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Lower wheat 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 harvesting.

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 200,000 acres.

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.


Courtesy: DAWN

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