Oilcrop cultivation is on the rise again, thanks to increased availability of short-duration seed varieties which now leave farmers with time to cultivate boro rice later in the winter season.
The short-duration oil seeds, namely BARI Sarisha-14 and BARI Sarisha-15 take 80-85 days to harvest in contrast to 100-110 days for the normal varieties.
In fiscal 2011-12, acreage of oilcrops stood at 9.72 lakh acres, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Seven years ago, it hovered around 8.41 lakh acres. Production also rose: oilseed output stood at 7.87 lakh tonnes in fiscal 2011-12, while it was below 6 lakh tonnes in fiscal 2005-06.
Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal, director general of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), said farmers' inclination towards irrigated boro rice is the major reason behind the decline in acreage of oilseed in the past.
"The expansion in acreage in recent years is due to the release of shortly maturing seeds of mustard.”
Agriculture scientists, however, say production can be raised further by increasing the supply of quality seeds, a move which would help reduce the country's edible oil import dependency.
The domestic demand for edible oil and fats stands at 18 lakh tonnes, nearly 85 percent of which is met through imports, according to oil refiners and official data. In fiscal 2012-13, Tk 11,185 crore worth of edible oil was imported.
The supply of quality oilseeds at present is 13.5 percent of the total demand of 17,000 tonnes, according to Agriculture ministry estimate.
"We can save huge amount of foreign currencies by paying attention to boosting domestic production," said Md Lutfor Rahman, a former professor of Bangladesh Agricultural University.
Mondal suggested expanding the short-duration varieties of boro seeds, while Rahman called for increasing research support, encouraging organised cultivation by farmers with buy back assurance and utilising the potential of soybean and sunflower cultivation.
Sitesh Chandra Biswas, programme specialist of Brac Agricultural Research and Development Centre, said farmers are not so much interested in growing oilcrops because of low yield and return on investments.
He said production can be increased by focusing on research and extension.
“So far, too much attention has been given to rice production to ensure food security. But rice alone cannot ensure nutritional food security.”