WHEAT - A WHITE GOLD

DR.S.M.ALAM
Jan 28 - Feb 03, 2008

There are numerous types of food grains produced in different countries of the world for human consumption, but there are only a few most essential food crops for human use. In this context, the three most essential white" color eatable items for human consumption are- wheat flour, white sugar and white salt. Among these, wheat flour is the most important edible item for daily use by human beings all over the world. It has been stated that wheat is the only edible crop from which more than one hundred different eatable items are cooked/prepared throughout the world. There is no any food crop in the world for consumption as that of wheat. The Holy Quran also states about Wheat (2:61).

Wheat is the most important food grain and a staple food for more than half of the world population, which at present is nearly 7.65 billion. About 120 countries in the world produce wheat. Presently, wheat is sown on 217 million hectares (1 hectare = 2.471 acre) around the world with 631.3 million tons production, with average of 2906-kg grain per hectare. China produces 97 million tons, followed by India(72 million tons), the USA(59 million tons), Russian Federation(47 million tons), France( 37 million tons), Canada(26 million tons), Australia (25 million tons), Germany(24 million tons), Pakistan ( 22.3 million tons) and Turkey(21 million tons). These countries produce almost 68 per cent of the total wheat and Pakistan share in world production is about 4%.

Competitive Advantage: Pakistan has a vantage position in the production of wheat grain. Wheat is a staple food crop of Pakistan, and accounts for nearly 38 per cent of the total cropped area, 30 per cent of the value added by major crops and 76 per cent of the total production of food grains. Pakistan made an important breakthrough last year by not only achieving self-sufficiency in wheat production, but by also being able to become a wheat exporting country. Among the wheat producing country, Pakistan stands at 9th place in terms of area (8.5 million hectares) with production of 22.33 million tons annually. The production of wheat per acre differs from area to area and farm to farm as some allied and supporting factors have to be taken into account, while calculating the yield. Weather and the availability of the irrigation water through canals also contribute to the yield. The consumption of wheat per capita in the country is 115 kg/annum. Pakistan produces enough wheat for its population of 165 million.

Wheat was sown over in area of 8.5 mha, recording a 13.6 % increase over the previous year's figures. Yield per hectare was 2,591 kg as against 2,486 kg in the previous year, representing an improvement of 19.3 %. Production over 22.33 million tons was higher by 18 % than when was it was in the previous year. The surplus productions have resulted in the export of wheat to the foreign countries. The major area of wheat in Pakistan lies in Punjab followed by Sindh. However, the yield per hectare is slightly higher in Sindh as compared to Punjab. While, the area under the crop has increased by 2 % in the Punjab and by 9.4 % in the NWFP over the last year, it has decreased by as much as 30 % in Sindh and by 60 % in Balochistan.

BASIC INGREDIENTS: To become self sufficient in wheat, Pakistan has all the required basic ingredients such as fertile land, sufficient irrigation water, hard working farmers, certified seed varieties of local and foreign origin and modern technology in abundance, provided these are utilized to full potential, which is only possible, if there is a firm will on the part of the planners. This incentive encouraged farmers to apply sufficient amounts of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and urea to the field. At the time of wheat sowing in Rabi Season Oct-Dec, the government had taken and the hard work put in by our farmers. All this was the result of certain measures taken by the government. About 75 per cent of wheat is sown in irrigated area and 30 per cent in the rain-fed regions. The latest official estimates indicate that against the target of 22.33 million tons for the current year, the production of wheat is touching a record level of 22.37 million tons.

PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY: Wheat crop demands an urgent need to accelerate its production in Pakistan either by increasing the area under cultivation or by enhancing the productivity per unit area through the adoptions of improved production technology. Wheat crop is grown in large irrigated and rain fed areas of the country. Pakistan is basically an agricultural country, where 70 % of the population depends direct and 16 % indirectly on agriculture. The wheat crop is beset by a variety of problems, reducing the yield to a national average of 1.6 t/ha. The most intractable of all the problems affecting wheat is that of weeds. As many as 37 species of harmful weeds grow in wheat field in different cropping systems, the most troublesome being Phalaris minor, Chenopodium album, Convolvulus arvensis, etc. At 2.5 % growth rate, the population of Pakistan increases by 4 million each year. By the year 2007, the population of Pakistan will reach about 165 million. The situation depends on huge quantity of wheat grain to feed the population. The development of improved variety with high yield, good quantity and wide adaptation will fulfill the requirements and uniform the socio-economic conditions of the country in ground and forming community in particular.

Southern Punjab had excelled in wheat production last year, but the crop is now reported to be languishing in the region. The officials concerned concede that the crop in southern Punjab where output had averaged between 30 and 60 maunds per acre has not been given even the first watering from the country's irrigation system. There is no way of averting the damage done to the wheat in the field. Farmers are complaining of slanted growth of plants, they have not risen beyond 12 inches to a maximum of 18 inches in most cases and the message is a substantially scuttled yield per acre. Punjab heavily relies on the use of ground water for meeting irrigation requirements of crops, but ground water is largely brackish and need to be mixed with canal water for sustaining productivity. In the absence of canal water, tube-wells have mostly not been commissioned, because of high electricity charges are another discouraging factor for the common farmers. There was a strong case for increasing the price of wheat of the mounting inflation and constantly rising cost of inputs. All this adds to the woes and agonies of the farmers who had responded to well last year to the incentive with a record produce of wheat crop.

LOOMING WATER CRISIS: The water crisis was looming frighteningly large across the country and planning should have been undertaken at the start of the wheat cultivation season. That may have helped to avoid the problems that now seem certain to severely hit the crop. Last year, the country produced a bumper crop of 21.7 million tons and managed to provide the staple food to the populace for the first time in many years, resorting to imports. The domestic consumption is about 18 million tons of wheat. This target seems to be well within the reach due to support price mechanism introduced by the government to evolve Internet of the growers in certain crops. Even the stashed target of 22.35 million tons of wheat would be enough to fulfill the need of the country. However, all such exit exports from where 1.5 million tons wheat is smuggled out into Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian states would be required to ground to plug the leakage.

Punjab was expecting a total wheat production of 16.78 million tons, Sindh 2.75 million tons and NWFP and Balochistan 1.1 million tons and 0.65 million tons, respectively. There are only two ways to increase wheat production increased acreage and/or increased per hectare yield. Though wheat acreage production and per hectare yield have increased from 1990-91 to 1999-2000, it has grown at very smaller rate compared to the increase in population. While, the wheat acreage, production and per hectare yield has risen during the previous decade, but they were unable to match the substantial increase in population.

The requirement of wheat for consumption by the population is only about 22 million tons and country produces more than this figure i.e. 22.3 million tons. At present there is a crisis of wheat shortage. In fact, there is there is no any shortage of wheat in the country. An agricultural expert expresses his view that in fact miller owners are the main beneficiary of the present crisis and so were the exporters and smugglers. They got wheat from the government on subsidized rates and sold it to high rates and exported it in Afghanistan. There are also elements of hoarders of wheat in the godowns or warehouses for selling wheat at high prices at suitable times for earning huge incomes .Strict action should be taken by the government against milers, exporters and smugglers and other culprits and nefarious and ill-mannered people who are disturbing the normal lives of the citizen.

Wheat is enough in the country. However, there is need to improve the technology to increase the wheat acreage. Supply of adequate DAP and Urea fertilizers should also be adequate. Also to break the stagnation in the agriculture sector for the production of wheat, the huge water losses in the irrigation system should be checked, the infrastructure in the rural areas to be developed to improve farm to market delivery and proper education and training to acquaint the farmers in modern agriculture practices are required. Devoted and concerted efforts associated with scientific approach are needed to make each province and only self sufficient in food but producing export surplus to give a strong helping hand to the national economy. In addition, following factors are suitable for increasing wheat production:

i) Prior to sowing, wheat fields must be well leveled and cleared from previous plant debris and weeds.

ii) Seed of high yielding wheat varieties resistant to rusts, smuts, etc. be sown in sufficient amount,

iii) Seed treatment with a suitable insecticide should be carried out carefully.

iv) Timely sowing is an important factor. This phenomenon will-help in good seed germination, and ultimately will improve the yield productivity,

v) Timely application of nitrogen phosphoric fertilizers will be carried out,

vi) Weeds being the main robbers of plant food from soil; space and even light required for wheat plants, be controlled by cultural practices and In case of heavy infestation, may be eliminated by application of herbicides, weedicides. This technique will definitely increase yield.

vii) Care must be taken to check the pre- and post-harvest losses of wheat. Pre-harvest damage may be checked from attack of birds, astray animals around the villages and wheat fields. Post-harvest losses must be checked from the attack of rodents and other insect pests and fungi. After proper trashing, wheat grains should be placed under hygienic conditions in fields and godowns as well. Uses of powdered neem leaves in the bags of wheat grains will also seemed to be useful. It is a traditional treatment for preservation of cereal grains.