Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
PAKISTAN’S food import bill keeps rising and is a matter of serious concern. According to the provisional data of the State Bank of Pakistan for July, the food import bill rose by 28 per cent to $445 million from $345 million in July 2010.
While none of the items included in the import list is something that cannot be produced in the country, (given its ecological endowments), commodities like sugar and pulses cannot, under any circumstances, be justified. To make the matter look even worse, milk and milk-products are also imported on a large scale despite the nation being the sixth largest producer in the world. The list of imports only reflects policy failure.
The economy can hardly afford this kind of imports. The government needs to contain import bill and increase exports. For this, it has to keep pace with world realities, which has moved to hybrid and super-hybrid regimes breaking new grounds in production levels and crop diversification to ensure domestic food security and earn foreign exchange.
Unfortunately,Pakistanis still stuck up with basic cereals (wheat, rice and maize) and legumes (lintel, gram, mash etc), and that too with decades old seeds and agricultural practices. The world, however, is leapfrogging technologies, and, resultantly, agricultural practices. The ground realities in the food market are also changing fast. The country’s entire food planning is revolving around the above-mentioned crops with wheat overshadowing all others by hogging additional acreage and eating into areas of almost all other crops.
The country has not been able to exploit its wheat potential and diversifying its usage despite domestic and international pressures. The world andPakistan’s major urban markets are undergoing a change. In the country, many people, who, till recently, used to consume maize, sorghum and millet along with wheat for bread (roti), are now narrowing their taste down to wheat alone. On the other hand, the affluent younger generation has moved to pizza, pasta, spaghettis and macaronis.
However, the country’s flour milling industry is still sticking with four traditional lines — flour, fine-flour, white flour and semolina — that are meant for preparing three or four kinds of bread and a few bakery items. A wide range of the middle and rich income groups’ preferential food items are being imported along with their ingredients. The developed world is getting at least 35 lines of wheat with different blending to meet its domestic and export requirements for what is known as junk food.
Pakistani wheat is second to none, and one can produce almost all kinds of products with right technology and awareness.
WhyPakistanis not moving into that direction?
It would take an enabling environment and right kind of policy framework to maximise wheat gains. To begin with, the country essentially needs trading surplus of wheat to cater to all kinds of flour markets abroad.
For that, it must try to break new grounds in the wheat seed sector. Better seeds are needed to increase per acre yield and bring down production cost.
As always, cost of production determines commercial viability of export. It is only then that the government can attract the industry in investing in new technology that can produce new lines of flour to meet new domestic and international markets’ demand.
For doing that, it has to go for high-yielding hybrids. All the seeds being used are either loosing their vitality or have become susceptible to diseases and pests. Unless a new variety, and such varieties are available in the world, is introduced, the country cannot fully exploit wheat marketing and production potential.
This year, with right kind of incentives and policies,Pakistanhad exported fine-flour to countries likeAustralia. There are few exporters, who are also exporting macaronis to world market. Their experience can form basis of national policy and experiment.