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Capitalising on record maize production

Updated Jun 19, 2017 10:16am

OUTPUT of maize has exceeded 6m tonnes for the first time in the country, thanks to its cultivation on a larger area and a modest rise in yield.

This is going to boost both local sales and exports of corn and corn-based products.

According to provisional data, Pakistan produced 6.13m tonnes of maize in FY17, up 16.3pc from last year’s 5.271m tonnes. Whereas the area under cultivation increased to 1.334m hectares from 1.191m hectares in FY16, the crop’s yield also went up to 4,595kg per hectare from 4,426kg per hectare.

Officials and growers attribute this surge in maize production to factors like extensive use of inputs, particularly fertiliser, introduction of some high-yielding hybrid varieties both in Punjab and KP, sowing of new varieties of white grain maize in KP and experiments made with some maize varieties that need little water for growth.

Local research institutions, in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and USAID, have been working on an exclusive maize yield enhancement programme.

“Under this programme, new maize seeds have been developed in the last three years that have not only cut the cost of imported seeds but has also boosted per hectare yields in many areas to 5.5-6.5 tonnes per hectare. In some instances, per-hectare-yield of hybrid varieties has been reported even higher - up to 7 tonnes per hectare”, says an official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

The national average yield of Pakistani maize stands at 5 tonnes in FY17.

Hitting a historic high of 6m tonnes in maize output is an important achievement for us. But to capitalise on it, we need to go for higher value-addition in local supply chain and exports.

“Development of new maize seeds in the last three years has not only cut the cost of imported seeds but also boosted per hectare yields in many areas to 5.5-6.5 tonnes per hectare”

Maize and its flour are widely used as a staple food in KP and Punjab. For some years, food industries have also increased production of corn porridge, corn meals and corn flakes etc.

“A bumper maize crop is good for feeding people and for the local food industry’s business,” says a senior official of Fauji Cereals, producers of the famous Fauji Corn Flakes.

“Maize exports normally remain erratic with the export volumes,” says a Jodia Bazar’s veteran grain merchant.

“The government has not made a substantial effort so far to sustain corn’s exports. If the Pakistan Trade Development Authority and the foreign trade mission help us in marketing, the maize exports can be increased from 100,000 tonnes a year at present to 0.5m tonnes in a short time,” he says.

But the prospects of exports in the current export marketing year (May 2017-April 2018) are not so bright, the grain traders say. Reports on the commodity market trends (including the latest FAO forecast) show that the global output of maize this year is almost equal to the last year’s level.

“So, we need to focus on value-added corn products to boost exports this year. However, with a little effort, the exports of raw maize can also be improved as it is in great demand in the central Asian and west African countries.”

In the last marketing year (May 2016-April 2017), Pakistan exported around 100,000 tonnes of corn, worth about $15m, mainly to Afghanistan, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Seychelles and Switzerland.

Small quantities were also exported to China, Oman Yemen and a dozen other countries, exporters say. They, however, claim that the total exports earnings of corn, cornflour and other corn-based products are much higher.

Loose cornflour sold in bulk to Afghanistan alone fetched a few million dollars between May 2016-April 2017, they insist. (The State Bank of Pakistan puts the corn exports in 10 months of FY17 at around $10m).

Exporters say many of them export loose maize grains in bulk adding that generally shipments in this category are made in multiples of 500 tonnes. This fetches very low prices, often around $150 per tonne.

But some exporters, particularly those with deeper penetration in foreign markets, also export maize in polypropylene bags, each containing 50-100kg as per their export orders. They often earn a little higher prices, ranging between $160-170 per tonne. Only food processing companies produce and export corn-based products without little or no involvement of intermediary traders.

Higher maize production this year is expected to benefit the local poultry and animal feed industry as well. Not only low quality maize grain is used extensively in making mixed poultry feed composed mainly of corn, bran, fish-meal and gluten-meal of corn and sorghum etc, it is also a common ingredient in animal feed manufacturing apart from consumption of maize stalks as fodder.

But poultry and animal feed manufacturers rely heavily on middlemen for raw material supplies. “Just one bumper crop of one cereal, be it maize or sorghum, isn’t going to help animal feed makers in a big way,” says an owner of a Karachi-based animal feed company.

“Dissemination of information about maize crop prospects and actual output is very limited, even though it is the third largest staple food item after wheat and rice. This makes the pricing of the commodity difficult, both for farmers and industrial buyers of corn. Federal and provincial governments and farmers’ lobby groups must address this issue,” he said.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 19th, 2017