PUNJAB has missed the most propitious date for wheat sowing by a big margin, which may render the target of 25 million tons of national production unachievable.

In Punjab, which is supposed to contribute 20 million tons out of total 25 million tons this year, the optimum sowing date was November 20. After that date, the crop, according to experts, starts losing yield of 16kg per acre per day.

On that fateful day, sowing in Punjab stood at an abysmal 28 per cent – rice belt with a 25 per cent sowing, rain-fed areas 40 per cent and cotton belt a paltry 15 per cent. By that calculation, 72 per cent of sowing will fall in the “late category” and suffer yield loss to varying degrees, making the target distant.

The government had fixed a dreamy target of 25 million tons based on a single factor – the increased price, which it raised by almost 50 per cent. It hoped that this factor alone would sweep aside all other equally important, if not more crucial, factors to bring food security to the country.

On the basis of this single factor, it increased the yield target by 20 per cent – from 2,451kg per hectare in 2007-08 to 2,903kg per hectare for 2008-09 – and ignored almost all other factors of production.

Contrary to official hopes, ‘other factors’ seem to have swept aside the price factor and it now looks increasingly difficult to achieve 20 per cent increase in production this year. The farmer bodies, however, hope that the country may only be able to get to the last year’s production figure of around 21 million tons: that too because of additional area that is expected to come under cultivation due to increased price.

Wheat production, as an integrated agriculture activity, could only be ensured by a combination of ‘enabling environment and active facilitation’ by all official agencies concerned.

The enabling environment include on time provision of all inputs – fertiliser, herbicides, water, credit and implements – at affordable prices that do not turn the terms of trade against the farmers. The active facilitation entails post-harvest activities like making markets efficient and avoiding price crashes of agriculture commodities. The government agencies, however, seem to be failing on both accounts.

All factors that could hamper a yield of 25 million tons are managerial in nature. For example, water shortages, which may turn out to be the decisive factor in failure to achieve the target if the Mother Nature does not come to help at crucial times of watering.

According to calculations by the Indus River System Authority (Irsa), the Rabi season would suffer a water deficit of 40 per cent. That means that irrigation system would only be able to provide little over one-and-half of the water requirements to the crop. This water shortage is a man-made disaster – corollary of our failure to built dams – and the Mother Nature cannot be blamed for that.

The current dry spell in most parts of the country could be blamed on Nature. But, planning on our part to meet such weather contingencies is totally missing. Humans plan ahead of stressful periods and sail through safely, but not in Pakistan.

Similarly, failure to sow wheat on time cannot be deflected on any one but the collapse of the agriculture marketing system, which has failed to absorb previous crops and clear the fields for next crops. This year, prices of cotton and rice crashed by over 30 per cent only because of marketing failures.

The government promised active facilitation by launching the Trading Corporation Pakistan and Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation for absorbing marketable surplus and stabilising prices, but both have not delivered. The prices of both commodities are still very low, as compared to last year’s, making over 50 per cent of land hostage that has to come under wheat sowing when freed.

The price crashes have their own cost for farmers and Pakistan by jeopardising future of the crops and so does delay in wheat sowing.

The government needs to develop an integrated approach towards agriculture sector by taking into account the entire range of crops and their sowing pattern. In the post-WTO scenario, agriculture and its allied sectors (horticulture and livestock) may turn out to be its only saving grace because agriculture sector might not need that much investment and time to get back on track.

The agriculture sector must also be given priority because all its resources are local and can be further developed by local policy, and the results could be obtained within a year.

In order to do that, the government should not only consider “creation of enabling environment” its prime duty, but it must also actively facilitate farmers by creating a mechanism to deal with shortages and gluts of agriculture commodities.

In order to strengthen agriculture sector, five areas including development of water resources, expanding and deepening of agri-research, taking technology to farmers, capacity building and improving market mechanism need special attention.

The weakest area so far has been the market mechanism in which the poor farmers suffer from regular price crashes.

The spill over effect of such crashes hurt other crops equally because of strong inter linkages of the entire sectoral activity. The sooner the problems are taken care of, the better it would be.



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