May 12 - 18, 2008

Wheat is the basic staple food of many countries of the world. Wheat was introduced as a basic food thousands of years ago, assumingly from South-Western Asia, while its cultivation started in the Sub-Continent of Indo-Pak and its adjoining areas about five thousand years ago. Pakistan enjoys good reputation in its cultivation. According to the FAO report and data, Pakistan was amongst the ten top countries producing wheat during 2006 when the share of Pakistan in wheat production was 3.52 percent. China, India, America, Russia, France, Canada and Germany are respectively the largest wheat producing countries. China produces 17.31 percent of the overall global wheat production.

According to the International Grain Council Report, it is estimated that the overall production of cereals and grains in the world in 2008 would be 1,694 million tons, which will be 32 million tons more than that of 2007 while overall production of wheat is estimated at 646 million tons, which will be 42 million tons more than that of 2007. The overall consumption of wheat in the world has been assessed at 630 million tons, which would be 18 million tons more than in 2007.

The share of wheat in the country's economy is 3 percent. Wheat is the most important item in our basic food commodities. That's why it is grown in all parts of the country. The average per capita consumption of wheat is 8.20 kg per month. Keeping in view importance of wheat as the basic food item, a good quantity of wheat is kept as reserve for food security. This year the government had fixed 24 million tons as the target, which was 3.02 percent more than that of the last year. It was subsequently lowered to 22 million tons. However, its actual production may be around 21 million tons.

Officials in the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) told the print media that there were multiple factors responsible for low wheat production wheat estimates. These included late sowing. According to an estimate, 60 percent of wheat was sown in late December because of late crushing by sugarcane mills and a dispute between sugarcane growers and mills over the price of cane, shortage of irrigation water in irrigated areas, load-shedding, rising prices of fertilizers, high prices of diesel and host of other factors. The ideal time for sowing wheat is November 15 to November 20. After this the yield per acre suffers a decline.

Wheat has been cultivated on about 2 percent less area. Wheat is usually grown firstly in original wheat growing areas, secondly in area vacated after harvesting of rice and cotton crops and thirdly in area from where sugarcane is removed and supplied to mills. Cotton growers at times delay the last pick, which affects the schedule of wheat sowing in the respective area. As already explained, sugar mills at times do not deal fairly with the farmers. They start crushing late to get more quantity of sugar as the sugar content of sugarcane (sucrose) increases with late crushing. They also delay payment of the cane grower's bills while legally and lawfully they are bound to pay for the supply made to them within fifteen days. The time for crushing has also been specified but they do not follow the schedule set by the government. The government also does not seem to be responsive to the farmers to have their problems sorted out, in earnest, well in time. The ultimate sufferer is not only the farmer, but also common citizen, who needs food without any inconvenience and at affordable rate. Another factor responsible for low production, which has been pointed out by some representatives of farmers, was that the DAP price at the time of sowing remained between Rs.1300 to Rs.1400 per 50 kg bag, however, it has now reached Rs.3000 per 50kg bag. Use of lesser quantity of fertilizers than what is required was also responsible for lower yield. According to the official estimation, fertilizers application till December, 2007 was 36 per cent less than the previous year. This factor has an adverse effect on the production.

Twenty percent of the area where wheat is grown falls in rain-fed zone. Rains were late during the year 2007, which also affected the overall production of wheat.

Too many unscheduled and undeclared shut-downs and load shedding had their adverse effect on wheat and other Rabi crops output.

As per an official report, the government would complete the process of importing 2 million tons of wheat by the end of March 2008.

The Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA) estimated a decline in the wheat production by 15 percent for the reasons explained above.

The shortage of wheat and atta crisis in the country is the result of its smuggling to Afghanistan from Mehmand Agency and neighbouring countries where the rate of wheat and atta is more than Rs.1200 per 40kg. Smugglers are using their own technique of smuggling wheat and atta. When their trucks loaded with wheat and atta were stopped and apprehended at different points of the border, they started using mules for carrying wheat and atta across the border. Hoarders are engaged in buying wheat at Rs.700 to Rs.800 per 40kg with an intention to sell it in black-market or smuggle it across the country. An artificial shortage is created by hoarders and black-marketers to extort money from the consumers. However, the availability of this staple food at affordable rates is the responsibility of the government because it is a basic food for the overwhelming population of the country. This is no doubt a question of credibility and commitment. The government should take stringent measures and take deterrent action against the law breakers and smugglers so that the country's population does not suffer for lapses and latitude of the Administration and smugglers" lust for money. Corrupt officials and troops co-operating with these smugglers should also be taken to task.

As regards the future safeguard for supply of food, that warrants another detailed discussion, which will be contemplated upon in an independent article. So far 1.274 million tons wheat has been procured by Punjab, 0.4 million tons by Sindh and 0.45 million tons by Passco. The ECC has approved 250,000 tons wheat import immediately owing to the downward trend in the international prices. The estimated procurement target of wheat for the year, 2008-09 is five million tons, out of which a total of 2.121 million tons i.e. 42 percent has already been procured as compared to 2.054 million tons in the corresponding period last year.