WHEAT MOST IMPORTANT STAPLE FOOD CROP OF PAKISTAN

M.R. CHAUDHRY
July 23 - 29, 2007

Wheat is the most important staple food crop of Pakistan, prevailing all crops area-wise as well as production-wise. Average wheat yield in Pakistan has been stagnating for the last 7 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 as a Rabi crop. Thus its share in national wheat production is much higher than any of the rest three provinces.

A bird's view of Pakistan's share in the World Wheat Production for the period, 1998-99 to 2004-05 is shown below

YEAR

WORLD

PAKISTAN

PERCENTAGE SHARE

MILLION METRIC TONNES

1999-00

587.56

21.08

3.59

2000-01

578.93

19.02

3.27

2001-02

574.39

18.23

3.17

2002-03

561.71

19.18

3.48

2003-04

629.56

19.50

3.10

2004-05

626.47

21.61

3.45

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:

SR#

COUNTRIES

METRIC TONNES

SHARE %age PE

1

China

96160250

15.47

2

India

72000000

11.58

3

United States of America

57105552

9.19

4

Russian Federation

45500000

7.32

5

France

36922000

5.94

6

Canada

25546900

4.11

7

Australia

24067000

3.87

8

Germany

23578000

3.79

9

Pakistan

21591400

3.47

10

Turkey

21000000

3.38

Sub Total

 

68.12

Other 111 Countries

 

31.88

Total

 

100

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 increase in the yield per acre. Irrigation water is the most important input for all crops including wheat. Indus River System Authority disclosed that there would be shortage of irrigation water for the coming Rabi crops.. This shortage would have an adverse effect on the wheat crop but, with the Grace of God, the recent rainfalls through-out the country proved a free gift from Nature.

There are many factors, which affect the targets. Late crushing by sugar mills and stoppage of crushing in between had also an adverse effect on the wheat crop because of late growing of wheat otherwise our wheat production would have been much higher. The sugar mills 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, increased the cost of inputs of the poor farmers.

As regards supply of irrigation water, the World Bank has again reminded Pakistan that provided 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 from the Government's side but the situation on ground tells a different story in respect of construction of Kala Bagh Dam and other water reservoirs.

Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock 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 87000 by the end of this year at a total cost of Rs.66 billion. This programme, was initiated during 2004, aiming at conserving the existing water resources by improving the delivery system. According to the Minister :High Efficiency Drip and Sprinkler Irrigation System for Rs.15 billion to improve water use efficiency in water scarce areas, with focus on high value crops, would be under-taken. It can, however, be no substitute to the major water reservoirs.

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. Estimatedly 20-25 per cent water would thus be saved, which is lost due to evaporation and leaching. Levelling of soil also saves loss of fertilizers and protects the soil from salinity and water-logging. This programme would help enhancing crop yield by 20 per cent, besides ensuring uniform germination, easy operation and facilitating easy harvesting of the crop..

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 through-out 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, besides ensuring availability of inputs agricultural medicines, fertilizers etc. in good quality and at reasonable rates.

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 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 support price of wheat should be fixed at Rs.450 per maund and it should be ensured that the 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.

India is far ahead Pakistan in giving relief's 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. Frequent power shut-downs is also irksome. 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's, subsidies and incentives to their farmers. The U.S. 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 IPP's 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. Fertilizers 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 be also be freezed for five years.

The Economic Co-ordination Committee of the Cabinet had 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, were allowed free export without involving any NOC. Before discussing the matter, the scribe would like to give a brief picture of Pakistan's imports and exports of wheat from 1999-00 to 2003-04:

Year    

Import: Qty.(M.T.) Import: 
Value ($1000)
Export Qty.(M.T.) Value (($1000)

1999-00 

1,048,179 

144,207

23148  4316

2000-01 

149,121

257,725

353288  39809

2001-02    

267,192 511,46 642595 73003

2002-03    

147,913 294,25 1138281 132153

2003-04 

107,978

232,64  42863  5958
(Source: Director of Agri. Economics & Marketing, Punjab)

Exporting Wheat: 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 millions 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. According to the latest news, the Government has stopped further export of wheat. The Government must always keep in view all the pros and cons before giving any green signal for exporting wheat or any other staple food to ensure sufficient supply thereof to its own countrymen.