Depreciating yield: As seeds grow scarce, wheat shortage predicted to worsen across K-P

Farmers no longer worry about the quality of seed, they just want to get their crops in line.


Creative: Sama Aamir/Basar Ali November 25, 2013
Farmers no longer worry about the quality of seed, they just want to get their crops in line. DESIGN: SAMRA AMIR

PESHAWAR:


The sowing season of the wheat crop may be extended this year in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) because of a seed shortage, negatively affecting the crop’s net production in the province.


Wheat is a staple element in the nation’s menu. In Pakistan, it is not only used in making flatbread, but also a major ingredient in baked products, confectionaries and other food items. In addition, its straw and bran are used in animal feed production.

The annual demand for wheat in K-P is about three million tonnes, while production levels hover only at about 1.2 million tonnes. To compensate, farmers produce about 0.8 million tonnes of various cereals, including rice and maize. This pushes total provincial production to two million tonnes. The remaining one million comes from Punjab.



But this year, the prevailing crisis in K-P’s seed markets caused a delay in sowing, which threatens overall yield. Ayaz Hassan, a seed salesman in rural Nowshera, told The Express Tribune there was an immense shortage of certified seeds in the district, adding the government and other dealers who provide them with seeds every year refused to do so this time. “The prices of seeds were also hiked up in comparison to last year.”

“Farmers prefer to sow a variety of seeds because they produced positive results, both on qualitative and quantitative parameters during the last season,” said Hamid Khan, another dealer. “Farmers are more interested in the conclusive yield rather than prices.”

Even though cultivators store seeds, they seek more variety from the market. They exchange their seeds with other farmers on the assumption that the same seeds sowed last year would not be productive on the same land a second time around.

Seed salesman Saeed Khan confirmed the seed shortage in K-P. “Variety in seeds in the province has become rare; one can only find other strains in the Punjab market,” he explained.

Before the wind turns

However, farmers are no longer seeking seeds based on quality, explained Saeed. “They just want to sow the crop before the season ends. This year, farmers have been planting low quality seeds and this will affect gross provincial production.”

“Most areas of K-P fall under the subtropical climate zone where the sowing season for wheat crop starts on October 25 and lasts till the end of November,” said Peshawar District Director Agriculture Extension Muzafar Khan. “Some farmers have delayed sowing their seed till December and this will badly affect overall crop yield.”

Unseasoned rainfall last year caused smut, a type of fungus, to grow in grains, making them unfit for sowing in 2013.

“We were producing 6,000 metric tonnes of wheat seed every year through progressive growers, research and seed multiplication farms across the province,” shared Muzafar. The different varieties included Pirsabaq-4, Pirsabaq-5, Pirsbaq-13, Fakhr-i-Sarhad, Siran-2010, Salim-2000, Hashim, Batoor, Atta Habib, Tatara and Amin-2010. Millat, Aas and Faisalabad-2012 were procured from Punjab as well, added the director. “This year, only 4,000 metric tonnes has been produced, far below our target.”

Director Seed Agriculture Extension Muhammad Khan said it was impossible for the agriculture department to provide all farmers with seeds across the province; they only covered 5% to 6% of them. “More than 60% of farmers use their own stored seed, while 30% to 35% of them get it from private sector organisations,” he explained.

Since the agriculture department provides seeds for marginal prices to wheat growers, the private sector lacks interest in the business, increasing the department’s burden to meet demand for seeds. This is one of the major reasons behind the seed shortage as the department has a limited seed stock.

“As potato seeds have also became rare and expensive these days, potato as well as sugar beet growers – for various reasons – have grown wheat this year. This is another reason for scarcity of seed,” shared Muhammad.

This scarcity has increased the price of seed up to Rs300 compared to last year, while a market survey suggests the increment range between Rs600 and Rs700.

As a remedy, both agriculture experts Muhammad and Muzafar suggest the shortfall in seeds can be controlled across the province if every district takes responsibility by multiplying their seed for their local farmers.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2013.

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