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Keeping the wheat supply up

With 233 million people and a growth rate of 2%, Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world. Wheat is the country’s main base food, and each person eats 125 kg of it every year, which is more than the neighboring countries.

Wheat production has stayed the same for the past few years, and it has only gone up by 10% in the last ten years. This year, 26.81 million tonnes of wheat are expected to be grown instead of the 28.4 million tonnes that were planned. Due to more canola being grown, the amount of land used to grow wheat went down from 9.3 million hectares to 9.1 million hectares.

Wheat planting was also damaged by the terrible floods of 2022 in Sindh, Balochistan, and South Punjab. Punjab grows the most wheat, with 21 million tonnes, and the government of Punjab wants to buy 4.5 million tonnes.

Because yield stayed the same and demand for wheat kept going up, the country switched from exporting extra wheat to bringing it in. To meet the needs of the country, wheat imports are expected to hit 2.6 million tonnes.

Post-harvest management is a better way to increase food availability without adding more agricultural inputs than raising yields.

The crop results of an average farmer and a progressive farmer are not the same. Low results are often caused by people not being able to get or find good seeds.

The wheat supply chain in Pakistan can be protected in two ways: first, by increasing the average amount of wheat grown, and second, by reducing the amount of wheat that is lost after harvest. At the moment, the average amount of wheat grown per field is about three tons, which is a lot less than in similar countries.

This increase in yield can be made real by putting money into research, using machines to plant, gather, and thresh, using certified seeds, and watering and adding balanced fertilizer at the right time. It’s important to plant the suggested seed cultivars in a certain area because only that cultivar can produce the best crop, taking into account the weather and other environmental factors.

Increasing yield is important to feed a growing population, but post-harvest management is a better way to improve food supply without adding more resources to agriculture.

Because of old combined harvesters, about 10–20 percent of the harvest is lost in Pakistan. This means that farmers lose 2 million tonnes of wheat every year, which costs them between Rs100 billion and Rs200 billion and makes imports go up by $1.52 billion.

Combine harvesters should be registered with and given health certificates by the Pakistan Engineering Development Board.

At 10-15%, post-harvest losses during storage are a big worry because they add up to 4.02 million tonnes worth $1.3 billion and 1.36 million hectares of land and inputs that are wasted.

In granaries, the lack of rain and the monsoon season, as well as bad keeping, make things even worse. About 50–60% of wheat is sold, and the rest is kept by farmers to eat themselves.

There is also a lot of room to improve harvesting, bulk handling, and storing in modern silos to cut down on losses on and off the farm. To cut down on these storage costs, warehouses need to be built and improved.

The main thing that causes grain, especially seeds, to go bad is high relative humidity, which is made worse by high temperatures during storing. For safe keeping, wheat seed needs to have about 12% moisture and 65% relative humidity. When there is more than 14 percent moisture in the seeds, it makes it easier for mold to grow, which contaminates stored goods with aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin in grain is a big health risk for people, especially children, because it can weaken the immune system, cause mutations, and cause cancer. Because of changes in the weather in Pakistan, agricultural think tanks have come up with cost-effective ways to improve storage. These include hermetic bags and mini-hermetic drums, which are generally called “Anaji drums” and were developed by The University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF).

During the off-season, one sealed bag is enough to keep the quality of 50 kg of wheat seed for one acre of land. The Anaji drum can hold 3 to 4 maunds of wheat without being fumigated. Two drums are enough for a family of five to use wheat for a year.

Hermetic storage keeps out both oxygen and moisture, which cuts down on storage costs. In the setting of the Pakistani diaspora, which is struggling with inflation, these improved storage technologies show that they are cost-effective and don’t hurt the environment.

Last year, storms in the country caused a climate disaster that had never happened before. About 33 million people were affected by this. Aside from people and animals, wheat seed and grain that poor farmers had stored in their homes were killed.

Small farmers’ main source of food and cash is wheat. They had a hard time getting wheat seed when it was time to plant because their standing crops were damaged by the flood and they had no money to buy seeds and fertilizers.

At harvest time, farmers in flood-damaged areas were given hermetic bags and drums to store their seeds for the next growth season. Using hermetic seed storing technology to minimize post-harvest losses during the monsoon or rainy season is a good way to keep the quality of seeds in flood-affected areas. There are more than 80 countries that use this technique.

With this low-cost technology, farmers would be able to store seeds and food without worrying about bugs eating them. They would also be able to sell their goods when the price is high on the market.

This could be done with the help of the public and private seed sectors and non-governmental organizations, which could teach small farms how to keep their food and seeds safe from insects during normal times and floods. This small step will help farmers bring wheat back to life in the flood zone.