Nisar A. Memon
03-February- 2020 – Pakistan Observer
WHEAT, world’s most important crop and Pakistan’s staple diet is human food with source of calories, protein, minerals and certain vitamins. The USDA’s annual report on grain in Pakistan states that 80 percent of farmers grow wheat on over 9 million hectares or 40 percent of Pakistan’s agricultural land. It accounts for 10 percent of value added in agriculture and contributes over two percent to GDP. While wheat flour, forms around 72 percent of the nation’s daily caloric intake.With estimated 124kg of annual per-capita consumption, Pakistan is one of the world’s foremost consumers of wheat. The world average consumption is around 68kg as per the FAO.
Pakistan lately is facing wheat crisis. Should the minister for national food security resign just like it is suggested and demanded in various other crises like railway accidents, gas shortages, increased petroleum prices, reduced water availability, and failing economy that the concerned ministers should resign? There are voices demanding resignation of chief minister Punjab due to weak governance and even Prime Minister’s resignation due to overall unsatisfactory situation in the country, including the inability to manage routine extensions of important security positions and delay in appointments to key constitutional positions.
Unlike other countries, we do not have resignation tradition but recent removal or changes in cabinet like in finance ministry is acceptance of failure of leadership in those areas.
We believe these are the questions and subjects for parliament to deliberate but the input from print, electronic and social media is important. If suppressed. the communication gap between those in government and the ones they govern will increase with its adverse impact.
Good news: Pakistan in 2019 ranks in the top 8 wheat producing countries of the world, with an average 25 million tons per year. But the challenge: the country’s wheat productivity is not that impressive. According to the World Bank, Pakistan’s cereal yield during 2010 to 2014 was 2722 kg per hectare, as against India’s 2962 kg per hectare and Bangladesh’s 4357 kg per hectare. However, the USDA expects our figure to improve to over 2800 kg per hectare this year. Let the concerned government departments update their statistics for us to know where we stand today.
Our institutions have been researching on wheat and some 152 wheat varieties have been released in Pakistan so far and a significant number in last decade with share from Punjab (69) Sindh (25) KP (44) Baluchistan (8). Most of the varieties are run out in three to five years of release due to rust susceptibility or other reasons and their name remain in papers only. More than 13 wheat breeding programs are in vogue in Pakistan. There is reasonable focus on research which should help us achieve wheat self-sufficiency and sovereignty.
The wheat production depends on quality of land, inputs, disease control, timing of sowing, water availability, programs and policies but the key is the coordination between federal and provincial governments with transparent accounting and accountability.
Is federal government aware of these challenges. It seems yes they are, else Prime Minister’s Agriculture Emergency Program would not have been there to enhance agriculture productivity. The ten point program has been initiated which is primarily focused on: productivity enhancement of wheat, rice and sugarcane; oilseeds enhancement programme; conserving water through lining watercourses; enhancing command area of small and mini dams in barani areas; water conservation in barani areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; shrimp farming; Cage fish culture; Trout farming in Northern Areas of Pakistan; save and fattening of calf program; and backyard poultry.
Hopefully all concerned are aware of these and other programs relating to food. The success for country will depend how well finance and the economic affairs ministry cooperate and coordinate with each other to be on ‘same page’ in achieving PM programs. The statistics, programs, policies, coordination, cooperation between federal and provincial government, and implementation with good governance will succeed if all concerned are people centric and are committed to food sovereignty.
Wheat being just one item towards food sovereignty, our consumption in last five year since 2015 in 1,000 metric tons has been 24400, 24500, 25000, 25300, 24000 respectively. In the same period, our production has been 25086, 25633, 26773, 25076, 25195 respectively. We are producing just enough to meet our requirement and if we produce more, we can export rather than import as we are doing now. So where is the problem? It is none other then governance. Let’s all wake up for the sake of our posterity.
—The writer is Former Federal Minister & Senator.