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Gram crop to achieve output target   
By 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 – 33 per cent less than 2006-07 production. This year, the official target was 623,000 tons – 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 – 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 – fungi, bacteria, nematodes and viruses.

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 better.

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 encouraging results.

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

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