Focus on red beans
By Tahir Ali via Dawn
MALAKAND DIVISION in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is not only known for its fruits and vegetables but also it has another speciality – the red beans.
The area produces quality red beans, called Lobia locally, which is known for its nutritious value for being a rich source of protein. It is generally cultivated during June and harvested in October/November.
According to Saeedur Rehman, a Dir-based farmer, lobia is widely cultivated in Dir, Chitral, Kohistan and Shangla. Lobia, produced in Thal Kohistan, Barawal Dir and Bamboret valley in Chitral is especially liked for its softness, taste and quality. The cooler the area, the better is the crop production.
Hundreds of tons of red beans produced in the area has a market in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh and is even exported.
The government must support the crop and facilitate its production and exports. The growers should be provided technical and financial help to boost its production.
Being a high altitude area, Dirs fields are mostly rain-fed and lobia is also dependent upon rainwater. A prolonged drought negatively impacts the crop. Lobia is grown during a span of few months during the year.
The crop was usually intercropped with maize till recently. But most farmers now avoid doing so and grow it separately or on the sides of maize fields. From their experience they have learnt that when grown together with maize, per acre yield comes down for both maize and lobia as the height and congestion deprive each other of sunlight which retards their growth and affect their quality and yield.
Syed Muahmmad Nasir, a Denori (Dir)-based farmer, says that intercropping harms both the crops. “If grown separately, per acre maize yield is 40-50 maunds and that of lobia 16-22 maunds. Now lobia is economically more beneficial to farmers as it, as per the current market rates, fetches Rs96,000-1,32,000 for the above produce while maize can get only Rs50,000-60,000 against it.
But the problem is that farmers in cooler areas also need maize crop as a staple food. Hence both crops are grown simultaneously. But as intercropping has been reducing the per acre yield of lobia to six maunds and of maize to 20 maunds, farmers now usually grow lobia on the sides of maize fields. This way they not only get lobia yield of 6-8 maunds per acre but also get a bumper maize crop from their fields.
“The cereal crops research institutes and the non-governmental organisations can address the problem by developing drought-resistant lobia seeds and providing it to farmers free of costs initially along with guidance,” says Islam Ghani, a man who uses the local lobia profusely.
The high demand for the crop countrywide has increased its price. It is being sold at Rs6,000-6,500 per 50-kg locally against Rs3,000-3,500 for the Chinese and other brands produced in other areas in Pakistan.
In KP, the crop is part of Kharif pulses. An official of the agriculture ministry in KP says there is no separate record available for lobias acreage and production. But he adds the total area of Kharif pulses is around 800 hectares which produces around 400 tons of different pulses including lobia.
Another official document available, however, projects the total acreage and production of Kharif pulses in thousands of hectares and tons.
The official says that lobia is grown only in cooler parts of Dir, Chitral and Shangla and is usually intercropped with maize.
“The crop is of course of superior quality and taste vis-à-vis its Chinese or Indian counterparts. But the problem is that it is mainly produced on non-commercial basis and only for household use in these areas. It doesnt even suffice the local use, what to talk of marketing and exporting it,” he says.
“The government needs to support the crop with incentives,” he adds.