Gram crop to achieve output
Ahmad Fraz Khan
GRAM - the second largest Rabi crop acreage wise — is
expected to achieve its production target of 623,000 tons,
making it a good season for agriculture. Farmers are also
hoping to hit a dreamy wheat target of 25 million tons. Both
these crops would definitely boost country`s agriculture
output. Gram, commonly known as poor man`s protein for its
healthy dietary value, is to be harvested by the end of
April. Though the crop`s achieving the production target can
only be welcomed, it is also time to assess the potential of
the crop and see how it could be improved further.
Especially, as international grain prices are increasing and
may take pulses price upwards with them putting additional
pressure on the poor.
As far as acreage is concerned, gram falls fifth on the
national list after wheat (22 million acres), cotton (eight
million acres), rice (six million acres) and maize (three
million acres). It is sown on 2.7 million acres, which is
more than the much politicised cane crop which covers only
2.2 million acres. Of the one million tons requirement, the
local crop meets 85-90 per cent. By that calculation, the
crop would still be less than the need, and may be imported
to meet the requirements.
This is pathetic to say especially when the country had
produced over 200,000 tons more than the current target. In
2006-07, gram production stood at 823,000 tons. This was the
result of policy measures, which included “intervention
price” and later induction of Pakistan Agriculture Services
and Storage Corporation (Passco) into procuring gram to
stabilise price. Both the measures increased gram production
by 75 per cent within a span of one year. Unfortunately, due
to official neglect slide in production started from the
very next year.
The slide was officially accepted, rather engineered. No one
can explain the logic behind fixing 25 per cent less target
for the next two years than what has already been achieved.
Last year, the production target was reduced to 553,000 tons
â€“ 33 per cent less than 2006-07 production. This year, the
official target was 623,000 tons â€“ some 25 per cent less
than the same. Why the targets were revised downwards, no
one knows. Especially when the national requirement is more
than that, and the country faces shortages and high price
once production drops.
The second factor that increased production during 2006-07
was improved seed. As per official record, around 1,510 tons
improved, not certified, seed was used during that year and
production skyrocketed. In subsequent years, the usage
dropped exceptionally, and so did production. In 2007-08,
only 206 tons improved seed was used.
Next year, it dropped to 180 tons and to 172 tons last year.
If total requirement of seed is considered, it comes to
around 81,000 tons â€“ at a rate of 30kg per acre for 2.7
million acres. Out of these 81,000 tons, if farmers use only
172 tons improved seed, one cannot, and should not, expect
any miracle out of the crop, despite all other good
practices and favourable climate.
It only goes to prove that seed is crucial to grams
production. But there has not been much varietals
improvement in gram seed. One wonders if genetic improvement
can be bought to cotton, rice and maize seeds, what deters
the government from encouraging seed agencies for doing the
same to gram. No multinational or a local private company
deals in gram seed, leaving over 70 per cent of farmers with
traditional varieties, which have become highly susceptible
to all kinds of diseases â€“ fungi, bacteria, nematodes and
The government must ask the official agencies dealing in
seed business to come up with some better varieties of gram
(both desi and kabuli ). That is exactly where the planners
need to concentrate.
Apart from seed, the crop also suffers few other problems
that must be dealt with. They include pests, poor
agronomical practices and water availability. As far as
diseases are concerned, experts believe one way of dealing
with them is to stop sowing gram in the area for three to
four years. It could break the pest cycle and help gram grow
But, to stop gram sowing, farmers need alternative crop.
Cotton can be one option. India has successfully taken major
portion of cotton crop to rain-fed area and some companies
in the country have also experimented with the same, with
In addition to a shift in crop cycle, the government should
also help farmers improve agronomical practices. Since soil
in the rain-fed areas is largely un-even, fields`
preparation becomes even crucial. Deep sowing with drills is
the most desirable practice in gram areas as traditional
sowing (throwing the seed) drastically reduces yield.
Since the entire crop is restricted to rain-fed areas,
reliable water supply is crucial to the crop. Other gram
producing countries, like China, have developed mobile water
units or have taken the crop to sprinkle and drip
irrigation. Such models are still to be explored here.
The entire concentration of the crop in Punjab, over 85 per
cent is only in rain-fed areas, which happens to be the most
backward as far as agriculture, development and
administration is concerned.
The crop thus falls much below the official priority list.
Given its nutritional value, especially for the poor, gram
must be taken out of neglect, and be saved from these small
problems. The government needs to take these small steps to
achieve big result.
Courtesy: The DAWN