as compared to other oilseed crops.

The ministry also questioned states as to why there has been such a steep decline in the cultivation and production of sunflower during the last three decades.

India produced 13.48 lakh tonnes of sunflower in 1993-94. This came down to 2.28 lakh tonnes in 2020-21.

However, there has been an increase in the production per hectare. The production was 505 kg per hectare earlier. This has now almost doubled to 1,011 kg per hectare.

Karnataka earlier produced most of India’s sunflower crop in 1993-94 — 4.75 lakh tonnes on 14.69 lakh hectares. This has now come down to 1.08 lakh tonnes on 1.2 lakh hectares.

Sunflower is also grown in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. But the production of sunflower is decreasing in all states except Haryana, data shows.

Sunflower was cultivated on 5.72 lakh hectares in Maharashtra in 1993-94. This has come down to only 26,000 hectares in 2020-21. In Andhra Pradesh too, cultivation has come down to 12,000 hectares, from 3.9 lakh hectares.

What is the reason?

The reasons for the decline in sunflower cultivation were examined in the meetings convened by the ministry.

States cited various factors. The agriculture commissioner of Karnataka, the biggest cultivator, said the lack of availability of good quality seeds and increased irrigation arrangements in rain-fed areas were the two main reasons as to why sunflower cultivation had come down drastically.

He suggested that farmers cultivating sunflower needed to be given subsidies or incentives for at least 10 years.

He also stressed on increasing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and making good quality seeds available to farmers.

The agriculture officer of Uttar Pradesh cited damage to crops by feral / stray cattle, lack of proper and assured price for the crop, irregularities in prices and non-availability of good quality seeds as factors.

He advised giving subsidy to farmers to increase the cultivation of sunflower.

The director of agriculture of the Maharashtra government said farmers who planted sunflower, had switched to soybean as they were not getting good seeds and the value addition on sunflower was also very low.

Another factor was necrosis disease, he said.

He suggested that intercropping of crops like soybean and groundnut had to be done to increase the sowing area of sunflower.

A representative of the Federation of Seed Industry of India said sunflower cultivation had decreased due to the necrosis disease. He suggested that sunflower be cultivated in saline soil.

At the same time, sunflower crop should be grown on land which has become barren due to the wheat-paddy rotational cycle. He advised that farmers be given MSP.

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