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How to achieve self-reliance in wheat.

If the current wheat production in the country is viewed against the annual domestic requirements, the extent of the gap between the two would indicate the size of problem to be tackled for achieving self-reliance. What is required to be done to move towards the fulfilment of the objective of self-reliance. The answer is to increase wheat production and also to arrest the growth of population.

Both the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan have advocated self-reliance in all walks of life. The Prime Minister has on many occasions said that his Government was determined to make the country stand on its own feet. In the case of agriculture, Pakistan imports three major commodities from abroad. It imports edible oils in the form of soyabean oil from the USA and palm oil from Malaysia, wheat mainly from the USA and sugar from exporting countries form whom Pakistan could purchase at comparatively cheap rates.

The wheat production in the country increased from the average (1951-52 to 1953-54) of about 3 million tonnes to the average (1987-88 to 1989-90) of 13.76 million tonnes, i.e. an increase of about 360 per cent. During the same period the population increased by about 120 per cent i.e. from the average (1951-52 to 1953-54) of 34.85 million to 107.69 million (1987-1988 to 1989-90). The result was that the per capita annual average domestic supplies of wheat for human consumption, after allowing for seed, feed and waste, increase by almost 50 per cent i.e. from about 78 kgs. to about 115 kgs. But the consumption level of wheat which includes imports increased from about 110 kgs. per head per year a decade ago to the present level of almost 120 kgs. or so.

The Real Problem

Although the country succeeded in increasing its wheat production even on per capita basis, the problem still remains to meet the full demand from domestic production. The rising demand created by the population growth, rising incomes, change in the dietary pattern from coarser grains (like jowar, bajra, maize) to wheat, and expanding urban population needing wheat for consumption outpaced the success achieved on the production front. Pakistan has, therefore, depended on imports from abroad; a few good years being the exception. These were the years when the amount of rainfall and its distribution, the canal water supplies during growth period of the crop and at the time of maturity and harvesting were favourable.

It may be pointed out that during the quinquennium ending 1970-71, Pakistan imported, on an average, 700,000 tonnes of wheat a year, while the imports in the following quinquennium ending 1974-75, increased to almost one million tonnes a year, and, thereafter remained at the same level during the following five years. During the years 1985-86 and 1988-89, about 1.6 million tonnes of wheat (excluding the quantities required for the Afghan Refugees) was imported. It is understood that during 1989-90, the country imported a little over 2 million tonnes of wheat at a cost of Rs. 8,593 million.

Wheat production has not, on a trend basis, kept pace with the growing demand of the country's population. It may be noted that during the last decade (1978-79 to 1988-89), whereas the wheat production increased at the compound rate of about 2.6 per cent per annum, the population growth was over 3 per cent a year. Wheat production during this decade, therefore, remained, on the whole, short of the requirements. This is on the assumption that no increase in condietary level and no shift shift in the dietary pattern has taken place in favour of wheat, due to the rise in per capita income, otherwise the gap between the demand and production would be wider.

Balance Sheet Approach

On the basis of |balance sheet' approach, the per capita availability of wheat for human consumption has shown yearly variations, but it has been around 120 kgs a year, although during the year 1989-90 it was high as 125 kgs. On the other hand, the 3 years' average ending 1986-87, (as given in the Agricultural Statistics of Pakistan, Ministry of Food and Agriculture), the availability for human consumption was 116 kgs. a year. The National Commission on Agriculture estimated that during 1993 the moderate annual demand projection for wheat would be 123.5 kgs. whereas under a high demand scenario it would be 139 kgs. per capita.

It would be safe to assume a consumption level of 129 kgs. per capita per year. On this basis, the human consumption requirements of wheat for an estimated (at 3.1 per cent increase a year) population of about 119 million in 1991-92 to be fed from the wheat crop of 1990-91 harvested in March-May 1991 would be 14.3 million tonnes. To this is to be added the allowances made for seed, feed and wastage which is generally 10 per cent of the gross production. On these basis, the total domestic requirements would be 15.9 million tonnes. Azad Kashmir generally is supplied wheat of the order of 220,000 tonnes each year. Thus the total requirements would be around 16.1 million tonnes excluding the requirements of the Afghan Refugees. The requirements would be much more if the per capita consumption even on moderate demand level as given in the National Commission on Agriculture report are taken as the basis.

The above mentioned requirements as estimated for the country would increase in the following year atleast by about 450,000 tonnes and because of the compound growth in population larger quantities of increases would be required in subsequent years, without taking into consideration other factors, like the rise in income, change in eating pattern etc. This is a factor which needs to be reckoned with seriously.

Extent of Gap

If the current wheat production in the country is viewed against the annual domestic requirements, the extent of the gap between the two would indicate the size of problem to be tackled for achieving self-reliance. So far the wheat production in the country has never surpassed 14.4 million tonnes and that too in a good crop year when there were timely and adequate rains and optimal temperatures and without any serious setback due to diseases and shortage of canal water. The gap is a little short of 2 million tonnes between the requirements and the maximum level of production attained so far.

The government has been fixing the wheat target of 15 million tonnes for three years prior to 1988-89 while for 1989-90, the target was 15.5 million tonnes. In none of these years, the set target was accomplished or nearly accomplished. The target of 15.25 million tonnes has been set for 1990-91 crop. When viewed in the background of past performance, this target also seems optimistic. But suppose if even this target is achieved, the country would still need to import about one million tonnes of wheat to meet the 16.1 million tonnes of the country's requirements. The import demand would increase over the million tonnes mark to the extent the target of 15.25 million tonnes production falls short. These statistics indicate the problem that the country would face in the following year and, thereafter, atleast an extra half million tonnes of wheat every year would have to be produced just to meet the demand of the increase in population if the imports are to be contained, let alone eliminated.

This leads us to think of what is required to be done to move towards the fulfilment of the objective of self-reliance. The answer is to increase wheat production and also to arrest the growth of population. The measures to step up production are discussed in the following.

More Land and More Yield

The production level can be raised either by bringing more land under wheat cultivation, or by improving the yield per unit of land or both. The chances for the former are weak as, firstly, there is not much scope for bringing new land under wheat cultivation atleast in the foreseeable future, and secondly it would not be advisable to withdraw area from other competing crops which are mainly oilseeds and bring that under wheat, because if it is so done, the import requirements of edible oils would further go up, a crop for which the Government is very keen to expand the production to reduce dependence on imports. The alternative left is to improve the yield per unit of land.

It may be mentioned that the impact of seed-fertiliser-water technology is almost levelling off with the progressive farmers. But considerable gap still exists between the wheat yield obtained by these farmer and the |traditional' and |average' farmers as has been clearly evidenced by the extensive surveys conducted of wheat three or with the cost of production of wheat three or four years ago. The need, therefore, is to provide to the |traditional' and |average' farmers with the wherewithals so that they could improve the productivity of their lands.

For this purpose, the Government would have to take extra-ordinary measures including larger investment in agriculture which may include subsidy out lays if so warranted by development-led forces, and tightening up the extension workers to move out in the fields to guide the farmers in the proper preparation of seed-bed, use of right and correct amount of seed, balanced use of fertilisers, proper and timely irrigation, controlling of weeds, avoiding harvest losses and so on. At the same time, effective measures would need to be taken to control the population growth which is a major adverse factor in achieving and then sustaining self-sufficiency in wheat.

Compound Growth Rate

During the decade ending 1988-89, the compound growth rate of wheat production, as stated earlier, was 2.64 per cent a year which was the result of over 1.1 per cent increase per annum in area and 1.5 per cent annual increase in yield per unit of land. If in the years to come self-reliance is to be attained in wheat, the productivity of land would have to be increased at a much faster rate (over 3 per cent a year) than has been achieved in the last decade, as there is not much scope for bringing more area under wheat cultivation for the reasons mentioned above. So if this yield growth rate is to be attained, which when judged with the past performance, would be an up-hill task.

It would naturally demand vigorous efforts by all concerned - from the Government which is to provide correct policy frame-work adequate necessary incentives and resources needed for investment, from the extension services which will disseminate the required knowledge for efficient use of inputs and the methods of better management, from research workers who will provide sound research results applicable in the field even by small farmers, or from the farmers, the back bone of the operations, who are in fact to carry out the operations in the field. Unless these organs move in unison and with full vigour, the desired results would not be accomplished. The various organs of the Government concerned with population welfare would have to carry out effective programmes to decelerate the population growth.

From the foregoing discussions, it becomes clear that if self-sufficiency for 1991-92 is to be achieved, the production of wheat would have to be raised to 16.1 million from 14.2 million tonnes harvested in 1989-90. This would mean an increase by 11.3 per cent in one year. In other words, each farmer would have to improve their wheat yields by about 2 maunds every acre he grows under wheat. If this level of self-sufficiency is to be maintained in the following years, then every year, the production would have to be raised by 3.1 per cent just to take care atleast of the requirements of the natural increase in country's population.
 (000 tonnes)
1979-80 10,587
1985-86 13,923
1986-87 12,016
1987-88 12,675
1988-89 14,419
1989-90 15,000
1990-91 (Target) 15,520


The above increase, though formidable, can achieved if necessary action is taken by all concerned in the light of the measures suggested as follows:-

1. The efficiency of the use of land and water is reported to have declined over the years. The use of tubewell and canal water has been gradually adding salts to the soil, thus adversely effecting the productivity of land. For example out of the 40 million acre-feet of water being pumped out every year by tubewells for irrigation purposes, half of this water contains sodic salts which are causing sodicity problems where being applied. Therefore, roughly about 2 milion of the 4 million hectares irrigated by tubewells is likely to be affected. The yield on these soils is reportedly reduced by 15-20 per cent. Moreover, the soil survey carried out by the Soil Survey Organisation has shown that 0.7 million hectares of land lying in patches in the 3.5 million hectares under cultivation is suffering from sodicity and does not produce much. In order to get full benefit in terms of crop yields from these soils, the use of gypsum is recommended by experts. The Government should, therefore, make gypsum available on easy terms to the farmers and as near to their farms as possible even if it involves subsidy.


2. Over the years, hard-pan (or Plough-pan has developed in the sub-soils through the use of shallow ploughs. This situation of the sub-soil does not permit the roots of the crops to filter deep into the soil with the result that it lowers the use efficiency of water and fertilisers applied to the soils. This hard-pan or plough-pan must be broken for which heavy machinery for deep ploughing like chisel ploughs is required. These are costly machines and every farmer of average means can ill-afford to buy one.

The government, therefore, has to make arrangements through the village agricultural associations or through agro-business to provide such machines on custom hire basis. As the expenses involved would be made more than good by the dividends obtained in terms of higher yields, the Government should make financial allocations for this programme, and work out the necessary arrangements to implement the same.

3. A very large area is sown to wheat after harvesting either rice, cotton or sugarcane. These areas need good seedbed preparation with suitable machinery or implements like deep ploughs and rotavators which all the farmers can ill-afford to buy because of high prices. Wheat yields can improve considerably if the Government arranges to provide such implements through similar arrangements as mentioned above.
Area under wheat
 (000 hectares)
1979-80 6,924
1985-86 7,403
1986-87 7,706
1987-88 7,308
1988-89 7,730
1989-90 7,755

4. Labour is becoming costly and not always available when required for various agricultural operations particularly in peak seasons for sowings, transplanting and harvesting or picking. Hoeing of crops, as was done some years back, by manual labour is no longer being practiced as such. The result is that weeds are becoming quite prominent and spreading fast and in many cases dominate the crops in the fields.

This situation adversely affects the stand of the crops, and resultantly their yields. Thus, weedicides and herbicides are becoming perforce the need of the day. These chemicals are costly and not within the purchasing power of small and medium size farmers and, therefore, should be subsidized by the Government atleast in the initial years of their introduction in order to induce the farmers for their use.

Fertiliser Use

5. Experts are of the view that best results in terms of yield can be achieved if balanced use of fertilisers is made. In the case of wheat, for example, nitrogenous and phosphatic fertilisers should be applied atleast in the ratio of 2:1 to obtain proper yields; against this the ratio during 1989-90 was 3.1:1. Whereas it is imperative that the extension media should bring home to the farmers the need of using balanced fertilisers, it is equally important that the price structure of phosphatic fertiliser should be such that the farmers get encouraged to its use for getting optimum results.

6. There are persistent complaints from the farmers that cheap fertilisers having similar colour and shape as the expensive ones are being mixed for sale to the farmers. To be more precise, the reports indicate that nitrophos and calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) are being mixed with di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) on a large scale by some distributing agencies because of the similar appearance and low prices of DAP which have higher nutrient content and more expensive. Therefore, colouring of locally manufactured nitrophas and CAN at source need to be introduced which would help improve crop yields.

7. In order to prescribe the correct doses of various types of fertilisers, soil testing laboratories should be established at convenient places and their services made available to the farmers as promptly as possible at reasonable rates. This would help the farmers to know the nutrient status for their soil to enable them to adjust the doses of fertilisers thus economising in the cost of production. When correct doses of different fertilisers based on soil analysis are recommended to the farmers, undue over application of these chemicals can be avoided and with better results in terms of yields, both these factors would help the farmers to obtain higher net returns.


8. Extensive and at times indiscriminate use of pesticides particularly on cotton crop has diminished the population of useful insects and predators which were keeping under check the population of the harmful ones, thus maintaining a fairly good balance between the two. This balance is being disturbed and the pests, like white fly, are gradually becoming a serious menace (pest) not only for cotton crop but is also spreading over to the wheat along with aphids. Necessary control over the indiscrimate use of pesticides is a must, otherwise before long, white fly and aphids would greatly affect the wheat and cotton crops, thus reducing their yields. Integrated pest and disease control measures are of paramount importance if agricultural crops have to be saved from reaching a disaster situation. Government ha to carry out an aggressive programme for this purpose.

9. Most of the wheat crop particularly in the Punjab is planted after cotton, rice of sugarcane. Experts advocate that in order to reap the best wheat yields, the crop should be sown between 20 October and 10 November, and that for every 10 days delay after this, the yield get reduced by 10-12 per cent. The extension staff, therefore, has to impress on the farmers about the advantages of planting the crop by 10 November at the latest. The farmers seem to be contending that the delays in wheat sowing which takes place because of late harvesting of cotton, rice or sugarcane crops fetch-them incomes more than they would get if wheat is sown by 10 November or so. This calls for evolution and introduction of early maturing cultivators of these crops so that these could be harvested before 10 November so that wheat could be sown in time for getting optimum yields.

10. In addition to the above factors, the support price also helps the farmers in raising their production. The support price should more than cover the cost of production, and should given adequate incentive to help raise the production level. In setting the support prices two important points have to be carefully considered. One is the impact of the increase in the price of one commodity on the other competing crops. For example, oilseeds compete with wheat directly, although cotton and sugarcane may also compete with wheat under certain conditions. So comparative advantage amongst competing crops has to be seriously considered not only from the farmers point of view but also from the viewpoint of the country's economy. Cultivation of a crop may be profitable for the farmers but from the national economy point of view, the position could just be otherwise. The second point is that the support price which is the minimum guaranteed price and helpful for the farmers in a good crop year should be such that it provides adequate incentives to the farmers to induce them to raise the production of that crop. This aspect is directly related to the cost of production of the crop. The Agricultural Prices Commission (APC) has been periodically conducting comprehensive field surveys to estimate the cost of production, and between these surveys mini surveys are being carried out to up-date the cost data of input and agricultural operations but without changing the basic parameters. These costs, along with other criteria, are being used in arriving at the support prices.

11. It should, however, be understood that support price is not the panacea for all the ills which prohibits the farmers to raise their production and its concept should not be mixed with the free market price which unfortunately is the case even with some of those who are involved in making policy decisions. However, there could be many other non-price factors, like the ones discussed above which limit the farmers efforts to reap full advantage of the price structure. All these factors have to be given due weightage and importance in achieving the objectives of larger harvests.

12. The farming community is continuously complaining that the support prices fixed by the Government do not provide enough incentives for raising wheat production. Some critics argue that the support prices as fixed by the Government do not reflect the actual cost as it does not take into account the correct input prices, or do not fully cover the management costs and family/labour wages and so on.

Support Price

As far as the international price argument is concerned, one could say that international wheat prices are quite volatile and considerable fluctuations take place not only from year to year but sometime from season to season and even from month to month. For example, the price of US wheat No. 1 Hard Winter was $ 190 per tonne in 1986-87, it increased to $ 122 in 1987-88 to $ 166 in 1988-89, but since October 1989, it has started slipping down. In April 1990, it came down to $ 161, in May to $ 149, and in August to $ 118, in September $ 114 and in mid November 1990 it came down to $ 111 per tonne. So it is neither desirable nor wise to bring domestic wheat prices at par with the international price as it would be impossible for the Government to bring the same down when the international price slips downwards. Moreover, there are problems of quality differential, foreign exchange rate and so on. It is, however, necessary to keep an eye on the movements (trends) of international prices for reference purpose to see that the domestic prices do not deviate much from them.
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Author:Niaz, M. Shafi
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Capital and finance in agriculture.
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