Jan 28 - Feb 03, 2008

Farmers and masses all are paying through their nose for the flawed and un-judicious policies of our policy makers and for the greed of the vested interests, hoarders, black-marketers and smugglers. The farmers, unlike trade and industry are weak stake-holders though they are in majority and have great voting strength, being 70 percent of the total population. The farmers in the developed countries always have an upper hand over their governments. Although they are small in number, their lobbying is strong to dictate their terms. This is a bad luck with our farmer community that they are on the losing end and even the federal and provincial governments do not come forward to resolve their genuine problems. Assessing the possible achievement of next wheat crop, many factors will tell the true picture of considerable decline in achieving the wheat target for 2008, some of which are narrated below:

The delay in starting the crushing by sugar mills during 2007 is the main factor that made the country miss wheat sowing on an area measuring 200,000 hectares on which sugarcane was grown. Most of the sugarcane growers were unable to have the land cleared from sugarcane crop on time. According to an estimate, 10 percent less cultivation of wheat occurred because of the millers and rulers clique in delaying to start crushing.

There are big tycoons amongst the sugar mill owners like Chaudhry Shujaat

Hussain, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardar, Humayun Akhtar, Jahangir Tareen, Altaf Saleem, Mian Azhar and their close relatives. Since those among them, who were in power and those in opposition had a common cause, they did not let the farmers feel free to start wheat sowing well in time just to benefit themselves by exploiting the farmers.

While discussing the matter, ordinarily it seems to be the loss of farmers only as the delay deprived them of sowing wheat crop in time. But the mills and the rulers do not realize and perhaps they do not like to realize that they have caused heavy damage to the food security of the country. Reportedly the wheat sowing area this year has been short by 10 percent. The country is already in the grip of a drought-like situation. Common man is facing unbearable burden because of the high prices of wheat and atta even when we had harvested a bumper crop of wheat last year.

The oil companies have been raising prices of diesel, which is used to run tube-wells and tractors. The government never bothers to provide a relief in the oil prices for agriculture sector.

High quality wheat seed supplied by the private sector to the farmers found their way to the market and then to the millers for grinding to earn extra-ordinary profits as the prices of wheat and flour had become very lucrative. This factor alone would be responsible to cause 5-10 percent shortfall in the yield. It would, therefore, be ludicrous to claim that the next wheat crop would meet the target and would suffice our need.

The government's claim that wheat and wheat flour is available in the country at much lesser rates than those prevailing in the international market is still a serious joke, prima facie the fact that our average per capita income is not more than 2 dollars a day. How can we compare our food commodities rates with those of the western countries, whose per capita income is thousand times higher than ours?

One most important factor that determines the size of wheat crop in Pakistan is the government's declaring the rate of wheat before sowing of the crop. The government has been oblivious to the anxiety of farmers in this regard. Had the government announced a suitable rate of wheat before wheat crop sowing, farmers would have used their best efforts and resources in procuring the best seed, using maximum inputs, care and services to get the maximum production to make handsome earnings. Thus farmers are of the considered opinion that the rulers, in spite of their vociferous claims to be farmers friendly, do not seem to be sincere and responsive to them in making their policies and delaying their decisions, which cause unnecessary inconvenience and loss to them.

Barani areas contribute nearly 20 percent to the total production, however, these areas were not blessed with timely rains for sowing wheat crop. This factor would also give a setback to the production of wheat in the country.

There were also reports of shortage of water in the canal irrigated areas. According to press information IRSA came up with irrigation water statistics in the beginning of the year, 2007 and evaluated that there would be shortage of irrigation water for the coming wheat season. Wheat crop in accordance with the ecological position of the land requires 3 - 5 complete watering. Resultantly wheat production target will suffer, so will the farmers and the countrymen.

Too many unscheduled and undeclared power shut downs and load shedding must have their adverse effect on the wheat and other Rabi crops. While electricity is being provided to agriculture sector in Pakistan at Rs.3.28 per unit, in India it is being provided to its farmers at a negligible rate of Rs.0.6 per unit.

Thus the situation is not likely to improve even during 2008-09 because it is being genuinely feared that Pakistan may miss the wheat production target of 24 million tons for the causes explained above. Wheat is the main staple diet of our over 160 million countrymen and it is the largest grain crop of Pakistan area-wise as well as quantity-wise. Acute shortage of wheat and high prices thereof are beyond the capacity of our common man to afford now or in future.

FUTURISTIC APPROACH: A number of steps are needed to increase wheat production. The prices of inputs are on the top of it. Irrigation water is the major input, it should be ensured at an easy and affordable price. It would be relevant to point out that in Indian Punjab, Haryana and Wester U.P. assured irrigation is available for agriculture sector. Mega water reservoirs are the need of the hour both for irrigation purposes and generation of electricity. India is far ahead Pakistan in building water reservoirs for ensuring irrigation water supply to its farmers. Seed is the basic and most important input. Supply of improved and high yielding wheat seeds and in adequate quantity would prove useful and helpful in getting better yields. The prices of fertilizers in India are at an average rate of Rs.540 but in Pakistan it crosses all limits. DAP, as per the news, is costing us Rs.1900 - 2000 per bag during this cropping season. Farmers need to be educated to use improved production technology and for that purpose, effective extension service should be provided to the farmers in their fields and farms.