WHEAT PRODUCTION REMAINS STAGNANT
In the present situation, it would be an unwise adventure to think of exporting wheat and if we do so it might lead the country to food crisis.
Mar 12 - 18, 2007
Wheat is an important staple food crop of Pakistan, dominating all crops area-wise as well as production-wise. Average wheat yield in Pakistan, however, remained stagnant for the last seven years, while the population has been increasing significantly, that is @ 2.5 per cent annually, thus widening the gap between supply and demand of this basic staple food.
In the province of Punjab wheat is grown on a large area during Rabi season, thus its share in national wheat production is much greater than any of the rest of three provinces.
A bird's view of Pakistan's share in the World wheat production for the period 1998-99 to 2004-05 is given below:
WORLD MILLION METRIC TONNES
Source : FAO
About 120 countries in the world produce wheat, of which following 10 countries produce about 68 per cent of the total wheat production. Pakistan holds the 9th position in these 10 top countries, as shown below:
Other 111 Countries
Prima facie no expansion in the area under cultivation of wheat and limited supply of irrigation water, ensuring food supply for the increasing population of the country has become very difficult. The only option left is intensive cultivation for increasing the per acre yield. Irrigation water is the most important input for all crops, including wheat. A few weeks ago the Indus River System Authority disclosed that there would be shortage of irrigation water for the coming season. This shortage would have an adverse effect on the wheat crop but with the Grace of God the recent rainfall throughout the country is expected to prove a blessing in disguise.
There are many factors that affect the targets. Late crushing by sugar mills and stoppage of crushing in between had also cast an adverse effect on the wheat crop because of late growing of wheat. The sugar mill owners, being the blue-eyed boys of the government, caused a lot of inconvenience and hardship to the farmers. Similarly, oil companies keeping the rate of diesel much higher than the international rate caused an increase in the cost of inputs used by the poor farmers.
As regards supply of irrigation water, the World Bank has again reminded Pakistan that if big water reservoirs are not constructed at the earliest, the country would badly suffer shortage of irrigation water and a drought like condition as in Somalia and Ethiopia would pervade. On the other hand a lot of lip service is going on unabated in the media but there is nothing on the ground in respect of construction of Kala Bagh dam and other big dams.
Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan has confirmed that under the National Programme for Improvement of Water Courses the government has lined 25,000 water courses while its target is to improve 40,000 water courses out of the total 87,000 by the end of this year at a total cost of Rs. 66 billion. This programme, which was initiated during 2004, aims at conserving the existing water resources by improving the delivery system, enabling farmers to increase productivity and bring more area under cultivation. According to the minister, high efficiency drip and sprinkler irrigation system costing Rs. 15 billion would be launched to improve water use efficiency in water scarce areas, with focus on high value crops.
The decision of the Punjab government to provide laser land leveling technology in every union council is a good move for curtailing wastage of irrigation water, a good quantity of which otherwise is wasted due to uneven level of fields. As per estimates, 20-25 per cent water would be saved, which is lost due to evaporation and leaching. Leveling of soil also saves loss of fertilizers and protects the soil from salinity and water-logging. This programme would help enhance crop yield by 20 per cent, besides ensuring uniform germination, easy operation and facilitating easy crop harvesting.
The Punjab government has announced rewards for giving record wheat yield in the form of agriculture equipment and machinery like tractors, threshers, harvesters, drill machines, etc. These rewards would provide incentives to motivate and encourage farmers to increase their yield per acre and the area of wheat cultivation, besides creating healthy competition amongst the farmer community.
It is appreciable that during the last couple of years credit facility to farmers has been increased. It is, however, felt necessary that the government should arrange training programme throughout the country to create awareness amongst farmers on how to get agricultural loans and how to use this facility efficiently for procuring inputs and agricultural equipment in time in order to maximize their output.
As regards research in this field, it is regretted that after 1970's no new improved variety of wheat seed has been introduced. In this context, it has been assured by the Minister that MINFAL has strengthened the National Wheat Research Programme under the leadership of a renowned scientist, who would allow the development of new improved varieties. It may also be relevant to suggest that results of research at our research centers and laboratories must be communicated to our farmers in the field and the same should not be confined to Islamabad. That is only possible if there is an effective and intensive extension service to guide farmers and give them practical demonstration in the field. To increase wheat output, improved and certified seed of wheat must be made available in sufficient quantities at subsidized rates at easily accessible places. That is of paramount importance to get maximum yield.
The volume of agricultural loans should be raised to 500 billion rupees to enable farmers to feel at ease while procuring their inputs, the costs of which are increasing every now and then. The support price of wheat should be fixed at Rs.450 per maund and it should be ensured that their produce is purchased at the support price otherwise there is no use declaring the support rates by the government and leaving the farmers at the mercy of dealers to buy the produce at much a lesser price than the support price declared by the government.
India is far ahead than Pakistan in giving relief to its farmers. Electricity is almost free, being only Re. 0.6 per unit while in Pakistan the rate is Rs. 3.28 per unit, which would still be higher as a result of the increase in the electricity tariff by 10 per cent. Tractors, seeds and pesticides are available at much cheaper rates in India. In Pakistan when the price of urea is fixed at Rs. 525, it is not available at less than Rs.550 per sack in the market. China has altogether waived off the land revenue. Other agrarian countries are also giving maximum relief, subsidies and incentives to their farmers. The US is next to none in this regard.
Chairman Agri-Forum, Muhammad Ibrahim Mughal has rightly stressed that while India is constructing new dams even at the controversial sites, we are sleeping over the subject. This, according to him, is like committing suicide at the national level. Sui gas, as he reiterates, which is used as a raw material for producing urea fertilizer, is being supplied to IPPs to generate power and is being burnt in our homes and hearths. Resultantly, we are compelled to import fertilizer at a fabulous cost of Rs 40 billion. Fertilizer companies are making bonanza and declaring profits at 150 per cent. He is of the view that urea should be made available at Rs 400, DAP at Rs 700, nitrophos at Rs. 500, potash at Rs.700 per bag and these rates should be freezed for five years. The rate of green diesel should be fixed at Rs. 25 per liter, electricity at Rs. 1.28 per unit and tractor at Rs. 300,000. These rates should also be freezed for five years.
The Economic Co-ordination Committee of the Cabinet has allowed export of half a million tons of wheat from its surplus stock of 1.5 million tons. At the same time producers, as reported in the print media, are allowed free export without involving any NOC. Before discussing the matter, this scribe would like to give a brief picture of Pakistan's imports and exports of wheat from 1999-00 to 2003-04:
(Source: Director of Agri. Economics & Marketing, Punjab)
Assuming that 115 kg is the per capita consumption of wheat, the need of wheat for a population of 155 million would be 17.83 million tons per annum. Adding to it quantity of seed, wastages as well as poultry feed, the total requirement would come to about 21.5 million tons. Setting aside a minimum 10 per cent to be kept as strategic reserves, the total quantity would work out at 22.3 million tons against the speculated production of 18 to 19 million and possible availability between 21 to 22 million tons. In case we still take into account possible leakages and smugglings into the neighbouring countries like Afghanistan through Peshawar, which are estimated at about 1.5 million tons, the total required quantity would come to about 23 million tons. In this situation, it would be an unwise adventure to think of exporting wheat from Pakistan and if we do so, it would naturally lead to "penny-wise pound-foolish" situation, which we must prudently avoid to save the country from any food crisis.