A conflict among the provinces on wheat supply is on. To get into wheat shortage during cropping season has now become a norm for Pakistan. The country has hardly produced enough wheat to meet the food requirements.
Despite being an agriculture country, large amount of foreign exchange is spent on wheat import. We need to reset our priorities and policies to get rid of this perpetual crisis. Indecisiveness, mismanagement and unrealistic policies have contributed to the crisis, thus compelling imports.
It was an important breakthrough in 2000 when Pakistan entered into export market and became a potential competitor to India in the Gulf and Middle East markets.
Again, this crisis has created anxiety among the masses. Though, in terms of area Pakistan stands 10th in the world and in production 59th, yet it is seventh largest wheat producer.
While accounting for 2.73 per cent in global production from 3.57 per cent area, its contribution in the value-added agriculture stands at 12.5 per cent with a share of over three per cent in the GDP.
There are reports of a likely wheat shortage early next year. Flour prices in recent weeks have registered a 20 per cent increase. Even after an inter-provincial ban on wheat movement, Punjab remains short of the 3.5 million tons target. So far, it has managed to meet only half the target.
According to the federal estimates wheat production stands at 17 million tons against the need of 19 million tons. This situation fuelled the tension among the provinces which led to panic buying and price hike, regardless of the stock position.
All this exerted pressure on the government which in turn decided to import one million tons to serve as the reserve stock during 2004-05. It has also been decided that Punjab would provide wheat to the NWFP and Balochistan "as per their requirement".
The situation demands a thorough study. Strategies leading to self-sufficiency must be undertaken which can be possible if policy measures are followed. Wheat in large quantities is being smuggled into Afghanistan and Iran, adding to the shortages.
According to an estimate, every year approximately 2.5 million tons are smuggled into Afghanistan alone. Stringent measures to check smuggling need to be adopted, promptly. There already is immense pressure on the country to feed millions of Afghan refugees.
They should be relocated to their homes, immediately.One of the reasons of low per acre wheat production is the late maturing of long grain rice varieties and its harvesting.
This leads to late cultivation of wheat, though there are other factors, too. However, late sowing is lethal. To come out of this dilemma conservative and traditional methods of cultivation should be replaced with effective technology.
Awareness to increase yield, besides introducing management techniques among the farmers will lead to self-sufficiency in wheat production. Rotation of suitable crops, fertilizers, weed control, etc., should be based on integrated approach.
At present about 40 per cent of the total acreage is under improved cultivation. The disease prone seed varieties which farmers usually prepare at home should be substituted with new pest resistant seeds.
At present, only 10 per cent of the area is being sown with improved wheat seeds. The new seed varieties should be fairly distributed to farmers at subsidized rates. About 36 per cent of the total acreage is cultivated by small farmers who use old techniques.
Access to inputs, advice and credit should be made available. This will help in increasing the yield. The government should begin "farmers' support education programme". Harvest and post harvest losses also contribute to low yield.
Mechanical reapers, binders and combiners, and on and off farm storage facilities can help in reducing losses and also cost. However, apart from the above points, the main reason for persistent wheat deficit is the lack of political will. There is a need on the part of the government to move fast on this front.
(DAWN, 14 JUNE,2004)