THE WHEAT CROP

It is imperative to increase food and fibre production

Dr.S.  M. ALAM
Oct 11 - 17, 2004

Pakistan is  an agriculture country and its economy is mainly agrarian.  Agriculture is the biggest sector of the economy and earns about 40% of the national income from agriculture commodities. There is a general consensus that yield per hectare and per unit area of some important crops (such as wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, etc.) are very low. In spite of the fact that our country is blessed with a galaxy of climate, soil condition and irrigation water. Almost 25 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), 70 per cent export and 55 per cent labour force is contributed by this sector. The country is dependent on agriculture for food and fibre requirements for ever increasing population. Despite favourable soil condition, irrigation system, water and climate,  wheat yield per acre in the country is one of the lowest in the world. Possibility of expanding area under wheat is rather limited. Hence, most of the increase in production should come from increased yield per unit area through better management based  on modern package of production technology.

The country is totally dependent on agriculture for the supply of food grains and fibre. Therefore, it is imperative to increase food and fibre production to cope up with not only ever growing requirements of the country, but for the sake of foreign exchange earnings and to attain self-sufficiency in food grains for the burgeoning populations. Currently, the country is in the grip of population explosion of severe intensity. Hence, it is essential to make all our efforts to fulfil the food and fibre requirements for the rapidly increasing population. For the achievement of our agriculture production targets, development of improved agriculture technology is essentially a prerequisite item. 

At present, wheat is sown in the world over an area touching 230 million hectares producing about 600 million tons equivalent to an average of 2700 kg of grain per hectare. The mainland China brings about 30 million hectares, which are the largest in the world followed by the Russian Federation, India, the USA, Australia, Canada, Turkey and Pakistan. As far as the highest yield is concerned, France produces 7200 kg per hectare (7 tons/ha), who leads other countries, because it has much longer growing season of winter wheat. Our wheat is 2491 kg compare to 3945 kg/ha of China, 2596 kg/ha of India, 3900 kg/ha of Mexico, 2848 kg/ha of USA. Egypt produces 5422 kg of grain per hectare for the year 1999, whereas Indian Punjab producing 4090 kg and even India leads us in average yield by producing 2559 kg, notwithstanding three times larger area compared to ours (2176 kg/ha). Nearly 70 per cent of the total cultivated area in India is rainfed, whereas our rainfed is about 24 per cent. The reasons for this low production are inefficient marketing system and corruption at various levels. 

Wheat is the most important crop  produced in  country. It is a staple and indispensable food of the people of Pakistan. Although, Pakistan is one of the top ten producers of wheat throughout the world yet, the wheat yield per unit area is still far below its potential  yield. In Pakistan, wheat is grown in a wide range of environments that affects overall performance, particularly grain yield and end-use quality. Wheat yield and end-use quality depend upon the environment, genotype, good quality seed and their interactions. Environmental factors that may limit productivity and quality of wheat include climatic factors over which producers have little control such as precipitation, temperature, day length, soil types, spacing, use of balanced fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, timely irrigation,  right time of sowing, and seedling rate, some of which may partially mitigate  with other environmental factors. It is a cool season crop  and cultivated under a wide range of ecological and climatic conditions at altitude from sea level to about 150 meters above sea level and rainfall from 4 inches to 40 inches per annum.

Wheat being the  main staple food crop of the country, occupies about 38 per cent of the total cultivated area. Experts say that five years average (1996-2001) was 8.4 million hectares, with 72 per cent in Punjab, 13.5 per cent in Sindh, 10.3 per cent in NWFP and 4.3 per cent in the country's largest province Balochistan. In the year 2000-2001, a maximum wheat production over 21 million tons was obtained in the country. The reasons for this maximum production were the increase in the support price from Rs. 240 to Rs. 300 per 40 kg of wheat, favourable climate, longest cold temperature during the growing period and partly due to the shifting of disgruntled sugarcane growers to wheat sowing, which ultimately increased in wheat area and accordingly the wheat grain yield. Due to increase in the yield of wheat, the country earned a huge amount due to export of wheat grain in the foreign countries at that time. In the month of September 2004, the Government of Pakistan has increased the support  price of wheat as Rs 400 for per 40kg.

In recent year there was a shortage of wheat production  due to shortage of water supply in the country. This situation led to the short supply of flour in the many big cities of the country. Presently, there are more than 900 flour mills in the country and these mills are not in a position to supply enough flour to the consumers in the country.  Shortage of  flour has been reported in most part of the country. This mainly due to mismanagement of the government officials , they did not manage to supply the required wheat quotas to the flour mills in the country. This has resulted in the increase in the cost of wheat flour and ultimately in the cost  all items prepared from wheat flour. Biscuits are  important commodity consumed as snack food by all age  groups. Commercially available biscuits are principally  prepared from white flour that lack fibre, mineral elements and is nutritionally deficient in certain amino acids such as lysine. Biscuits prepared from such flour are nutritionally poor. If wheat flour is supplemented with proteins that  are relatively rich in lysine then the amino acids supplied are adequate.

In our country, wheat is cultivated largely (80 per cent), in irrigated areas (75 per cent) whereas, rest in rain-fed areas (24%). The yield and production in latter part of the country is predominantly controlled by rain during growing season, which usually are erratic. Hence yields are much lower during season of low precipitation. There are of course three kinds of wheat cultivars, the long duration, the medium and short duration varieties. The wheat yields usually start declining after 15th November sowing at the rate of 20 kg per day on per acre basis. Hence, efforts must be made to plant  the wheat  at optimum time. Within this period, the best planting time is from October 20th to November 15th in all the four provinces. Late sowing continues upto January. Late sowing results in reduced tillering, spike length and number of grains per spike resulting in the reduction of wheat yield/ha.

The  planners, policy makers, scientists, agriculture and irrigation departments, should have a sound and effective programme for sustainable production keeping in view all the affordable facilities need for a sound wheat crop yield. Adequate quantity of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash may be applied to harvest maximum grain. The pace of yield of wheat increase per hectare during the past 20 years has been awfully poor. The population growth however, overwhelmed the increase in yield per unit area, therefore, the enhanced demand of wheat consumption was not by bringing more area under crop, which was not a good sign as how long increase in area under crop shall come to our help. The general public needs to be motivated to diversify the so-called dietary pattern, which is imbalance to reduce the unnecessary burden on wheat. There are many stored grain pests, which destroy a substantial quantity of produce. Efforts may be made to eliminate the losses by using modern technologies and modern agricultural practices.