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Favourable climatic zones to boost onion seed production in Northern Pakistan
onion pakistan

A woman tends to flowering seed producing onion plants in Chitral District in Northern Pakistan

The long, cool days and dry summer in the Chitral District of Pakistan offers ideal climatic conditions for vegetable seed production prompting farmers to produce onion seeds – potentially earning them double compared to conventional crops.

MDF’s partner, Magnus Kahl Seeds (MKS) is currently the only seed company working in remote Chitral to produce high quality onion seeds for local and export markets.

Pakistan is a large onion producer – grown in all provinces of the country. But yields are lower than the world average because of a lack of good quality, high germination rate and high yielding onion seeds – deterring farmers from increasing their production. Farmers must buy low quality locally produced seeds – or expensive, better quality imported seeds.

Climate is the main issue to the low quality local seeds and many farmers are not aware of techniques that can produce high quality seeds. MKS in partnership with MDF is working towards solving these problems.

MKS grows onion bulbs in Sindh, Punjab and other parts of Khyber Pakthun Khaw and after a rigorous selection for desired characteristics, such as size, shape and colour; bulbs are transported to Chitral and given to farmers, who plant on their farms in autumn or spring to produce high quality seeds.

Chitral’s long, cool and dry days during summer provide the perfect climatic conditions for healthy seed development. The monsoon rains that come every summer further south are blocked by the mighty Hindu Kush Mountains – reducing insects and diseases and promoting healthy plant growth and plump seeds.

Snow melt provides ample water for irrigation during the summer while the distance between valleys helps in keeping varieties of onions isolated – avoiding unwanted cross pollination.

The partnership with MKS is helping increase the company’s production capacity of quality seeds by investing in improved seed drying facilities, establishing a seed testing laboratory to maintain high seed quality and providing extension services to onion seed farmers. Onion seeds are sensitive during drying and inappropriate postharvest handling results in quality deterioration affecting seed germination rates. MKS now collects onion umbels (the flowering head) from the farmers and dries them in their facility maintaining higher germination potential in the seeds.

A healthy onion seed field in Chitral under MKS staff supervision: picture taken in mid-June.

A healthy onion seed field in Chitral under MKS staff supervision: picture taken in mid-June.

Onion seed field in Kunri, Sindh with poor seed set and weak umbels due to high temperatures: picture taken in mid-April

Onion seed field in Kunri, Sindh with poor seed set and weak umbels due to high temperatures: picture taken in mid-April

Through this partnership MKS will eventually work with up to a thousand farmers in Chitral to produce onion seed and an additional 50-60 farmers to produce onion bulbs. It is estimated that around 1500 farmers will benefit from the better quality seeds in Sindh, Punjab and KPK.

Most farmers in Chitral have smaller landholdings averaging less than 2.5 acres and wheat, maize and rice are the common crops grown in the district.

Women are actively involved in agriculture in the area and commonly participate in planting, weeding and harvesting. Onion seed production offers increased opportunity for women in the region and MKS is providing training on seed production.