Sluggish wheat harvesting in KP

Issues in wheat harvesting
By Tahir Ali

THE unusually cold, rainy/cloudy and windy weather in April and May in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has delayed wheat harvesting in various stages across parts of the province.

The harvesting process has been completed in KP’s hot southern climatic zone (Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Lakki Marwat etc.,) last month and continues in the central zone (Peshawar, Charsadda and Mardan etc.). The crop in the northern zone (Swat, Dir etc) will mature later, farmers say.

According to Sahibzaman and Abdul Jabbar, farmers from Swat, and Nasir Khan, a farmer from Dir, wheat crop will be ready for harvesting in a fortnight in lower Swat and Dir areas but in upper/cooler parts of the districts will be ripe by end of next month where harvesting and threshing usually last till July.

Abdur Rahim Khan, general secretary Chamber of Agriculture KP, said wheat harvesting in central zone would be over within a week or so.
“Harvesting in the area is usually completed by the end of April but this year the cold weather delayed maturity. The farmers also feared that the harvested crop lying in the fields for threshing, may get damaged in case it rains. The manual reaping of the crop takes a lot of time,” he said.

Mr Khan recalled that gone are the days when farmers would reap their crops through Ashar –where farmers would help
each other in harvesting and threshing.

“Farmers in KP now mostly get their crop harvested through labourers. The labourers and farmers share the crop in different ratios. In Peshawar, for example, labourers get 1/10th of the produce as remuneration. In other areas, they are hired on daily wages ranging between Rs250-300 plus meals and stay,” said Khan.

An official of the KP agriculture ministry said government farms and big private farms hired reaper machines for harvesting but it was predominantly done by hands.

“Small landholdings, poverty and illiteracy of farmers in KP have rendered mechanised harvesting difficult and farmers either reap the crop themselves or hire labourers. But the shortage of trained harvesters is adding to their woes,” he said.

Mechanical harvesting is faster and reduces post-harvest losses by a great margin, said the official.

“A farmer with five acres hires labour for manual crop cutting, which costs him 13-14 maunds (over Rs18,000 at the rate of Rs1312/50kg) and takes 7-10 days. And if he goes for mechanised harvesting, it will take him 10 hours and cost him only around Rs10,000 (at the maximum rate of Rs1,000 per hour rent of the harvesting machine),” he argued.

According to farmers, labourers work in groups, visit the fields or hujrah of farmers and make deals with them. These harvesters usually are known in the area and can be contacted on cell phones.

Women harvesters are usually paid less than their male counterparts. A farmer Safdar Ali said a woman in his village single-handedly reaped his crop over five jarib at1/10 the share of the yield

Land under wheat cultivation increased from 0.724 million hectares last year to 0.758mh this year but continuing drought in the province in the critical period of grain formation, especially in the southern zone, hit the crop badly.

Farmers from DIK, Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi say the wheat crop in irrigated lands is healthy but over 50 per cent of the crop in rain-fed areas, that forms 55 per cent of the total wheat acreage in KP, has been lost.

Sabz Ali Shah, a farmer in Mardan, said his five jarib (2.5 acres) of non-irrigated land could produce only 12 maunds of wheat against the output of 60-80 maunds in previous years.

Another farmer Gul Raj Akbar said eight wheat harvesters took two days to cut his crop on six canals at the rate of 1.3 maund/jarib. “The yield was 25 maunds of which the labourers got around two maunds (100kg). Divide this amongst eight labourers and each got only six kg a day. Is it justified for the hard work they do,” he asked.

A farmer Manzur Haider, however, said, five labourers reaped his crop at 10 jarib (five acres) in less than three days and got 14 maunds in return at the rate of 1.4 maunds per jarib harvested.

“More than the lack of rain, the sale and use of substandard DAP has also damaged the crop. And while the prices of DAP and urea have more than doubled in the last two years, wheat support price has been marginally increased from Rs950 to Rs1050 per 40kg,” he added.

Mr Zaman said Swat crop would have been even larger had better seeds been provided to growers and lands hit by floods reclaimed by provincial authority.

targeting autarky in wheat seeds

Targeting autarky in wheat seeds
By Tahir Ali
(Dawn Monday, 26 Apr, 2010)
OFFICIALS of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Agriculture Department are optimistic that the province will become self-sufficient in the production of wheat seeds by end of this year.

“If sufficient funds, staff and strong organisational backup are provided, the province may even become exporter of wheat and maize seeds from next year,” said Mohammad Ismail Jan, director seeds, provincial agricultural development fund.

Self-sufficiency in wheat seed production has been a long cherished dream of successive provincial governments but it is now being vigorously targeted. “We have close liaison with the farmers for providing high-yielding seeds to them,” he added.

“The annual wheat seed requirement of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KhP) stands at around 8000 metric tons. This year seed production is expected to be over 15,000MT (9500MT by the public sector and the rest by the private sector). The province could double the yield if sufficient funds, staff and a strong institutional backup are ensured. This could help earn billions of rupees for the cash-strapped province,” he said.

Normally, the KhP had suffered shortage of the essential commodity and farmers got their seeds on inflated cost.

“Last year seed crops were sown on around 9000 acres in the public sector but a sizeable quantity of the produce was discarded for being of low quality. The procured seed was around 5000MT as against 3000MT the preceding year. This year area under seed crops has come down to around 6,000 acres but the good quality seed and better climatic conditions in the irrigated areas would make up the deficiency,” the official hopes.

Seeds are of three varieties –the pre-basic, basic and certified. Pre-basic is the best quality seed produced in agricultural research farms. It is provided to the agricultural extension department for cultivation in its six farms. This basic seed is sold to potential progressive farmers for cultivation.

For maize crop, the best ever seed hybrid varieties of Karamat and Babar have been introduced. “We have also started a programme for hybrid vegetable varieties but it is in the formative phase,” the official said.

As regards wheat crop, it is regularly monitored and the seeds certified by the federal seeds certification and registration department (FSC&RD). It is procured and sold to farmers in the province at Rs1700/50kg. The commodity is provided through seed depots and farm services centres. The officials of agriculture department are responsible for its marketing and distribution.

“The agriculture research is designed to develop new varieties of wheat that are best suited to the agro-climatic conditions of different areas in the province. For irrigated lands, the best wheat seed is Sahar, Pirsabaq 2005 and Nepa Batoor. For rain-fed areas, Tatara, Zam 04, PS 2005, Hasham 08, Dera 98 and Gomal 08 are the best quality seeds, the official added.

“These locally developed wheat seeds are high-yielding varieties and their per acre yield ranges between 1500-1600kg. It is better than the national average yield of 2,600kg per hectare. If the seed yield gets doubled in future then by bringing more land under wheat and maize cultivation, autarky for the province could be ensured. Also think of the financial output of this yield on that basis for the province. It will be in billions of rupees,” another official argued.

At present, there are bulk seed stores in only four districts of the province for keeping seeds. More bulk stores need to be built in other districts and the tribal areas. The storage capacity of the existing bulk stores should also be increased.

The seed processing capacity needs to be increased because of growing demand. There are only four seeds processing plants with limited capacity. More state of the art processing plants should be opened in all the districts.

At present, more than 500 national and five multinational companies are registered and allowed to market seeds. But strengthening the public sector seeds production capacity is required to stabilise market prices.

“One farmer should be given the responsibility of seed production of only one variety of crop and incentives to progressive farmers should be announced. Seeds for hilly and cool areas should also be developed. Seeds testing labs should be ensured at district level or at least divisional level to ensure quality seeds,” said a grower.

The government should gradually reduce dependence on imported seeds by developing and improving production of local seeds.

Khalid Mir, a multinational official, said, “the main issue in seed business is the absence of laws governing breeders’ rights. This is the first issue the government should tackle,” he said.

“Accredited seed laboratories both in private sector and public sectors should be set up. Private companies need to be encouraged to introduce new seed varieties that could boost productivity,” he added.

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