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Sesame seed exports require right image-building

ARTICLE (December 09 2002) : The exact origin of sesame plant has been lost in history, but evidence of the plant's cultivation goes as far back as the time of Prophet Moses. Asia and Africa are believed to be the earliest homes of the plant.

The Chinese used sesame seeds some 5,000 years ago for preparation of ink blocks. In ancient Egypt, the seeds were ground and used as grain flour. Evidence suggests that the plant had been in cultivation in areas now comprising Pakistan as early as 3,500 years B.C.

Varieties: There are several varieties of sesame plant in the world. Over one score commercial varieties are cultivated in Pakistan alone. The plant grows from 2 to 9 feet in height, depending on variety. It bears capsules, which contain seeds.

The seeds are about one inch long and have a flattened pear shape. The colour of seeds varies from pure black to creamy white to pure white and red. The size of the seed, its hardness, taste, colour, oil content and power of resistance to pests are factors, which depend on the variety.

Uses: Sesame seed is rich in fat, protein, carbohydrates, fibre and some minerals. The aroma and taste of the seed are mild and delicious. It has a nut-like slightly sweet flavour. It is used mainly as a food ingredient in whole, broken, crushed, shelled, powdered and paste forms.

The whole seed is extensively used in the Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. A typical halvah is made from crushed, roasted and sweetened seeds. Some people believe that due to considerable presence of niacins (8.9 mg per 100 grams), the seed assists against ageing of the human body.

In view of this, a liquid sesame product is prepared and drunk by both, men and women, in the Middle East for rejuvenation of mental and physical capacities. In the USA and Europe, the seeds are used to flavour and garnish various foods, particularly bread, cookies, snacks, biscuits, sweets and other delicacies.

Oil content: A prized oil is extracted from sesame seeds. Normally, the oil constituent is from 40 to 60 percent. This king of oil seeds is renowned for its stability.

It strongly resists oxidative rancidity even after long exposure to air. It is used in cooking and salad dressings. It is also used in the manufacture of soaps, pharmaceuticals and lubricants. It has some uses in cosmetics and skin care industries.

World output: The world production of sesame seeds in 1999 was 3.38 million tonnes, which increased to 3.62 million tonnes in 2000, showing a growth of 6.3%. China, India, Sudan, Myanmar, Uganda, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mexico, Thailand and Egypt, in that order of rank, are the top-twelve producers of this seed. Between 80 to 85 percent of world's total annual production comes from the above leading countries.

Production in Pakistan: In Pakistan, sesame seeds were cultivated on over 100,000 hectares of land during 2001-2002. Total production that year was 50.7 thousand tonnes. Per hectare yield of the seed is the highest in Balochistan among all provinces of the country.

While Pakistan's overall average yield in 2000-2001 was 502 kgs per hectare, that in Balochistan was 556 kgs per hectare. Bahawalpur, Bhakkar, Chichawatni and Leiah in Punjab; Tharparkar, Sanghar, Khairpur, Ghotki and Dadu in Sindh; Sibi and Nasirabad in Balochistan; and D.I. Khan in NWFP are main sesame seed growing areas in the country.

Pakistan's exports: Pakistan exported about 46 thousand tonnes of this seed to over thirty countries throughout the world in 2001-2002. Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Syria are our most important importers.

The country exported nearly fifteen thousand tonnes to Turkey, 9.5 thousand tonnes to South Korea, close to 6.5 thousand tonnes to Japan and 5.6 thousand tonnes to Syria. Other significant importers are the Netherlands, the UK and Singapore. Apart from these major importers, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Cyprus etc. also make considerable purchases from this country.

Global imports: World imports of this king of all seeds totalled well over 0.6 million tonne in 1999. Global imports increased to 0.73 million tonne in 2000, indicating a rise of about 20%.

Japan is the single largest buyer of sesame seeds in the world. The country imported 164 thousand tonnes of seeds in 2000. The second largest importer is Egypt. Her imports in 2000 totalled 85.9 thousand tonnes. South Korea and the USA rank third and fourth respectively, with imports in 2000 equal to 70 thousand tonnes and over 49 thousand tonnes. Fifth in the world, the Netherlands is the largest buyer in Europe. It imported 32.33 thousand tonnes in 2000.

Other major importers include China (39.5 thousand tonnes), Syria (29.9 thousand tonnes), Saudi Arabia (20.00 thousand tonnes), Greece (19.30 thousand tonnes), Israel (18.6 thousand tonnes), Mexico (17.5 thousand tonnes) and Germany (17.3 thousand tonnes).

For getting better prices and enhancing the market share, right image-building is necessary. Higher quality of the product should be maintained. Only scientifically treated, properly cleaned, washed, dried, colour-sorted, size-graded, impurities-free seeds with appropriate oil contents not less than 40% packed according to international standards may be exported. Over-commitment should always be avoided.

There is a world of difference between the prices of raw sesame seeds and the oil. The private sector entrepreneurs may, therefore, set up sesame oil extracting plants in the country to ensure that a larger portion of the crop is exported in higher value added form.

Our sesame seed production in 2000-2001 totalled 50.7 thousand tonnes and exports that year were to the tune of about 46 thousand tonnes. This means that well over 90% of our annual produce is exported. Global import figures show that world demand for sesame seed is increasing substantially.

This is a great opportunity. We may increase our supply in order to meet the growing demand. Though small, sesame seed is not insignificant. Presently, the crop is cultivated in semi-arid areas and mostly is left at the mercy of the nature, as far as its irrigation is concerned. There is an acute shortage of the crop, when there are little or no rain.

This results in inconsistent supply, which badly affects our export markets. For establishing ourselves as regular and reliable source of supply in international market place we must take necessary measures to ensure that the supply is no more disturbed.

This could only be done by (i) increasing our per hectare yield and (ii) bringing more land under useful sesame cultivation mainly in the rain-fed regions of the country. In order to gainfully utilise rain water in such areas, smaller but several water reservoirs may be built at suitable places, preferably near the slopes of the hills and sand-dunes, in all barani areas, across the country for collecting and storing rain water.

Water from these reservoirs may be released to the farmers, when hit by drought so that profitable export-oriented crops could be cultivated on the vast tracts of land, which presently lie idle due to lack of irrigation water. Also, for achieving the above objectives, improved sesame varieties, which are high yielding, better in quality, richer in oil content, earlier ripening, disease-free, drought and pest-resistant may be developed by agriculture research institutes of the country and released to the farmers for cultivation.

The total value of Pakistan's sesame seed exports in 2001-2002 was more than Rupees one billion, which is equal to over 19.8 million dollars. Though there are quite many players in the field, yet the role of farmers in this regard is primary and pivotal.

Adequate returns for their toil must be guaranteed. It is necessary that farmers and active exporters are put in direct contact with each other. This will benefit both. As a result of direct purchase from the right source, the exporters will get the commodity at attractive rates.

The exercise will simultaneously, ensure appropriate incomes for the agriculturists, as they would be selling direct to exporters. For this purpose, vertical match-making conferences of the stakeholders may be held in the country every year, preferably before the beginning of the sowing season enabling the concerned ones to plan accordingly.

Source: Business Recorder;


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