crop feared in Punjab
The official assessment of the Crop Reporting
Directorate, still stands at 17.70 million tons
— against 19.04 million tons last year.
Officially it is sticking to 17.7 million tons
figure. However, some officials privately
concede that the final tally may be lower.
The food department, which has single (wheat)
crop expertise, thinks that the final size may
turn out to be closer to 17 million tons. By
March-end and beginning of April, the
agriculture department was projecting a figure
of 18 million tons and some private agencies
even put it at 18.3 million tons. The latest
lowering of the guesstimates is a direct
consequence of weather vagaries that have
overtaken the crop — delaying grain maturity and
As the weather is still in the process of
getting clear, its impact and final crop size
would remain a matter of debate for the next
three weeks till harvesting is completed in the
province. The crop size is important for the
country and the province for three reasons.
First, being a staple, it is an issue of food
security. Second, it is a major source of
resource transfer to the rural areas
and affects the level of development there.
Third, it has a direct bearing on rural poverty.
Each million ton of wheat
lost for any reason means a reduction of Rs26 billion in
resource transfer to rural areas. If Punjab loses two
million tons this season compared to last year’s crop, the
rural areas would suffer a loss of Rs52 billion that would
impact on poverty alleviation efforts there. This loss
should prove to be a wakeup call for provincial agriculture
managers for improving and refining the wheat seed sector.
The entire world now predicts that the weather would turn
and remain erratic; hence Punjab needs to revisit its major
crops. All its efforts to remodel its agriculture must start
with the seed sector. Pakistan and Punjab now need a wheat
seed that can perform in drought and rains.
So far, Punjab has seen weather damaging wheat crop in 15
out of its 37 districts. There have been three kinds of
damages — from rain, hail and windstorms. Overall impact
varies in different areas but they have badly hit around
Northern part of the province — Gujranwala and above — are
the worst hit, as crop there kept drying up when sun shined
and repeatedly got wet with intermittent rains. Apart from
these areas, Sheikhupura, Bahawalpur, DG Khan and Fort Abbas
are mainly hit districts.
These particular damages are in addition to general and
exceptional delay in harvesting, cold weather hitting grain
maturity and size throughout April and finally causing crop
lodging. The province is now counting the damage and
consoling itself with massive carryover stocks (17.50
million tons) that could see it through the next season
without jeopardizing food security.
But poverty and social upheaval created by this crop going
bad would remain part of national economy and psyche. They
need to be avoided in future through selected interventions
in wheat production
The wheat planners need to realise that weather only
worsened an already bad situation for the crop. To begin
with, the crop this year lost over 500,000 acres to other
competitive crops because the farmers did not get enough
money. To make it worse, fertilisers’ prices skyrocketed —
taking them out of reach of farmers. These prices went so
high that they stopped making business sense for farmers.
Urea consumption dropped by almost 25 per cent and DAP by 33
per cent. The province is now witnessing two to three per
cent production loss on this head.
Both these factors were worsened by weather problems. The
February frost hit the crop and rains skipped March. They
came in April and when they came, they kept the entire month
exceptionally cool and wet, hampering grain development.
Thus, it has been a combination of natural and management
problems that have hit the crop.
As if all these factors were not enough, the quality issues
have also started raising their head. No doubt there are
reports from certain pockets about crop losing its colour
and tip of the grain going black. But they are rare and
minor — less factual and more fictional. But the private
sector, in all probability, would treat them as real and
exploit the farmers to the hilt — adding to the farmers’
woes. This trend needs to be checked.
National and provincial wheat planners need to realise that
wheat crop is losing competitive edge to other Rabi crops
for a combination of factors. While the country needs half a
million tons of additional wheat to feed its increasing
population each year.