Bangladesh has gone into commercial cultivation of perilla, an oilseed processed similar to mustard, in the hope of meeting local demand for the vegetable oil as well as fetching foreign exchange through its export.
Researchers and entrepreneurs see a bright prospect in cultivating such a seed that has great demand, especially in Korea, Japan and China.
Besides, there is good demand for the high-nutrient oil among a section of well-off people in Bangladesh as well, with perilla oil imported from Korea now selling at Tk2,200 per kg.
If perilla cultivation expands across the country, oil extracted from its seeds can be marketed at a much lower price.
Farmers in the country's 45 upazilas for the first time cultivated the oilseed on 17 hectares of land this year. They expect to sell their produce at Tk120-Tk150 per kg.
Syed Rokon, an agricultural entrepreneur from Tentulia upazila, cultivated perilla on 10-12 bighas of land this year. "We got seeds free of cost this time. Flowers bloomed in the plants. We will harvest seeds in November."
Having spent Tk42,000-Tk45,000 per hectare on perilla farming, the expectation is to earn Tk1.2-Tk1.5 lakh from the production, he said.
There will be no need to collect it from the agriculture office next year as perilla seeds can be stored like mustard, Rokon added.
Researchers say cultivators show interest in perilla farming as it promises good prices. In Bangladesh, all conventional oilseeds are cultivated in the winter, but perilla grows in the summer.
It takes 110 days for perilla to be ready for harvest, the researchers said.
The oil extraction process from perilla seeds is similar to that of mustard. Researchers say 40% of oil can be pressed from the oilseed, while mustard seeds offer 40%-42% oil.
Researchers and agricultural officials have said many traders and some large business groups have already shown interest in purchasing perilla seeds, which are yet to be harvested, because it has great demand both at home and abroad.
The crop is regularly cultivated in Asian countries, such as South Korea and Japan and in China, Nepal, Vietnam and some parts of India. Perilla oil is widely used as an edible oil in Korea, Japan and China.
Agriculture Officer Mohammad Abdul Qayyum Majumder told The Business Standard that because of its high demand in the international market, farmers are interested in perilla farming, while traders are keen to purchase it.
It is possible to expand the high-value crop's cultivation quickly with support from the government, he added.
After the experimental cultivation of perilla last year, the seeds were bought at Tk300 per kg and distributed among farmers free of cost this year.
In January 2020, SAU Perilla-1 (Golden Perilla), a South Korean variety, was registered with the Bangladesh Seed Board after having it adapt to Bangladesh's climatic condition. It was later released for cultivation. Subsequently, the variety saw success in its experimental cultivation on 1 bigha of land each in 14 upazilas.
Under the supervision of HM Tariq Hossain, professor of the Department of Agronomy at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, a team of researchers, including Agriculture Officer Mohammad Abdul Qayum Majumder, conducted research to develop the variety in a way that would be suitable for Bangladesh's weather condition.
On August 15 this year, the Scientific Publication Journal BiNET published a study on characterisation of fatty acids and nutrient composition of SAU Perilla-1 seeds grown under agro-climatic conditions in Bangladesh.
Perilla oil, enriched with high-nutrient value, contains 75% Omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for the heart. Besides, 91% of its total fat is unsaturated. It enhances immunity and regulates high blood pressure. It is beneficial for the eyes as well, according to the study.
The oil crop cultivation is suitable for Bangladesh's climate and it can also be cultivated in hilly areas. Farmers can cultivate perilla in mango, lemon and orange orchards as well.