Cultivating sunflowers is becoming popular amongst the farmers in Bumthang in recent years especially those at Jalikhar village in Bumthang town. Farmers say cultivation has doubled from close to 10 acres last year to about 20 acres this year. Farmers primarily grow the plant for its seeds currently and hope to extract oil in the future. By early autumn, the plants are ready for harvesting. Farmers cut the flower heads to collect the seeds. The seeds are then winnowed before they are left to dry. They are finally sold in the market in small packages. Each packet contains a flask cap full of seeds. Farmers in Jalikhar started cultivating the plant in small quantities about a decade ago.
According to Phub Zam, in Jalikhar in Bumthang Town, the sunflower was grown in a small garden for their own household in the past. “Then we started selling them in small packages and increased our production. We cultivated the most this year. We get enough for pocket money by selling the seeds. We fetch Nu 20 for a packet. Birds damage some flowers but it is not a serious issue as of now,” she said.
They were initially given the oilseed variety used for extracting oil by the district agriculture sector. However, due to a lack of an oil expeller machine, they switched to the non-oilseed variety. “We are planning to produce our own oil without having to buy from the market. But we first need an oil expeller or a refinery,” she added. “Sunflower cultivation is not as laborious as other farm work. Many people would start cultivating the plant for oil if a machine becomes available nearby,” said Pem Lham, also in Jalikhar.
The district agriculture sector has no specific plans for promoting sunflower cultivation, however, there are plans to promote mustard oil production in the district this financial year. The chief district agriculture officer, Sonam Gyeltshen said his office is planning to procure a mustard oil expeller for the Thangbi farmers’ group. However, it wouldn’t be able to extract sunflower oil. He also said a study would have to be conducted to see if the current variety of sunflower is suitable for oil extraction before planning to buy a sunflower oil expeller.
According to National Statistics Bureau, edible oil worth more than Nu 950 M was among the top 10 imports Bhutan made in 2020. Small efforts like the ones made by the farmers in Bumthang with the right interventions could add up to achieving food security during a time when the food supply chain becomes disrupted due to unprecedented global events like wars and pandemics.