A long-term strategy needs to be devised to make Balochistan self-reliant in wheat. The province is known as the fruit basket of Pakistan because of its production of high-quality fruits in bulk. The province can also become the country’s food basket if its wheat yield potential is fully and efficiently tapped. It has wheat varieties yield potential of 6.5MT/hectares, but it is getting only 2.4MT/hectares. The province gets 95 percent wheat from irrigated and 5 percent from rain-fed areas.
There is a need to increase wheat production by expanding wheat cropping area in the province, which is the country’s largest province with respect to its landmass. According to one estimate, out of the total geographical area of 34.719 million hectares, the province has a cultivated area of 1.989 million hectares and 4.826 million hectares of land falls in the category of cultivable wasteland. Need is to reclaim this cultivable wasteland and this can only be done if the capacity of the Provincial Agriculture Engineering Department is enhanced by providing it additional machinery and bulldozers.
Balochistan’s annual requirement of quality seed stands at 33,000MT to get a quality crop. The province gets only 4,000MT of quality seeds from different sources and the rest of the requirement is met by the local farmers themselves, as there is no seed production corporation in the province. Directorate General of Agriculture Research (cereal crops) is presently working to increase wheat production in Balochistan by producing improved germplasm tolerant/resistant to specific environment and disease problem. A research program on wheat crop was launched in 1976 by the Agriculture Research Institute (ARI) Quetta. It has developed wheat varieties suited for both plains and uplands in the province. The ARI has so far released six varieties of wheat including Zarghoon-79, Zamindar-80, Zardana-92, Sariab-92, Zarlashta-99 and Raskoh-2005.
The sowing period for wheat crop in the province commences from 1st November to 31st November. The land must be prepared for timely sowing of crop, but it has been observed that local farmers frequently remain unable to prepare it for wheat sowing. The land often remains uneven or it is not properly leveled due to lack of mechanization. The uneven land causes water losses. Similarly, at the time of irrigation, the local farmers frequently face the problem of water shortage.
Scarcity of water and proper management of available water as the main issues related to the wheat production in the province. There is no perennial system of irrigation except Naseerabad district. Wheat is grown over an area of 408,913 hectares in the province. According to the statistics of the provincial Agriculture department, the province produced 872,066 tons or yielded 2133Kgs per hectare during the fiscal year 2006-07. Wheat is mostly used as bread wheat in the province.
The non-availability of agricultural inputs at the time of sowing are the other important issues related to the wheat crop in the province. The priority should be given to the development of water resources to maximize crop production, as agriculture development is linked to water resource development in the province. Moreover, necessary measures must be taken for construction of farm to market roads, establishment of Agro-based industries, provision of storage and processing facilities for agro products and farm mechanization to bring green revolution in the province. The local growers face the shortages of pesticides and fertilizers at the critical stages of the cultivation of wheat crop and they have to purchase these inputs at higher prices. Another problem is the non-availability of quality seeds for wheat crop.
Another problem is the adulteration of fertilizers and pesticides. Adulterated fertilizers and pesticides available in the province have had adverse impact on the quality of yield. The pesticides from China are adulterated, re-packed and sold under different trade marks in the province.
Depending on other provinces
Being a wheat-deficit province, Balochistan excessively depends on Sindh and Punjab to meet its wheat requirement. It actually faces the problem of food insecurity. It requires 900,000 metric tons of wheat annually to feed its population of 6.8 million people. Each year the provincial food department sets a procurement target of 50,000 MT from Naseerabad zone, but it hardly purchases 20,000MT to 25,000MT. It is because of the less support price fixed by the government that provides the private traders and flour mill owners even from other provinces to lift maximum wheat of the province, as they offer a price to the local growers, which is more than the government’s support price. The private traders and flourmill owners exploit the situation. The agricultural growth is key to curtailing poverty, as agriculture is the mainstay of rural economy and over 75 percent population of the province depends on this sector for earning their livings.
The wheat support price needs to be enhanced enough to encourage the local farming community, otherwise, the Balochistan will continue to excessively depend on other provinces and PASSCO to meet its wheat requirement at higher price.
The government should ensure the timely provision of essential agricultural inputs to local farmers at subsidized rates for the cultivation of wheat. It should launch a number of projects for crop maximization to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the province. The province is already reeling under higher poverty and in rural areas over 50 percent people live below the level of poverty line.
Confidence in local farmers
The government should take initiative to utilize the locally grown wheat to meet the local needs and steps should be taken to check its movement outside the province through purchasing by private parties or smuggling across the border. The government must take steps to improve socio-economic conditions of the local farming community to achieve the goal of self-reliance in food. Local farmers’ problems related to water shortages and frequent load shedding and power breakdown should be resolved. They should be offered handsome support price for wheat crop, as a token of their encouragement.
A seed production corporation should be established in Balochistan to ensure supply of quality seeds to wheat growers as and when required. The government should also involve the private sector to ensure availability of quality seeds to the local growers of wheat. Steps should be taken against those fertilizers and pesticides companies, which are involved in the adulteration of these key agricultural inputs.