KHUSHAB: Peanut is a popular rainfed crop of the eastern parts of Soon valley in the Khushab district, but its growers remain dependent on uncertain weather conditions.
The organic crop is sown in the Jaba, Peel Padhar, and Pachun areas without the use of chemicals and fertilizers. Peanuts from the area have been popular in the markets of Punjab for decades because of their taste and nutrition.
Peanut is a favorite food of the people of the region that is eaten in the winter nights with jaggery. It is cultivated on an area of about 2,000 acres.
Nowshera Tehsil Agriculture Officer Dr. Farooq Ahmed told The Express Tribune that the local groundnut contains 44 percent to 56% oil and 22% to 30% protein. Peanut is one of the major dried fruits in Pakistan and a large number of people depend on its cultivation.
He said sowing of the crop starts at the end of March. Agricultural experts say 70kg of the seed is recommended for cultivation per acre in temperatures above 25 degrees. The season suitable for the sowing lasts from March 25 to May 31. Dr Ahmed said that in addition to the health benefits, the production of edible oil from the groundnuts can contribute significantly to the national economy.
A large amount in foreign exchange is spent every year on importing edible oil to meet the national need. The official said the selection of suitable land was essential to increase the productivity of the crop.
A landowner from Dhaddar village, Mian Muhammad, said sowing with seed drill was recommended by the agriculture department for good production but manual sowing was done by local farmers.
Peanut farming has an important role in the rural economy of Talaging tehsil and adjoining areas of the Khushab district. The crop with a high-profit margin has helped raise the standard of living of farmers in the Pakhar and other areas. A visible change is that brick houses are now more common in the area, including its remote parts.
Another new trend is the increasing use of farm machinery, including tractors. A farmer of Khabiki village in the valley, Karim Bakhsh, said cultivation of groundnuts had begun in his area during the past four decades.
People of Pakhar started growing it after observing its economic benefits. The seeds are also usually brought from Talagang. It is mostly a rainfed crop in the valley, with some inter-cropping. Maize and sorghum are also grown at the edges of the fields, which are used as fodder for cattle.
The potential yield of the groundnut crop is more than 40 maunds per acre, but the average yield in Pakistan is six to 10 maund. However, another local farmer, Muhammad Ashiq, said the average yield in the Soan valley area was up to five maund per acre, depending on the weather conditions.
The most important factor for the crop is rain in May and June. Early monsoon rains increase the yield. However, heavy rains damage the crop. Harvesting usually begins in October and is completed in November. The sandy soil ideal for the crop is found around Khabiki and Dhadar villages. Muhammad Arif Haral from Ahmedabad village said peanut was the preferred crop of landowners in Kharif season because its profit was higher than other crops, while its straw was also good for cattle in the winter.
Another local farmer, Gul Sher, said small farmers benefited from the low production, maintenance, and labor cost of peanut crops, but the earning was unpredictable because of variations in weather conditions.
A landowner, Malik Fateh Khan, said grass and wild animals such as boar and porcupine damaged the crop.
The tehsil agriculture officer said peanut was a good crop in the valley but its production was threatened by drought. He said cultivation of high yield varieties and the use of gypsum could increase production. He said the local farmers were cultivating the crop in the traditional way, although the use of machinery and fertilizers could improve the yield.