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Wheat crop demands an urgent need to accelerate its production in Pakistan

By Dr. S.M. Alam
Dec 17 - 30 , 2001

Wheat is the most important grain and a staple food for more than one third of the world population. It is sown on 220 million hectares around the world with 564.6 million tons production, an average of 2500 kg grain per hectare. China sown wheat on around 30 million hectares, followed by the Russian Federation; India, the USA, Australia, Canada, Turkey and Pakistan. As far as the highest yield is concerned France in Europe produces 7200 kg per hectare as it has much longer growing season of winter wheat. It is also a staple food crop of Pakistan, and accounts for nearly 36 per cent of the total cropped area, 30 per cent of the value added by major crops and 76 per cent of the total production of foodgrains. Pakistan made an important breakthrough last year by not only achieving self-sufficiency in wheat production, but by also being able to become a wheat exporting country. Among the wheat producing country, Pakistan stands at 10th place in terms of area (8.5 million hectares) and 59th in terms of yield (21.0 m ton) annually. The production of wheat per acre differs from area to area and farm to farm as some allied and supporting factors have to be taken into account, while calculating yield. Weather and the availability of the irrigation water through canals also contribute to the yield. The average per acre yield of wheat is estimated between 20 and 25 maunds and above it needs an extra effort as well as natural supporting factors.

Last year (1999-2000), the area, yield and production in cases of wheat were the highest ever in Pakistan. Among the cereals, the wheat is the most vantage and pivotal crop of the country. This edible food crop accounts for about 37 per cent of the cropped area of the country. Wheat was sown over in area of 8.5 mha, recording a 3.6 % increase over the previous year's figures. Yield per hectare was 2,491 kgs as against 2,170 kgs in the previous year, representing an improvement of 19.3 %. Production over 21 m tons was higher by 18 % than when it was in the previous year. The surplus productions have resulted in the export of wheat to the foreign countries. The major area of wheat in Pakistan lies in Punjab followed by Sindh. However, the yield per hectare is slightly higher in Sindh as compared to Punjab. While, the area under the crop has increased by 2 % in the Punjab and by 9.4 % in the NWFP over the last year, it has decreased by as much as 30 % in Sindh and by 60 % in Balochistan.

To become self sufficient in wheat, Pakistan has all the required basic ingredients such as fertile land, sufficient irrigation water, hard working farmers, certified seed varieties of local and foreign origin and modern technology in abundance, provided these are utilized to full potential, which is only possible, if there is a firm will on the part of the planners. This incentive encouraged farmers to apply sufficient amounts of diammonium phosphate (DAP) and urea to the field. Wheat price was raised from Rs. 240 to Rs. 300 for per 40 kg at the time of sowing the crop. Last year, this timely measures help the farmers to increase wheat production. At the time of wheat sowing in Rabi Season Nov-Dec, the government had taken and the hard work put in by our farmers. All this was the result of certain measures taken by the government. About 70 per cent of wheat are sown in irrigated area and 30 per cent in the rain-fed regions. The latest official estimates indicate that against the target of 20 million tons for the current year, the production of wheat is touching a record level of 22 million tons as compared to 17.8 million tons.

Wheat crop demands an urgent need to accelerate its production in Pakistan either by increasing the area under cultivation or by enhancing the productivity per unit area through the adoptions of improved production technology. Wheat crop is grown in large irrigated and rainfed areas of the country. Pakistan is basically an agricultural country, where 70 % of the population depends direct and 16 % indirectly in agriculture. To feed a hundred million people, about four million farmers grow on 8.5 million hectares of wheat every year, representing 37 %, of the total cropping area. The wheat crop is beset by a variety of problems, reducing the yield to a national average of 1.6 t/ha. The most intractable of all the problems affecting wheat is that of weeds. As many as 37 species of harmful weeds grow in wheat field in different cropping systems, the most troublesome being Phalaris minor, Chenopodium album, Convolvulus arvensis, etc. Using a 30 % growth rate, the population of Pakistan increases by 2 million each year. By the year 2005, the population of Pakistan will reach about 160 million. The situation depends on huge quantity of wheat grain to feed the population. The development of improved variety with high yield, good quantity and wide adaptation will fulfil the requirements and uniform the socio-economic conditions of the country in ground and forming community in particular.

Southern Punjab had excelled in wheat production last year, but the crop is now reported to be languishing in the region. The officials concerned concede that the crop in southern Punjab where output had averaged between 30 and 60 maunds per acre has not been given even the first watering from the country's irrigation system. There is no way of striving the damage done to the wheat in the field. Farmers are complaining of slanted growth of plants, they have not risen beyond 12 inches to a maximum of 18 inches in most cases and the message is a substantially scuttled yield per acre. Punjab heavily relies on the use of groundwater for meeting irrigation requirements of crops, but groundwater is largely brackish and need to be mixed with canal water for sustaining productivity. In the absence of canal water, tube-wells have mostly not been commissioned, because of high electricity charges are another discouraging factor for the common farmers. There was a strong case for increasing the price of wheat of the mounting inflation and constantly rising cost of inputs. All this adds to the woes and agonies of the farmers who had responded to well last year to the incentive with a record produce of wheat crop.

The water crisis was looming frighteningly large across the country and planning should have been undertaken at the start of the wheat cultivation season. That may have helped to avoid the problems, that now seems certain to severely hit the crop. Last year, the country produced a bumper crop of 21.7 million tons and managed to provide the staple food to the populace for the first time in many years, resorting to imports. The domestic consumption is about 18 million tons of wheat. This target seems to be well within the reach due to support price mechanism introduced by the government to evolve internet of the growers in certain crops. Even the stashed target of 20 million tons of wheat would be enough to eater to the need of the country. However, all such exit exports from where wheat is smuggled out into Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian states would be required to ground to plug the leakage.

Punjab was expecting a total wheat production of 14.23 million tons, Sindh 2 million tons and NWFP and Balochistan 0.73 million tons and 0.5 tons, respectively. There are only two ways to increase wheat production increased acreage and/or increased per hectare yield. Though wheat acreage production and per hectare yield have increased from 1990-91 to 1999-2000, it has grown at very smaller rate compared to the increase in population. While, the wheat acreage, production and per hectare yield has risen during the previous decade, but they were unable to match the substantial increase in population.

To break the stagnation in the agriculture sector for the production of crops, the huge water losses in the irrigation system should be checked, the infrastructure in the rural areas to be developed to improve farm to market delivery and proper education and training to acquaint the farmers in modern agriculture practices are required. Devoted and concerted efforts associated with scientific approach are needed to make each province and only self sufficient in food but producing export surplus to give a strong helping hand to the national economy. In addition, following factors are suitable for increasing wheat production:

i) Prior to sowing, wheat fields must be well levelled and cleared from previous plant debris and weeds.

ii) Seed of high yielding wheat varieties resistant to rusts, smuts, etc. be sown in sufficient amount.

iii) Seed treatment with a suitable insecticide should be carried out carefully.

iv) Timely sowing is an important factor. This phenomenon will help in good seed germination, and ultimately will improve the yield productivity.

v) Timely application of nitrogen-phosphotic fertilizers will be carried out.

vi) Weeds being the main robbers of plant food from soil, space and even light required for wheat plants, be controlled by cultural practices and in case of heavy infestation, may be eliminated by application of herbicides, weedicides. This technique will definitely increase yield.

vii) Care must be taken to check the pre- and post-harvest losses of wheat. Pre-harvest damage may be checked from attack of birds, astray animals around the villages and wheat fields. Post-harvest losses must be checked from the attack of rodents and other insect pests and fungi. After proper trashing, wheat grains should be placed under hygienic conditions in fields and godowns as well. Uses of powdered neem leaves in the bags of wheat grains will also seemed to be useful. It is a traditional treatment for preservation of cereal grains.