Wheat yield and food security in Pakistan (dgAlert / DAWN)

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Wheat yield and food security

By Bilal Hassan

Average wheat yield in Pakistan has been stagnant for the last seven years while the population has increased significantly, widening the gap between demand and supply of basic staple food. In Punjab, wheat occupies the largest cultivated area during Rabi season. Its share in national wheat production is greater than any of the three other provinces. But wheat statistics reveals no increase in yield for the last seven years.

In 1999-00, the province produced 16.48 million tons of wheat at a per hectare average of 2,667 kg. The production dropped to 15.41 million tons next year-2000-01. Average per hectare yield was 2,465kg. There was 6.5 per cent reduction in wheat production and eight per cent in average per hectare yield.

The production dipped further in year 2001-02 to 14.59 million tons with average going down to 2,392 kg per hectare. Average per hectare yield decline was 10 and three per cent compared to 1999-00 and 2000-01.

In 2005-06, the production recovered a bit and hit 16.81 million tons at an average of 2659 kg per hectare- some eight kg less than what the province produced in year 1999-00.

Since population has increased by at least 2.5 per annum, from 137 million to 160 million between 1999-00 and 2005-06. To meet rising demand, wheat production must also increase proportionally and should have gone up to 18.86 million tons against present 16.8 million tons, a shortfall of 2.36 million tons.

The situation calls for increasing wheat production to ensure food security. In the presence of cap on land and water resources, the only option is to increase yield per acre.

Pakistan is much below the international average and can narrow the gap by taking appropriate steps. The trouble with our agriculture is lack of creativity in research. During the last few decades, the researchers have not been able to come with any high-yielding seed and the growers are sowing the variety introduced in the early nineties. There is a need for wheat research programme. The scientists should make efforts for the genetic improvement and development of new varieties. Better genotypes should be made available to growers.

A host of other steps are needed to increase wheat output. On the top of it should be prices of input. Mainly used inputs include seed, irrigation, fertilisers and weedicides in wheat crop. To reduce burden on growers, prices of inputs must be cut. Compare to India, the prices of inputs are higher. For instance, the price per sack of fertilisers in Pakistan is Rs658 while in India it is available at Rs540.

Similarly electricity is being provided to farmers in India at Rs0.6 per unit, while here at Rs3.28 per unit. Tractors, seed, and pesticides are far cheaper in India. Cost of wheat production is much higher owing to high cost of inputs and the farmers are discouraged to use balanced amounts of inputs.

The use of urea is at peak but price factor is hampering the required usage. Its price is over Rs550 against government declared Rs525. Fertilizers requirements are met partly through indigenous production and partly from import. TCP imports about 500,000 tones of urea annually to bridge demand-supply gap, as the local production of the commodity varies between 4.4 to 4.6 million tones against the consumption of 5.4 million tones.

Recently, the government has introduced a subsidy worth Rs13 billion on the prices of phosphorus and potash fertilisers, as a result of which the price of per bag had decreased by Rs250. This subsidy had increased the use of DAP during the October-December 2006 up to 0.98 million tones, which was 56 per cent more than the last year. This would have positive impact on soil nutrient status and yield of wheat.

Irrigation is essential input for wheat cultivation. A couple of weeks back Indus River System Authority came up with irrigation water statistics and evaluated that there would be shortage of irrigation water for the coming season. It creates acute water shortage for wheat that would make it impossible to achieve the target. Wheat crop requires minimum three crucial watering. Water shortage will create problem for growers to complete three watering. Resultantly, wheat production target is bound to suffer and the farmers’ income will also face a setback.

Under the National Programme for Improvement of Watercourses (NPIW), the government has improved 5,200 watercourses. The government has set the target of improving 18,000 watercourses during the current financial year at a cost of Rs10 billion under the NPIW. National programme for improving 86,000 watercourses at a cost of Rs66 billion was initiated in 2004, which aims at conserving the existing water resources, improving delivery system, thus enhancing the productivity and bringing more area under cultivation. The programme also provides 11,000 direct and 400,000 indirect job opportunities to the people.

The Punjab government has announced rewards for growers for showing record wheat yield. The farmers showing record per acre yield of wheat would be awarded tractor and other agri-equipment. Such announcements would provide incentives to growers to increase area under wheat as well make efforts to increase per hectare yield. The Punjab government has set a target of 17.8 million tons for the next year.

The government should organise training programme in all parts of the country on agricultural credit to create awareness among the farming/ rural community about financing facilities. There is an appreciable increase in the flow of credit to agriculture sector for the last couple of years.

Nevertheless, disbursement to the sector is still only around 40 per cent of total estimated credit requirements of the farming community. It must be around 70-80 per cent during the next 3-5 years. Availability of credit to farmers will improve the financing capacity for agricultural equipments and implements. This will also facilitates farmers to purchase inputs in time.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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