KP may miss wheat sowing target
DAWN December 6, 2010
By Tahir

Harvest of Wheat via combine

Image via Wikipedia

Ali

WITH only a month left for wheat sowing, there are indications that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may miss its target of 0.7 million hectares for this year.

The continued drought, failure to reclaim land in flood-hit areas, irregular water supply in canals and their closure next month for de-silting etc have made the target unachievable.

Due to three months of continued drought, most of the non-irrigated land in southern and central districts of the province, which account for around 55 per cent of the land under wheat cultivation, have not been brought under the plough.

“With canals to remain closed for repair from next month onward, there would be almost no water for the crops even in irrigated areas, reducing wheat yield in the province substantially,” officials and farmers say.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa`s annual wheat target is 1.2 million tons and the actual production is around 0.7 million tons.

Farmers Ajmal Khan and Sajjad Ahmad in Laki Marwat said drought had badly affected wheat crop in the district. “Two-thirds of around 21,000 hectares under wheat cultivation in the district are rain-fed but there has been no rain. There is no canal network in the district. Lands are irrigated by tube-wells, but load-shedding, low voltage and increasing cost of oil and electricity has discouraged farmers to use it,” Ahmad said.

“Little wheat crop means food deficit, and food inflation. How will farmers pay their agricultural debts, continue farming and feed their families when they won`t be able to cultivate the crop on which they depend?” asked Khan.

Muhammad Ismail Jan, Director Seeds, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the drought had also brought about failure of the provincial seeds industry to meet its target of 6,000 metric tons for the province.

“Around 3,000 tons of seed has been distributed so far. There is no market demand for seeds in wheat specific flood-hit areas either because of free seed distribution by local and international bodies and farmland damaged by floods which have not been reclaimed.

“The situation is very dismal this year. There is only one month left with the farmers to sow wheat. Wheat can be sown till January but delay from December onward brings per hectare yield down considerably. With the per hectare yield in the province already lower than rest of the country, it is, therefore, not a good omen for the food deficient province,” he said.

To cope with the problem, the government wants to give around 1,600 metric tons of the left over seeds to farmers free of cost now. The cost will be borne by a Kuwait-based NGO.

“By giving this residue seeds to farmers, not only they will get relief but this will cover around 35,000 acres in all and the expected production will be around 42,000 metric tons,” the official said.

The official said there was no shortage of the commodity but the demand was low, especially in the flood-affected areas.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs about 8,000 tons of seeds in all. The provincial seeds industry usually provides around 6,000 tons. But there is usually less demand as farmers mostly use their farm seeds.

Again, the land under wheat cultivation is on the decline due to its rampant use for commercial and residential purposes.

Wheat has also to compete with other crops like tobacco, canola and vegetables,” he added.

Farmers say that in peak sowing seasons, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa usually faces shortage of seed coupled with high prices. Absence of certified seeds at critical moments leaves farmers with no choice but to use substandard seeds obtained from the market. This explains the low yield per hectare..

“While the government wants to get relieved of the burden of left over seeds, the question arises why the process of free seeds distribution was delayed and why was the deal not made with the Kuwait NGO earlier?” a farmer Niamat Khan from Nowshera asked.

The land under wheat cultivation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 1/5th of the 2.75 million hectare total cultivable land. This needs to be increased. “The government must strive to help increase yield, bring more land under cultivation and encourage mechanised farming and bigger land-holdings,” he said.

“To eradicate the problem of plenty or shortage of water in future, more water reservoirs will have to be built. Unless this is done, there can be no hope of any worthwhile development in the sector,” said a Mardan-based farmer.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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