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Area under wheat cultivation up

January 21, 2013

SOWING of wheat is almost completed. And the latest estimates show that the area under cultivation has recorded a slight increase. If all goes well, the country can hopefully harvest at least 25 million tonnes of the staple food, say agriculture experts.

According to Agriculture Policy Institute (API) wheat has been sown over 16.40 million acres against 16 million acres last season.

“Considering this nominal increase in the cultivated area and assuming rise in per-acre yield, the crop size would be around 25 million tonnes,” a senior official of API told Dawn. In marketing year (May-April) 2010-11 national average yield of wheat had climbed 11 per cent to 2833kg per hectare which had helped in boosting overall production to 25 million tonnes plus. But in MY2011-12 average yield had declined to 2714kg per hectare, pulling down the total output to a little less than 24 million tonnes, official data show.

Growers say that per-acre yield of wheat has been quite erratic for past several years ranging between 2451kg per hectare (in FY08) to 2833kg per hectare (in FY11) chiefly because sufficient availability of water remains uncertain. They also say that availability or the lack of it of high quality certified seed also plays an important role in determining per acre yield.

Currently 20 different varieties of wheat are grown in Punjab of which cultivation of five varieties (Lasani, Faisalabad, Mairaj, NARC 2009 and NARC 2011) started in the last five years. The yield of these varieties are better than the older seeds and if flooding in rain-fed areas and water shortage in other areas had not caused a delay in wheat sowing “our province would have been poised to get much higher yields than the national average,” said an official of the Agriculture Department of Punjab.

Different estimates of wheat sowing in the largest agricultural province of Punjab are coming from different quarters but even the least optimistic estimate shows that wheat is going to be cultivated on 13 million acres of land. “If this estimate is true, then we believe that total output here would be between 17-17.5 million tonnes,” a senior official of the department told Dawn on phone.

Like his counterpart in Sindh, he too was optimistic that overall wheat output during this year would be close to 25 million tonnes. Keeping in view this estimated output against an estimated local consumption of about 22 million tonnes one can hope for a carryover stock of at least three million tonnes in the next marketing year (May 2013-April 2014).

A senior official of Sindh Agriculture Department said wheat sowing in Sindh is slightly higher this year than in the last year — 2.422 million acres against 2.397 million acres. “This increase in the area under cultivation plus an expected increase in the per-acre yield on the back of improved water availability indicates that Sindh will produce 4.2-4.3 million tonnes of wheat during the current season (against about four million tonnes last season).”

Chief of API Abdul Rauf Chaudhry says that the area under cultivation of wheat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has also increased this year to 730,000 acres from 727,000 acres last year. He estimates a slight decline in the wheat sowing area due to heavy flooding of previous years in some districts.

Balochistan normally grows wheat on around 400,000 acres and its total output ranges between 800,000-900,000 tonnes per year.

According to the latest API estimates the country has more than six million tonnes of carryover stocks of wheat to meet local consumption between January and April.

But wheat traders say prices of wheat and wheat flour are on the rise because this stock is barely sufficient to meet domestic needs for four months.Traders and flour millers also point out that part of the carryover stocks of wheat does not meet quality standards due to improper storage facilities. “Interrupted supply of substandard (but subsidised) wheat from provincial food department to flour millers is another major reason for the recent price hike,” insists an official of Abdullah Flour Mills—the makers of a famous brand of wheat flour and flour-based products.

According to the latest data released by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) national average price of wheat shot up 21.6 per cent in one year ending on January 10 to Rs362.50 per 10kg. And the price of wheat flour of average quality has also surged 20.8 per cent to Rs420 per 10kg.

“Flour millers often cite higher wheat prices as the most plausible reason whenever they raise prices of wheat flour but try to undermine the fact that most of them get a substantial portion of their requirements of wheat at subsidised rates,” argues a senior official of Sindh Food Department.

But millers say that higher cost of energy and low quality of subsidised wheat slashes the actual monetary benefit of subsidised wheat. “Add to this the economic cost of delays in supply of subsidised wheat and the cost of palm greasing of officials of food department and there remains no big difference between prices of officially supplied wheat and wheat purchased from the open market,” said another flour miller.

In Sindh flour mills buy wheat from the provincial food department at a subsidised rate of Rs2850 per 100kg. Since the maximum price of the commodity in the open markets of the province is Rs3600 per 100kg, the difference between subsidised and market prices comes to Rs750 per 100kg. Commodity traders say that the recent spike in wheat flour prices is more pronounced in Sindh than in other provinces because official stock of the commodity is not too big and exports of wheat is on. Secretary Sindh Food Department Aftab Ahmed Memon informed a high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah on January 16 that the province had a stock of 680,000 tonnes. “This stock is neither large nor small. It is enough to suffice the needs of our flour millers till the end of April and the new wheat crop would start coming into the market by that time,” said an official of Food Department. “We are also in the process of enhancing quotas of subsidised wheat for flour millers by up to 50 per cent to ward off the upward pressure on prices,” he said. “This plan will surely succeed.”

Data obtained from commodity market shows that between July and December 2012 less than 125,000 tonnes of wheat was exported. And wheat dealers say though exports still continue the volumes are becoming low as the harvesting season is just four months away. “When we have a bumper crop and wheat exports are allowed, export volumes are almost always large in the months just following the harvest but the farther we get from the old crop and come closer to the next crop export volumes naturally fall,” says a Jodia-Bazar based commodity broker.

According to PBS Pakistan exported 113,000 tonnes of wheat between July-November 2012. December statistics are awaited.— Mohiuddin Aazim