EXTENSIVE research in wheat varieties in collaboration with foreign institutions over the years has boosted per-hectare yield. But local markets are yet to find ways for the realistic price discovery of multiple varieties and a surer supply management.
The specifics of wheat varieties sometimes vary not only in cultivation, but in storage and inter-provincial supplies as well. And carelessness in any area affects pricing, both in the form of volatility and evenness.
“This becomes a little more complex because of the involvement of provincial governments in providing subsidised wheat to flour mills,” says an official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.
Officials say that the development of new wheat varieties has increase per-hectare wheat yield over the years more than anything else, adding, that dozens of new varieties have been introduced during last 10 years
The fact that local markets now reflect international trends in pricing too quickly due to increasing online linkages ‘is another issue that calls for aligning the wheat research and development programmes with the entire wheat economy of the country’.
The per-hectare yield of wheat has risen from 2,519kg in 2005-06, to 2,753kg in 2015-16, showing an average growth of 234kg per hectare in last 10 years. This modest average increase in productivity does not reflect the actual yield growth obtained in certain wheat varieties.
In fact, the new wheat varieties have led to far higher yields per-hectare but lots of factors impact on the average national wheat yield including the scale on which new varieties are being used and their pre- and post-harvest care.
Officials say that the development of new wheat varieties has increased per-hectare wheat yield over the years more than anything else, adding, that dozens of new varieties have been introduced during last 10 years.
Some of these are: Sehar-06, Farid-06, Saasi-06, Khirman-06, Faisalabad-08, Mairaj-08, Lasani-08, Pirsabak-08, Hashim-08, Nia Amber-10, Nia Sunehri-10, Millat-11, NARC-11, Punjab-11, AARI-11, Bharabi-11, Nia Sunder-11, Galaxy-13, Benazir-13, Nia Sarang-13, Pirsabak-13, Shahkar-13, Lalma-13, Pakistan 13 and Ujala-15.
Besides, in 2015 the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (Parc) also released four new rust-resistant wheat varieties, one of them a bio-fortified with 50pc zinc content.
Sehar-06 and Faisalabad-08 have gained immense popularity among the growers of Punjab and are used in more than half of the total area under wheat cultivation in the province. But they point out that it took Sehar-06 three years to replace Inqalab-91, the variety that was used most widely there till 2008-09.
“One key factor in popular use of new wheat varieties is that growers don’t like to stop using their favourite varieties immediately. They take time to switch over to new varieties regardless of how good the new ones are,” says a former secretary of Sindh agriculture department.
But as news about the results of new varieties disseminate faster these days through social media and awareness sessions, growers now show a somewhat higher willingness to switch over to newly-introduced varieties.
The Benazir-13 and Hammal-13 wheat varieties of Sindh can be cited as an example which caught the growers’ attention soon after their release in 2013 and became widely used.
Progressive farmers have reported the per-hectare yield of these two varieties in excess of 5,000kg per hectare against the national average of less than 2,800kg per hectare. The same is true for Sehar-06 and Faisalabad-08, officials of Sindh and Punjab agriculture departments say.
But they point out that high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties are not used effectively by all farmers. Only a fraction of them take proper care at each step of wheat growing and harvesting.
Sources in Parc say that in collaboration with CIMMYT — an international wheat and maize improvement centre — the local wheat research programmes are exploring varieties for not only higher yield but richness in nutrition value too.
Similarly, collaboration of local institutions with International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (Icarda) has led to development of wheat varieties suitable for rain-fed areas.
Local agricultural research institutes with Parc in the lead are now collaborating with CIMMYT, Icarda and the USDA to take wheat research to the next level and ensure that newly developed wheat varieties remain disease-resistant.
Growers say Shalimar-88 remained a rather favourite variety for some years due to its high per-hectare yield but it could not stand the attack of yellow rust and was accordingly discarded.
Similarly Watan-V87094 fell to oblivion after having ruled wheat fields for some years as this variety, too, could not resist yellow and brown rust. A small number of farmers still grow Watan on a limited scale as it is best suited for flat breads (chapati) making.
The Parc and Icarda are also working to improve technology and systems for crop observation so that not only new wheat varieties produce closer to the potential yield, but maximum yields could be obtained through older varieties.
Sources in Parc say a key reason why closer to the potential yield is not obtained is that growers do not observe the crops behaviour during various stages of maturity, adding, “Early detection of the plant’s vulnerability to certain diseases and their inability to gain full physical characteristics with the help of crop observation gadgetry can help in ensuring better yields.”
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly,