ISLAMABAD: As the agriculture sector is showing poor performance with declining yield of major crops, particularly wheat and cotton, Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhr Imam has said that the country lacks fine scientists for development of agriculture.

Speaking at a ceremony organised to mark World Food Day on Friday, Mr Imam emphasised that “we have to focus on our culpabilities and realise our responsibilities as we are unable to provide nutrition to our people”.

He said that over the past 25 years the agriculture sector had been neglected in the country and no measures were taken for the betterment of people.

Says Pakistan lacks good scientists to make progress

Mr Imam said that the present government was working on policies for development of the agriculture sector. The government had fully realised the importance of agriculture in ensuring food security and focused on sustained supply of key inputs like fertilisers, seed and pesticides at rational prices to create an environment in which farmers could get a fair return of their produce, he added.

Speaking on the occasion, Chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Centre Dr Mohammad Azeem Khan said that “we have compromised the agriculture sector performance due to vagaries of climate change and food insecurity is one of the worst effects of climate change”.

The PARC has successfully carried out research and is now promoting foods which have high value of quality protein and rich source of minerals and vitamins, like Tilapia fish, soybean and its products, and food legumes dairy products.

Country Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations Mina Dowlatchahi highlighted the importance of reliable data and information to support targeted policies and collective action by the government, civil society and the private sector to address food insecurity and malnutrition in Pakistan at a challenging time amidst Covid-19 pandemic impacts and natural hazards shocks and trans-boundary pests.

Small farmers and off-farm agriculture workers, women and men, need to be able to access financial resources, knowledge, technology and innovation to produce and move “farm to fork” more, safer, and diversified food to improve livelihoods and diets of the people of Pakistan, she said.

Import of wheat

Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research said on Friday that Pakistan was now wheat secure till the next harvest. It says claims of excessive shortage are fallacious, and 4.883 million tonnes of wheat is available with the public sector.

The provincial crop reporting services informed the ministry that there is a shortage of 1.6 million tonnes. It has been decided that the shortfall will be met through import of wheat with three-pronged strategy, including importation through public, private and government-to-government (GTG) basis.

The public sector is importing wheat through a GTG basis in two ways. The Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) will bring 180,000 tonnes of wheat under GTG in November, while the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) got clearance from the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet on Thursday to import 340,000 tonnes of wheat under the GTG in the coming month. The imported quantities will be distributed among Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in proportion to what they have requested.

On the other hand, the public sector, which is importing wheat through the Trading Corporation of Pakistan, has provided a schedule of 29 vessels that will arrive till January 2021 bringing outsised amount of wheat in the country.

The ministry is making its best efforts to overcome any future shortage of wheat in the country as two vessels carrying wheat imported by the TCP have arrived in Pakistan. TCP’s first wheat consignment of 55,125 tonnes arrived on Oct 7 and the second shipment of 55,000 tonnes arrived the following day, resulting in 110,125 tonnes of wheat in stock.

This wheat was forwarded to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for augmenting the provincial wheat stock. Another wheat consignment, imported by the TCP, is expected to reach Pakistan this week, the ministry says.

At third tier, the private sector has till now imported 0.432 tonnes of wheat, out of which 0.470 million tonnes have been discharged and distributed to Punjab (0.239m tonnes), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (0.0105m tonnes) and Sindh (0.221m tonnes).

Prices in the local market have reduced by around Rs200 to Rs300 per 100kg bag in all major city centres. Thus efforts of the ministry to tap inflation are now fruitful and the ministry is also working to build its wheat strategic reserves, while the government is also curbing black marketing and smuggling of wheat.

At present total wheat stocks of public sector stand at 4,882,960 tonnes. Punjab has stocks of 2,855,969 tonnes, Sindh 1,259,395 tonnes, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 90,035 tonnes, Balochistan 63,100 tonnes and Passco has 614,461 tonnes.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020