Declining wheat crop to put food security in peril

Published October 17, 2022
LAHORE: Traders, workers and customers gather at a wholesale fruit market on Sunday. ‘World Food Day’ is observed every year on Oct 16.—AFP
LAHORE: Traders, workers and customers gather at a wholesale fruit market on Sunday. ‘World Food Day’ is observed every year on Oct 16.—AFP

LAHORE: The production of wheat in the upcoming Rabi season is expected to decline as decreasing profit margin and high input costs are making farmers look out for alternative crops like maize and rice, jeopardising national food security.

Meanwhile, expressing concerns over the impending food shortage in the wake of floods, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for collective efforts to ensure food security.

During 2021-22, the area under cultivation for wheat decreased by 2.1 per cent to 8,976,000 hectares. In 2020-21, the area was 9,168,000 hectares. The production also declined by 3.9pc to 26.394 million tonnes against 27.464m tonnes a year before.

Officials have blamed the decline in acreage, water shortage, drought conditions at the time of sowing, less fertiliser offtake and heatwave during March and April for the decline in yield. This decline came despite the decision to increase the minimum support price from Rs1,850 per 40 kg to Rs2,200.

Despite that, the Federal Committee on Agriculture has fixed an enormous wheat production target of 28.4 million tonnes from an area of 9.3m hectares for the 2022-23 Rabi season. However, the target looks improbable as vast swathes of agricultural land have been inundated in Sindh and some districts of Punjab.

The officials, perhaps, have also overlooked the high cost of fertiliser that may further reduce its offtake this season and costlier wheat seed.

Some progressive farmers fear that the area under wheat cultivation for wheat will further decline, leading to a shortage of commodities.

They blame rising production cost, smuggling, unavailability of compost and reducing profit margin for their apprehension.

Aamer Hayat Bhandara lamented that the growers sold their produce at a rate of Rs1900 to Rs2200 per kg during June and July after toiling for around five months (Nov to April).

“On the other hand, middlemen (arthis) earned a profit of Rs500 per 40kg and flour mill owners earned Rs1300 per 40kg by selling flour produced from the same wheat in two months (Sept and Oct),” said Mr Bhandara adding that for the rest of the years, these mills would receive subsidised wheat from the food department, further soaring their profits.

He said growers were likely to buy back the same wheat as seed at a rate of Rs5400 per 50kg bag or at Rs4320 per 40kg.

Mr Bhandara added that the proposed increase of Rs800 per 40kg in the support price was insufficient to attract farmers as cost of production has nearly doubled in a year. He claimed the rate of one bag of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) has gone up from Rs6,000 to Rs15,000 last year.

To ensure parity in input and output costs, Mr Bhandara suggested Punjab to fix the support price at Rs4000 per 40kg as has been done by the Sindh government.

He also proposed abolishing taxes from tube-wells, provision of DAP and Urea compost at affordable rates, lowering prices of seed and pesticides instead of offering subsidy, extending concessionary loans to farmers, access to machinery and latest technology, either on rent or easy instalments and curbing the role of middlemen.

PM calls for collective action

Meanwhile, in his message on World Food Day, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has asked the global community to collectively ensure food security in all countries, APP reported.

In a series of tweets posted on his official account, the prime minister said recent devastating floods in Pakistan have destroyed standing crops on millions of acres.

An agricultural country like Pakistan had to import edible items to compensate for these crop losses, he added.

“Today the World Food Day highlights the need for global efforts to ensure food security in various countries of the world.”

“Due to climate change-induced natural calamities and rising food prices in the world market, the nutritious food, which was already short in supply, was expected to become scarce,” he tweeted.

Mr Sharif added that added climate change has been impacting life in various ways however rising poverty and hunger were the foremost issues.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2022

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