Agriculture sector is set to grow at a faster pace than estimated earlier and signs of progress are visible in production of all four major crops — cotton, wheat, rice and sugarcane.
When heavy monsoon rains and flood revisited parts of Sindh and Punjab in August this year, both the government and multilateral lending agencies expressed their fears about a major setback to agricultural growth.
However, recent reports from farms suggest that cotton output would still be no less than 13.5 million bales — 1.5 million bales short of the initial target — and the country would meet wheat production target of 25 million tonnes.
The pace of arrivals of sugarcane for crushing in sugar mills indicates that its output would remain close to five million tonnes.
Rains in rain-fed areas have, in fact, improved the per-acre yield of wheat compensating some partial losses due to the floods in other areas.
A fall in production of coarse rice has been reported from some parts of Sindh but output of basmati varieties is likely to increase because these are now cultivated in larger areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Also, farmers have adopted better farming techniques with the help of the government and NGOs after the worst-ever floods of July-September 2010.
Rice exporters say the current rice crop (November 2011/October 2012) is being estimated around 6.6 million tonnes, far higher than the 2010/11 crop of less than five million tonnes.
Rice growers also say that despite partial damage to paddy fields in Sindh and Punjab during monsoon rains and flooding rice output this year would be higher than last year due to larger per acre yields in some areas and introduction of two new varieties of Irri white rice. But according to their estimate, total production would be around six million tonnes.
Officials of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan say the arrival of the new crop has begun to boost rice exports. They say that total rice exports during fiscal year July-June 2011-12 should reach closer to 4.5 million tonnes up from 3.7 million tonnes last year. “Higher output at home coupled with supply shortages due to floods and typhoons in Thailand and Philippines and increase in demand from Nigeria and Bangladesh are expected to help boost rice exports,” an ex-chairman of REAP told Dawn,
Sugar millers who have started cane crushing say the pace of arrival of truckloads of canes from fields suggest that total output this year would be five million tonnes. A Sindh-based leading sugar miller said the July-September 2010 floods had enriched the soil which led to increase in sucrose level in sugarcane grown in Sindh.
He reckoned that five million tonnes of sugarcane this year is expected to produce 4.7-4.8 million tonnes of sugar because of this factor. This much estimated output plus carryover stocks of around 0.4 million tonnes of sugar would leave a sizable surplus for exports after meeting the domestic demand of 4.3 million tonnes.
In the last fiscal year net imports of raw cotton (imports minus exports) had exceeded two million bales but textile millers are estimating net imports of no more than a million bales this year. Up to November 1, ginneries across Pakistan received 6.7 million bales up from six million bales in the same period of last year, despite an output loss of 0.9 million bales in Sindh.
“Domestic consumption of cotton this year would be somewhere around 14.5 million bales. Market reports suggest that the output would be around 13.5 million bales. So, we need to import a million bales or so.”
The monsoon rains and floods in August this year were well-timed for wheat growers because the sowing of the crop starts in October-November. “When farmers began wheat sowing flood waters had receded in most parts of the affected areas and that too after enriching the soil with natural fertilising agents,” said an ex-wheat commissioner in the ministry of food and agriculture.
“Also after the 2010 floods Pakistan Agriculture Research Commission and some international NGOs had provided better quality wheat seeds to farmers. There is no doubt about 25 million tonnes of production this cropping year (October 2011-April 2012), particularly if the proposal to increase its support price from Rs950 (per 40kg) to Rs1150 materialises immediately.”
At this level of production and with carryover stocks of the last crop wheat exports would continue. Pakistan has already exported about a million tonnes of wheat of the old crop which has helped the country in containing food trade deficit.
Continuation of exports should further improve our food trade balance.
Major crops account for a little less than seven per cent of GDP in Pakistan. If output of these crops grow satisfactorily it would contribute to GDP expansion. “Also, their impact on external food trade balance, large scale manufacturing and domestic trade and investment expansion in food and allied industry would be of significance,” said a senior central banker who tracks developments in agricultural economy.