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Local wheat production and imports

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Two million tonnes shortfall in wheat production against 21 million tonnes target is feared

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
Sep 13 - 19, 1999

We have missed another target fixed by this government to achieve food autarky by the year 1999. The production of wheat in 1999 remained below 19 million tonnes against the target of 21 million tonnes which was considered sufficient to meet the domestic requirement not including about 1 millionŃpreviously smuggled and now legally exported to Afghanistan through permits.

This shortfall of over 2 million tonnes is likely to multiply in view of the latest demand of the provinces for revising the formula of calculating their demand. All the four provinces have asked the centre to change the basis of the decade old formula for wheat distribution as, according to them the annual per capita consumption of wheat has gone up from 124 kg to 146 kg. If the formula is changed accordingly shortfall will increase by another 2.5 million tonnes. This will add substantially to our import bill further disturbing our precarious balance of payment position.

This is, indeed, a very sorry state of affairs that Pakistan, which at one stage was surplus in food, is today facing food crisis, and has to spend huge foreign exchange to meet its domestic requirement. In our neighbourhood India at the time of partition was really in a bad shape as far as food situation was concerned. Pakistan then had enough wheat to spare and exported the same to India to help the latter to overcome its food crisis. The situation has now reversed. While India has achieved food autarky, notwithstanding its huge population, Pakistan is deficient in food items and has to look to foreign markets to make up for the deficiency. It sounded very strange when the Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, during his visit to Lahore last February offered wheat to Pakistan.

There are no two opinions that we have been ignoring agriculture despite its being the leading sector of PakistanŐs economy contributing about 25 per cent of GDP, providing jobs to over 47 per cent labour force and supports directly or indirectly around 68 per cent of our population. It also contributes about 80 per cent to our export earnings in the form of raw material and value added goods and commodities. It is because of our lopsided priorities that this important sector remained neglected and a country which was surplus in its food requirement few decades back is now spending over Rs. 90 billion annually (almost twenty per cent of our total imports). In the import of wheat, edible oil, pluses, tea and other food stuff. the situation can be reversed with proper planning as has been done in the Indian Punjab where per acre yield is almost double than our side of Punjab despite having same terrain and land characteristics. We can achieve that position by modernizing our agriculture sector and that can solve most of our economic problems.

The target

A farmers convention was held in Islamabad and after long debates and deliberation a package of concession was announced offering relief in cost of power and other input besides about 25 per cent increase in the support price of wheat, cotton, rice, sugarcane and generous loans facilities to the small farmer through window operation.

These efforts did help specially in the wheat production which rose from 16.63 million tonnes in 1997 to 18.63 in 1998. Encouraged by these results a target of 21 million tonnes was fixed for 1999. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture has not set a target to achieve food autarky by the year 2000. The Ministry, in conformity with the newly chalked out policy to reduce import bill of Pakistan is actively working to place Pakistan in wheat export surplus position within the next 2 years. The steps, which are under consideration to achieve this cherished goal, include increase in support price from Rs. 240 to Rs. 300 per maund, bring more land under cultivation besides providing easy and adequate loans to the growers for purpose of agriculture machinery and equipment. Currently, the wheat crop is being sowed over an area of around 8.085 million hectares, which is also being enhanced by earmarking more land for this purpose. Steps are underway to ensure availability of tractors at the reduced prices, a substantial increase in the farm credit from Rs. 30 billion to Rs. 45 billion this year which indicates the seriousness of the efforts being made by the government to achieve self sufficiency in food.

Although the increase in the support price of wheat would help the farmer to enhance his yield, price of wheat flour (Ata) will also go up. It is a sensitive issue where government stumble and desist from taking any forward looking decision. But if by taking such a decision we can become a wheat exporting country clearly thatŐs not a bad bargain.

In the context of our efforts to maximize the production of food items, we cannot over emphasize the point of land ownership and the vital factor that is in any effort aimed at improving the quality of agriculture in any country or set of circumstances. The land owners are making no positive contribution to any aspect of national life. All their manipulations are motivated by self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. They exploit their political power for the sheer intoxication of the abuse of power. They do not bring any benefits to their lands or to those who toil on their lands.