Nabeel Zafar describes a
The unstoppable inflation has badly affected the prices of Wheat: Pakistan’s primary staple and this crisis is yet another reminder that this issue has become top national priority and requires urgent attention of the policy makers. Any assessment of this situation should also take into account how political meddling and economic anomalies in the fixing of support prices and corruption in the distribution of subsidised wheat to flour millers have mired the entire wheat economy. While assessing this issue it must surely be kept in mind that general inflationary trends in the economy did contribute to the recent price escalation of wheat flour. Headline inflation has remained in double digits since the last two years and keeps on increasing. What is more disturbing is that food inflation in both urban and rural areas has remained even higher. Food inflation that was recorded at 18.44% in 2021 now hovers around 30% that is unbearable for consumers. It is also important that the private sector should be kept under observation so that they could not export wheat beyond a fixed quota. At the same time it should be impressed upon the flour mills to take measures to be prepared to meet any adverse situation so that such crisis in future is averted.
Since the last many decades Pakistanis have shifted towards wheat as their staple food quietly sidelining rice, corn and barley in its favour. This shift was certainly not sudden and took decades to occur providing enough time to planners to take notice of it. It is also discerned from many governmental and private analyses that since many decades achieving autarky in wheat was the primary target of the planners associated with this agricultural produce. Many government agencies were mandated to look after wheat produce and buy and store it. Intervention in wheat production and distribution is considered an essential official exercise. The primacy of this staple has made it to be placed quite on the top of national food agenda. Accordingly, wheat flour is one of those 51 essential items that are included in the basket of goods and services for calculating the Sensitive Price Index (SPI). Inflation measured through the SPI is regarded as inflation for the poor and it is recorded that once the prices of food items like wheat flour rise sharply, poor Pakistanis suffer more.
Despite the importance of wheat as a staple the last few decades have witnessed quite a neglect of wheat production as this produce lacked in terms of research. Intense coordination is required in this area. Being a country where wheat is the primary staple and Pakistan needs to increase the rate of wheat genetic progress for yield, nutrient and water use efficiency and adaptation to biotic and abiotic stress while ensuring the production of high quality and safe products. Meeting the growing demand for affordable wheat also requires a new strategic research emphasis, on crop, soil, and water conserving practices that will significantly increase the sustainability of production and accelerate yield gains.
Improvements in water and nutrient-use efficiency are imperative to confront the major trends of declining resources for agriculture, the increasing prices of fossil fuel, and the deleterious environmental effects caused by poor fertiliser use practices, which include greenhouse emissions and zone damage. What is required is continuous improvement in wheat genetics aimed at increasing wheat yield potential, better deployment of varieties and improved management that will be able to close the yield gaps and improve end-use quality in many wheat growing areas. Moreover, cropping systems for sustainable wheat production, including diversified rotations are required to be used in more developed and less developed regions, which will contribute to the control of pathogens, weeds, and the reduction of inputs.
Pakistan urgently requires increase in rate of wheat genetic progress for yield, nutrient and water use efficiency while ensuring the production of high quality and safe products. Meeting the growing demand for affordable wheat also requires a new strategic research emphasis, on crop, soil, and water conserving practices that will significantly increase the sustainability of production and accelerate yield gains.
Taking in view the seriousness of the issue the official board mandated to assess the wheat crop every year is required to make more potent with the aim that the situation faced currently may be averted whereby such estimates are made available. In this context it was pointed out that most assessment usually proves to be inaccurate, triggering the situation that is faced by the country today. This wheat board should include taking particular cognizance of agriculture and food departments, growers and all stakeholders, including fertilisers, pesticide and seed industry. The board should also set the wheat production target and decide the support price based on the prevailing market prices. This board should operate on permanent basis and act as a monitoring agency. TW