INCREASES IN THE PRICES OF COMMON EDIBLE ITEMS

DR. S.M.ALAM
Apr 21 - 27, 2008

Pakistan is endowed with diverse climates, fertile land and one of the best canal irrigation systems of the world. Large varieties of crops are cultivated throughout the year, including wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane which account for 91 per cent of the value-added in major crops. Minor crops including oil seed, pulses and vegetables account for 12.4% of the value-added in overall agriculture. The sustainability of agriculture depends on the prudent use of natural resources and careful considerations of environment.

Though Pakistan made rapid progress in food and agriculture front but several weaknesses persist and future challenges are complex and daunting. The yields of crop in Pakistan are comparatively lower than those of agriculturally advanced countries.

At present, our natural resource base like land and water is under great stress by getting worse with the growing population. The general problems associated with agriculture of this region are scarcity of water, floods, water logging, alkalinity, soil erosion, low yield per unit area, quality of inputs, pests and disease attacks traditional and old methods of cultivation. Other problems include poor quality seeds, poor soil management low yielding varieties, lack of crop protection methods credit facilities. Inadequate water supplies have resulted in low cropping intensities and are moreover responsible for low yield.

There are two growing seasons of crops in Pakistan: Kharif and Rabi. In Kharif season, mostly rice, cotton, sugarcane, maize, etc. crops are grown, while in Rabi, the crops like wheat and vegetables are grown. Other crops grown in the country are bajra, jawar, barley, tobacco, sugar beet, guar, pulses, rape seed, mustard, groundnut, linseed, castor seed, onion, garlic, chillies, turmeric, ginger, potato, tomato etc. It has been observed since 2007 the prices of every food grains, livestock products, vegetables, fruits, edible oil , gas, fuel, electricity, transport, and many other human related concerned items on the increase without any control. This price increase phenomenon is on the increase upto this month of April 2008. The lower and middle classes people are the worst suffers.

Pakistan is the 9th biggest wheat producer in the world, but 60th in terms of yield per acre. Wheat consumption is a bit over 20 million tons per year. The demand for wheat is increasing in Pakistan due to rapidly growing population as well as mounting cross boarder trade with Afghanistan Wheat is a major and most important food crop and a staple food of almost all Pakistan's population, occupies a central and pivotal position among food grains of the country. On an average each household spends about 17% of its total food expenditure on wheat and wheat flour. It contributes 12.5% to the value added in the agriculture sector of the economy and accounts for nearly 38% of the total cultivated area, 30% of the value added by major crops and 76% of the total production of food grains. Presently, wheat crisis has been deepening and aggravating during the year 2007 till today during 2008. and will continue till the next crop of wheat is in the market in 2008. Presently in the markets there is shortage of wheat and available only at very high varying from Rs.25 to Rs. 30 per kg. and this rate is increasing daily.

This may be due to vested interests, poor policy makers, hoarders, black-marketers, profiteers and smugglers. Load -shedding and power shut-downs have badly affects agriculture. Briefly . taking cognizance of the present situation the present wheat crisis warrants that the government should seal its boarders to stop the smuggling of the wheat. It is the duty of the government to make proper arrangement to supply wheat and flour to the general public, using their reserved stocks and importing wheat as much as necessary to save the poor people from dying of hunger and shortage of food till the next crop of wheat is brought to the open markets.

Rice is the second most important crop brings economic prosperity of the growers as well as earns billions of rupees through its export for country. Pakistan fine rice commonly known as Basmati (Fragrance of virgin girl) is world famous and enjoys monopoly in the international market, due to its quality characteristics, strong aroma, slender and long kernel, intermediate amylase content, gelatinization, temperature and high degree of grain elongation on cooking.

Rice occupies 11% of the country's cropped area and contributes about 17% of food grain production. Rice is cultivated over an area of 2.62 million hectares with an production of 5.54 million tons as estimated for the year 2003-2004. Punjab is the biggest producer of rice in the country and contributes 48 per cent to national production. All rice is irrigated and mainly transplanted. On an average, each household in Pakistan spends about 3.8% of its total food expenditure on rice and rice flour. It is the second staple food and contributes more than 2 million tons to Pakistan's national food requirement. The contribution of basmati and coarse rice in rice exports was 54 and 46% respectively. After Thailand, Vietnam, United States and India, Pakistan is the fifth largest rice-exporting country in the world. Despite the prime position of rice in the national economy and world market, the average yields in Pakistan are discouragingly low being only 2.7 and 1.6 tons/ha in comparison with 3.92, 2.98, 6.58, 6.34 and 8.91 tons/ha of India, USA, China and Egypt, respectively. The price of rice is also on the increase since the year 2007 and this situation is still prevailing the in the cities and rural areas of the country. The Basmati rice cost at present to Rs 90-100 per kg. The price of Irri rice is also on the rise side.

There is a growing gap between domestic demand and domestic production which is filled by a sharp increase in imports. Continuous rise in trade deficit has another cause of high inflation. There is a danger that the current high rate of inflation , whatever is its cause, can hamper the conditions of the people and ultimately lead certain people to corruption. It would not be wrong to say that non-availability of food can also motivate people to indulge in non-productive activities which will only damage society in many different ways.

It is now necessary that cereal production should be increased by at least 40 per cent over the next 25 years to meet needs for food, livestock feed and fiber crops. Similarly, production of all other major food products shall have to be increased to meet the subsequent demand. The per capita agricultural land continues to shrink and land resources are increasingly depleting. The continuing problem of salinity and deforestation have become a menace.