Monday, September 27, 2010

Prospects of maize crop

AN unannounced ban on cultivation of maize crop and its use as fodder in parts of the maize-growing Malakand division is worsening food security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The maize shortage in the province had recently raised the grain price by around 80 per cent from Rs670 to Rs1,100 per 50kg.

The ban will create severe problems for the growers for whom maize is a major source of income. The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and in its hilly areas in particular, will be hit hard as they will be deprived of a cheaper source of food.

Agriculture in KP suffered around Rs42.32 billion loss in the recent flash floods. Damage to maize crop in several districts of the province contributed to bulk of the losses.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation 45 per cent of the total maize crop cultivated in KP was destroyed by floods. In Nowshera, Charsadda, Swat, Peshawar, Laki Marwat and Kohistan districts, however, the losses ranged between 50 to 100 per cent.

According to Muhammad Zahir Khan, vice-president of the KP chamber of agriculture, the rains and floods occurred when the crop was near maturity.

“Due to sensitivity of the plant to water-logging, the crop was severely damaged in the aftermath of the floods even if it was not washed away. The crop was so badly affected that it could not be used even as fodder for animals,” he said.

Abdur Rahim Khan, secretary-general of KP chamber of agriculture, said: “Maize is one of the cheapest foods available to growers and non-farmers. It will also drastically impact chicken feed and the oil industries that are dependent for maize grains,” he said.

“Maize growers must be given financial help to save them from debt burden and revival of farming,” said Khan.

Most farmers in Swat and Buner had already avoided growing maize as there was ambiguity on whether security forces would allow it or not. Farmers in some areas, however, sowed maize but floods and rains have destroyed the crop.

According to Swat-based farmers Bakht Buland Khan and Muhammad Naeem Khan maize acreage is down by about 80 per cent in the region this year.

“Maize in Swat is used as food more than wheat for its warm effects. No maize crop means food insecurity and financial problems for all in the area. The poor lot can hardly buy the costly wheat flour -- a sack of 20kg flour costs around Rs800 in upper Swat zone. They must be compensated for all crop losses,” said Buland.

“But farmers, hopefully, will grow maize next year as security forces have distanced themselves from the ban recently. The government and international and local NGOs should work out a scheme for farmers for a couple of years to offset the damage,” said Naeem.

The use of maize crop as fodder in different parts of the province has reduced about five per cent of the crop. Maize, being the second largest food crop after wheat, is of major importance for KP, a food deficient province.

Maize produce in the country is around 36 million tons. In KP, it is about 0.8MT. This could be increased but low per hectare yield is the main problem. Average per hectare yield in KP is around 1,800kg while the national average is 3,600kg per hectare.

Non-availability of improved seeds and farmers’ reluctance or inability to modernise farming has made it difficult to increase per hectare yield. Farmers need good quality seeds, financial support and training to modernise agriculture in the province.

Hi-bred seeds, Babar and Karamat, produced by the Cereal Crops Research Institute, KP, could yield up to 4,000-5,000kg per hectare but farmers complain that they have failed to get the seeds from the industry in time.

The government should announce a minimum support price for maize and procure the yield from farmers. At present, there is no official procurement centre or mechanism for maize crop in KP.

An agriculture ministry official said: “The government has worked out immediate, short-term, medium-term and long-term plans for rehabilitation of farmers, including maize growers who have suffered losses from floods. They will be compensated as soon as funds are available,” he said.

But many believe it might be a long wait for want of resources.

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