The importance of Gujranwala

Published March 22, 2021
The population of the district is around 4.3 million of which an overwhelming majority has migrated from East Punjab and other states now part of India after the partition.
The population of the district is around 4.3 million of which an overwhelming majority has migrated from East Punjab and other states now part of India after the partition.

Located in the Majha region of Punjab, and lying 69km north of the provincial capital Gujranwala, is a historical town founded by Gujjars in the eighteenth century. The birthplace of the founder of the Sikh empire in Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Gujranwala is also known as the ‘city of wrestlers’ and is famous for its food.

Bound by Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin districts in the north across Chenab River, by Sialkot in the east, Sheikhupura in the south and the Hafizabad district in the west, it is the third-largest industrial town of the country after Karachi and Faisalabad.

Gujranwala is playing a major role in supporting the national economy by contributing around 5 per cent to GDP. There were 40 industrial units in the area before the 1947 partition; the number has swelled to more than 6,000 small and large units, including textile, power looms, pottery, fan, ceramics, oil extracting mills, tanneries, leather footwear & garments, tyre tube, agricultural (engineering, shellers, etc) and animal feed.

The population of the district is around 4.3 million of which an overwhelming majority has migrated from East Punjab and other states now part of India after the partition. Gujjars, Jats, Rajputs, Araen, Awans and Sayeds are the major tribes. An interesting aspect of the district’s demography is that it has an almost equal urban-rural population, 50.5pc urban and 49.5pc rural, denoting the intensity of the industrial activities attracting the rural people to urban centres.

The third-largest industrial town of the country after Karachi and Faisalabad, the city contributes around 5pc to GDP while also cultivating basmati on large tracts of land and thus contributing to foreign exchange earnings

Notwithstanding its industrial base, the land of Gujranwala is very fertile and suitable for different types of crops, though the menace of housing societies is engulfing the green lands around urban centres at a fast pace. It is home to the best quality rice variety in the world, basmati, which is known for its mesmerising aroma. It also helps earn precious foreign exchange as the country’s overall rice exports with a volume of over $2 billion stand second after textile made-ups. Wheat and sugarcane are other main crops grown in the district.

At least 38.14pc of the landholders are small, 53.98pc medium and 7.88pc are large landholders. The source of irrigation is perennial and non-perennial canals supplemented by tub-wells.

Out of the total reported area of 892,067 acres, 783,339 acres are under various crops, vegetables and fruit orchards. Rice is the chief Kharif crop grown on 93pc cultivated area. It contributes 62pc of the total crop production. Sugarcane contributes 36pc to total production and grows on 2pc of the total area.

Wheat, pulses, and gram are the main crops during the Rabi season. Wheat is cultivated on 80pc of the area and it shares 94.2pc of total production. Pulses are grown on 15.8pc of the total area that has a 4.6pc share in total production.

Paddy crop had been sown on 649,000 acres last season (2020) to harvest 591,000 tonnes of rice with an average yield of 24.4 maunds per acre against 484,440 tonnes reaped from 551,000 acres a year ago (2019) and with an average output of 23.24 maunds per acre.

However, the area under the basmati variety dropped this year. Basmati had been sown on 180,000 acres this season which ended in November 2020 against 274,000 acres last year. Thus, the production volume also went down from 208,730 tonnes last year to 136,670 tonnes, an almost 35pc plunge both in acreage and production. This gives a gloomy picture of the basmati rice scenario — high cost of production and lower income for the grower who is losing interest in the crop and thus a drop in its acreage.

Despite a massive influx of seeds with at least 120 seed varieties approved since 2003, only 48 of them have been released for various ecological zones. Pakistan has not been able to break beyond 2.56 tonnes per hectares production whereas the world average is 4.7 tonnes per hectare production. With high yielding seeds and recommended practices, four tonnes per hectare should be easily achievable.

On the other hand, to the disadvantage of rice growers and exporters, exports of the commodity are also plummeting mainly due to low prices offered by neighbouring India. In the first half of the current fiscal year, Pakistan’s overall rice exports plunged by 10pc in quantity to 1.824m tonnes and 6.74pc in value to $963m in July-Dec 2020-21 against the same period in the last fiscal year. The share of basmati exports fell by 38pc in quantity to 265,672 tonnes and 31pc in value to $262m while non-basmati exports dropped by 3pc in quantity to 1.558m tonnes and 7.45pc in value to $700m in the first half of the ongoing financial year as compared to the same period last fiscal year.

Samiullah Chaudhry, a rice grower and exporter from the district, says the government needs to pay attention to the plight of rice growers. He says that the development of basmati hybrid seed will take years of research and testing. The shortcut to improve the yield and income of the basmati farmers is to provide them planters for doubling the per acre plantation of paddy and thus getting better output from the same amount of water and land, he adds. He urges the government to provide planters on an instalment basis and at subsidised rates for most of the growers and smallholders who cannot afford to buy agriculture machinery at market rates.

The area under wheat cultivation in the ongoing season is 560,000 acres, around 9,000 acres more than the previous season’s 551,000 acres when the district had harvested over 702,240 tonnes of grains.

Sugarcane has been grown on 3,000 acres of land, around 40pc less than last year’s area under cultivation which was 5,000 acres. The total sugarcane production this year stood at 77,930 tonnes with an average of 696 maunds by acre, while last year the total yield was 10,936 tonnes with an average of 586 maunds per acre.

The cotton crop was also grown in the district particularly in the pre-partition era. But with the advent of sugarcane and the popularity of rice, both water-guzzling crops, the climatic condition and soil texture changed. The difficulty in finding farm labour, as most farming families also shifted to urban centres in search of better job opportunities, made the cultivators opt for crops that are easier to handle.

Salahuddin, a progressive farmer of the area, says cotton used to be one of the major crops of the district five decades ago. But the change in climate and unavailability of labour for picking cotton forced the cotton growers to go for other options.

Rahwali town and the areas adjoining Gujranwala city grow vegetables to meet the requirements of the urban population. The major vegetables grown in the district are potatoes, cauliflower, turnip, onion, peas, carrot, tomato, ladyfinger and garlic. Besides, bitter gourd and chillies are also grown in the district in minor quantities.

Guavas and citrus are the main fruits grown in the district. Besides, peaches, jaman and banana are also grown in minor quantities. Guava, lemon and kinnow orchards cover around 7,935 acres to produce 27,500 tonnes of fruits.

Inland fish farming is another success story of Gujranwala which started in the late 1960s. It was boosted by the Pakistan Aquaculture Development Project launched with the financial assistance of the Asian Development Bank in 1981, followed by the Second Pakistan Aquaculture Development Project Punjab in 1990-1996. Besides Sheikhupura, Attock and Muzaffargarh, the Gujranwala district has a larger number of fish farms and they together constitute about three-quarters of the total number of farms in Punjab. Alipur Chattha tehsil of the district, particularly the area along the Chenab River close to Head Qadirabad is home to fish farms, which also meet the fish meat needs of the provincial capital.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 22nd, 2021

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