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Potential of cumin cultivation 

THE Northern Areas of Pakistan have ideal climatic conditions for cultivation of diverse plant species. Major parts of the area has temperate climate where herbs of medicinal value and field crops requiring low temperatures can grow. More than 180 herbs, including black cumin grow in the wild in Astore valley, which is the hub of Zeera.

Black Zeera (Bunium persicum B. Fedtsch) belonging to Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family is also known as Carum bulbocastanum and in English it is black cumin. The herb is sun loving and is found only in natural habitat.

The plant is perennial which grows up to 30-90cm. It is glabrous, erect and varyingly branched. Leaves are bi-pinnate and finely dissected. Ultimate segments of lower leaves are lanceolate and of the upper, linear. It can be propagated from seed as well as bulbs.

Seed generally have long dormant/rest period and require 8-10 weeks stratification (exposure to 4-7 Co temp) for best germination. During the first two years of growth, plant remains vegetative and develops a small underground storage of food called bulb. Next year in March-April when snow melts and temperatures become favourable for germination, fresh growth arises from the underground buds, while utilizing the stored food. During the same year flowering occurs and seeds are born in separate carpels on compound umbels.

The tiny flowers are white, yellowish or yellowish brown in colour, hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by insects. The plant is self-fertile and prefers well-drained, moist and light (sandy) soil but can be grown from medium to heavy soils at elevation of 4000-9000 ft. Moreover, it can grow in all acidic, neutral and basic soils. The plant prefers full sunshine but can also grow in light shade. After blooming the specie usually takes 50-70 days till seeds are mature and ready to harvest. Seeds are elliptic oblong and dark brown to black in colour with pleasant aroma.

In the Northern Areas harvesting is generally done in July. More care is needed during harvesting as seeds are small and after maturity wither readily with winds. Cumin seed are used chiefly for flavouring the dishes, bakery products and as carminative. It is used to correct the nauseating and gripping effects of some medicines. The fruit is carminative, lactagouge and stomachic. Its volatile oil contains a mixture of ketone, carvone, terpene and traces of carvacrol.

The Karakuram Agricultural Research Institute for Northern Areas (Karina) has established one of its research stations at Astore to study the plant. Experiments regarding black cumin cultivation at field conditions were conducted by the scientists.

Analysis of data revealed that cumin can successfully be grown, both through seeds as well as bulbs at field conditions. Seed and bulbs collected from the wild were planted in the garden. During the four-year study, significant results were achieved regarding various parameters studied. Plants raised through seed produced 1,000kg seed per hectare while harvest of plants raised from bulbs was 750kg per hectare.

These are the first scientifically designed and successful experiments on black Zeera. So far, in Pakistan very little is known about this specie and no documented experimental data are available.

The scientists also conducted a comprehensive survey in Astore Valley and Gilgit to collect information about Zeera production, marketing and economics.

Black cumin is an important medicinal and spicy herb and is found naturally in Astore valley, upper Dir and Chitral districts of the NWFP. The best quality Zeera based on its aroma comes from Astore which fetches higher prices. No exact figure is available about its annual harvest; however, based on market availability it is estimated that more than 5,000kg seeds are produced annually. Different wholesalers and retailers confirmed that there was high demand for black Zeera throughout the year. Its market is not only local but national and international.

One kilogram of Zeera in local market is sold for Rs275-300, whereas in down country it costs Rs450-500. It is also exported to the UAE and some other Arab states. In international market it is sold for Rs850-1000 per kilogram. The IUCN has also recorded its export to Dubai by its traders from Dir upto 6,000kg. Mingora, Dir, Peshawar, Pindi, Lahore, Gilgit and Astore are its national and local markets.

According to the IUCN report the demands of various pharmaceutical laboratories for black zeera in our country is thousands of kilos annually; that is why it is also imported from Iran and Afghanistan to meet the demand.

This specie has a great potential for commercial cultivation. Based on the cropping pattern in Astore valley farmers mostly grow cash vegetables like potatoes and peas which have net more profit and early return as compared to other crops.

The Zeera plant cannot only be grown in fields but can easily be cultivated on hill slopes, foothills and marginal lands. Therefore, more work is needed to make aware and train the farmers to grow black Zeera, not only to best utilize such lands but also to generate revenue.

Courtesy: DAWN;

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