May 31 - June 6, 20

While Pakistan being an agricultural country is a major producer of several key agricultural commodities, the agriculture sector continues to suffer from major inefficiencies due to host of reasons such as water shortage, poor infrastructure, outdated procedures, indifferent attitude towards research and exploitation of farmers at the hands of intermediaries.

Although the government has taken some important steps towards investment and modernisation of key sectors such as dairy, more investment is needed in the country's overburdened infrastructure. What is needed is to ensure due return of their produce to the farmers.

For example, expansions in rice production, which could potentially become a major export crop and foreign currency earner, is hindered by poor transport and power interruption, which are persistent concerns in Pakistan. Unreliable irrigation and water supply also leaves crops at the mercy of the weather. While growers can put pressure on the government to invest in infrastructure, the current volatile political climate and sagging economy means that such investments will not be a high priority.

While the wheat procurement drive is underway, estimates show that wheat production for 2010 will once again fall short of the government production target of 25 million tonnes, with BMI forecasting production of 23,214 million tonnes.

With production having increased significantly in the 2008/09 year by 14.7 per cent over the preceding year, the government hoped that a further increase would be feasible. However, water scarcity continues to be an issue, as the 2009 monsoon brought a well-below average level of rain, exacerbating the problem, as did a 0.22 per cent drop in the cultivation area as compared to 2009.

Despite the persistent high prices, demand for wheat rose 1.8 per cent in 2009 to 22.80 million tonnes, with demand expected to increase again by 2.9 per cent in 2010. To 2014, there is forecast growth of wheat consumption of almost 6 per cent from the 2009 level to 25.45 million tonnes. As the staple food and the cheapest source of carbohydrates, demand for wheat is very inelastic and may even increase in times of high prices.

As per long-term forecasts showing that wheat consumption will soon outpace production, Pakistan will soon find itself in the undesirable position of being reliant on imports to meet domestic demand, and therefore vulnerable to price fluctuations on the world markets.

According to Provincial Food Minister Malik Nadeem Kamran, the Punjab Food Department has so far procured 3.5 million metric tonnes of wheat worth Rs84 billion from farmers and the campaign is underway at all wheat procurement centres of the province.

He said that the government is procuring wheat from small farmers on priority basis under its policy framed in the interest of farmers. He said that the Food Department has so far provided more than 35 million gunny bags to farmers and their provision is underway.

Giving details, Malik Nadeem Kamran said that the Punjab Food Department has procured 2049 metric tonnes of wheat from Rawalpindi Division, 347593 from Gujranwala Division, 284284 from Lahore Division, 418010 from Faisalabad Division, 299092 from Sargodha Division, 622687 from Multan Division, 466475 from Sahiwal Division, 435848 from Dera Ghazi Khan Division and 646899 metric tonnes of wheat from Bahawalpur Division.

On the other hand, the Sindh government is all set to achieve the current year's wheat procurement target of at least 1.5 million tons by the end of May.

The Food Department of Sindh has so far procured more than 1.4 million tons of wheat from the growers and it was expected that the remaining quantity would be achieved within the coming few days.

The overall procurement process has cost the Sindh government at least Rs35 billion from different districts including major wheat production areas 'Benazirabad' (Nawabshah), Naushehro Feroz, Hyderabad, Dadu, Sukkur, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, Ghotki, Badin, Khairpur, Sanghar, etc.

At least 330 centres, established by the food department, procured the wheat crop from growers at government-fixed rate of Rs950 per maund. In order to ensure direct payment to growers, the leading banks including National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), Habib Bank Limited (HBL), United Bank Limited (UBL) and Allied Bank Limited (ABL) had set up their booths at the purchasing centres, the sources said.

Sources said that the procured wheat had been stored in rented private warehouses as Sindh government does not have proper warehouses with sufficient storage capacity. The capacity of government's warehouses is only 0.6 million tons, they said. In some of the districts, the growers had also complained of non-payment of government-fixed rates, the sources said.

Last year, the government campaign for increasing wheat production from 24 maund to 27 maund per acre remained successful, he said. The government had moved to increase wheat production from last year's 27 maund to 30 maund per acre in the current season.

However, complaints are pouring in that wheat growers are not getting due price due to role of intermediaries.

Wheat growers demand that support price of wheat needs to be provided to them so that they could avoid financial crunch.

The agriculture experts have asked growers to cultivate recommended varieties of rice for getting maximum yield which will not only help in redressing their financial problems but also increase the export of Pakistani rice.

According to a spokesman of the Agriculture Department, the recommended varieties were not only disease resistant but these could also produce high quality of yield.

Among the recommended rice varieties include Ari-6, KS-282, KSK-133, Niab-Ari-9, Super Basmati, Basmati 370, Basmati 385, Basmati 2000 and Shaheen, the spokesman told and added growers belonging to districts Sahiwal, Okara and their adjacent vicinities should cultivate Basmati 198 which was most suitable for these areas. The growers should sow rice nursery from 7th June because the period from June 07 to June 30 is most suitable for the cultivation of rice nursery.