A joint approach for onion seed sector development in Balochistan
Onion is one of the most popular vegetables in Pakistan and no meal is complete without it. Semi-arid Balochistan in southwestern Pakistan has annual rainfall of only 260 mm—an ideal area for producing onion seed. Yet onion growers in Balochistan often have difficulty obtaining good quality seed.
To provide a more stable seed supply, the World Vegetable Center, through the Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP) funded by USAID, has initiated an onion seed production program with the Agriculture Research Institute (ARI) in Quetta.
Basic seed production and multiplication is underway in farmers’ fields at different locations in the province. Meanwhile, ARI Quetta is handling purification of the approved varieties through careful selection of mother bulbs—the initial (and important) step in quality onion seed production.
In 2015 WorldVeg provided true-to-type onion bulbs of popular open-pollinated varieties (Chiltan-89, Sariab Red) to growers. In 2016, onion mother bulbs planted in farmers’ fields in nine districts (Quetta, Pishin, Khuzdar, Mastung, Noshki, Jalmagsi, Qalat, QilaSaifullah and Loralai) produced 2000 kilograms of seed. The seed already has been committed for sale to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Balochistan for planting by participants in their Farmer’s Field School program. FAO, ARI and WorldVeg plan to produce onion seed on a large scale with growers in another 5 districts (Quetta, Mastung, Pishin, Chaghi and Noshki).
Producing quality onion seed requires skill and patience. Onion is biannual crop; in the first year, onion mother bulbs are produced, and in the second, those bulbs are used for seed production. To develop the necessary skills for onion seed production, a Training of Trainers course was conducted on 23-24 November 2016 in Quetta for 45 participants, including agriculture officers from the Agriculture Extension Department, ARI research scientists, and selected growers. During classroom lectures and field sessions participants learned methods for setting up an onion nursery; how to transplant and manage an onion crop; how to harvest bulbs; and how to select, store and replant bulbs for seed production.
Ideally, mother bulbs should be produced by the farmers themselves and stored locally in their villages; this would provide easiest access to bulbs for seed production. Cooperative farming to produce onion mother bulbs is another option.
Story and photos: Mansab Ali