Sunflower: a ray of hope for flood-affected farmers in Sindh
In these small seeds lies enormous potential, especially for farmers whose fields remained flooded during Pakistan's most important planting season for wheat, and who needed a quick and profitable way to start earning income again. Sunflower cultivation was a vital livelihood activity made possible for over 58 500 families by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID).
A crucial livelihood opportunity for affected farmers
Once planting was possible, sunflower cultivation was the best livelihood opportunity in terms of timing and profit. Sunflower has a flexible planting window, allowing it to be planted between the key staple crop seasons (wheat and rice). It has the added advantage of being tolerant to a wide variety of agronomic conditions. It is also a high-yielding cash crop (for oil extraction), with solid local market demand and excellent income potential.
Value for money: good profits in little time
From seeds to plant 1 acre, costing just USD 83 per package (2 kg of seed, 50 kg of each urea and DAP fertilizers), farmers are expecting around USD 250 in profit. With a better gross margin than other crops, sunflowers grow in relatively less time: around 3 months (90-100 days) versus, for example, 5 months for rice and 6 months for wheat. This means much-needed family income, sooner.
Further to being a rapid, good source of income, sunflowers also provide a source of animal feed (from stalks). Ploughing stubble into fields provides both nutrients for the soil and improved soil structure – a more environmentally-friendly way to help increase yields.
Not a staple food crop, but underpins food security
Sunflower can be cultivated under variable soil moisture conditions. As a low-input crop, it does not require much in terms of irrigation or fertilizer, or investment in machinery. Introducing sunflower cultivation to farmers has added a new dimension to livelihoods, helping them to diversify their income sources. Important market linkages are being established between the local solvent extraction industry and smallholder farmers.
Read more about how sunflower cultivation proposed by FAO helped farmers in Sindh province in Pakistan to recover after the 2011 floods.