Government target of realizing the wheat production target of 25 million tons appears challenging, as this would require substantial improvement in the crop yield.
Despite of a positive note that the rabi season that began in November 2013 has been showing encouraging signs. The area under wheat cultivation, registered an increase of 4.4 percent over last year.
The Annual Plan had set the wheat target of 25.5 million tons. This target was later revised downward to 25 million tons by the Federal Committee on Agriculture. The government aimed to achieve this target through the use of quality seeds; timely availability of fertilizer and promotion of its balanced use; and increase in loan facilities.
Potohar region (that includes districts of Attock, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Jhelum and Chakwal) produces on average around 650 thousand tons of wheat annually.
Although, the government decided to keep wheat support prices unchanged at Rs 1,200 per 40 kg, market prices proved attractive for growers. More importantly, farmers were able to complete the sowing stage well in time owing to improved water availability and the early harvest of the cotton crop which allowed for timely sowing of wheat.
Furthermore, growing conditions for wheat have remained favorable. For example, the cold wave in mid-December that swept across the plains of Punjab was good for the crop yield, while fertilizer off-take during the rabi season remained higher than the corresponding period last year.
There are already reports that lower rainfall in Potohar has suppressed the crop growth in this region. Around 30 percent of the wheat is sown under cotton-wheat cropping system. The wheat crop under this system is generally vulnerable to late sowing due to delays in cotton picking. This year, early maturing of cotton due to warmer conditions allowed sowing of wheat as early as in
Going forward, if the existing gap between domestic market prices and the support price remains high even at the time of harvest, farmers will be reluctant to sell to the government. However, it is important to emphasize here that the country has been maintaining its strategic reserves of wheat to ensure domestic food security.
As regards the performance of agriculture, wheat is likely to post a recovery due to the prospects of a better harvest, compared to the last year. Specifically, growth conditions have been favorable for wheat in all regions, except for Potohar, where the crop is under water stress.
However, the overall improvement in wheat may not be sufficient to offset the drag from the kharif season. It is therefore expected that agriculture to record below target growth in FY14.
During the last five years, wheat production in the country has increased by 0.3 percent per annum, whereas annual population growth rate has been 2 percent.
Wheat contributes more than 50 percent of the daily caloric consumption of the population in Pakistan.
According to recent Census on Agriculture, more than 85 percent of farmers (which make up more than 40 percent of farm area) have land holding of less than 5 hectare.
The economy has shown strong signs of improvement on the back of macroeconomic stability and industrial growth despite unresolved energy crisis but unfortunately the role of agriculture sector has been subdued so far in the current financial year which may cause hardship at massive level if things are not settled down by the government, agriculturists and farmers.
The decline in agriculture produce was seen due to reduction in cotton crop that is expected to reach 12.3 million bales as against 14 million bales. This is because of pest attacks and heavy rains before the harvest led to significant crop losses.
The kharif season (April 2013-September 2013) suffered a setback due to a fall in the production of cotton, which was led by lower area under cultivation compared to the target (this reflects water shortages at the sowing period).
Although the sugarcane and rice crops were better compared to the previous year, this may not be sufficient to compensate for the damage to the cotton crop.
By Yasir Ameen, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, April 07, 2014