Pakistan’s traditional focus as a producer and consumer of grain has been on wheat, which is the main staple of diets in the country. However, a growing poultry sector, bolstered by increasing demand, has provided a market for sharply rising maize output.

The International Grains Council (IGC) puts Pakistan’s total grains production at 34 million tonnes, up from 33.3 million the previous year. The wheat crop is forecast at 25.5 million tonnes, up from 24.9 million. Sorghum output is put at an unchanged 100,000 tonnes.

Pakistan’s total grains imports, all of which are wheat, in 2021-22 are forecast at 2 million tonnes, down from 4 million the year before. The country is expected to export 200,000 tonnes of wheat, the same amount as in 2020-21.

Production of rice in 2021-22 is forecast at 7.8 million tonnes, up from 7.6 million the year before. Exports of rice in 2021-22 are put at 4.2 million tonnes, up from 4 million.

The IGC also forecasts Pakistan’s imports of rapeseed at 900,000 tonnes, unchanged from the previous year.

In an annual report on June 24, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) attaché puts Pakistan’s maize production in 2021-22 at a record 7.9 million tonnes, up from 7.8 million the previous year.

“Wheat is Pakistan’s largest crop, in terms of area sown and is grown under different agro-ecological zones,” the attaché explained. “In irrigated areas, wheat is planted after cotton, rice, and sugarcane, while in rainfed areas wheat is grown at the same time as maize and millet.

“Sowing of wheat takes place from October to December and harvests from the month of March to May. Approximately 80% of farmers grow it on an area of around 9 million hectares (close to 40% of the country’s total cultivated land) during the winter or ‘Rabi’ season.”

The attaché added, “Wheat is Pakistan’s main dietary staple. Pakistan has a variety of traditional flat breads, often prepared in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor.”

Wheat flour contributes 72% of calorific intake, with per capita wheat consumption at around 124 kilograms per person each year, one of the highest levels in the world. About 95% of wheat used in Pakistan goes for human consumption.

“As incomes increase and a stronger middle class emerges, consumers are gradually shifting toward more dairy, meat, and other higher-value food products in their diet,” the report said. “Over the long term, this shift to a more balanced diet has the potential to limit the pace of growth in wheat consumption.”

Flour milling

The privately owned flour milling industry consists of around 1,000 mills. They supply the needs of some 40% of the population, while the rest comes from on-farm consumption, according to the attaché. The total number of mills in the Pakistan Flour Mills Association, according to the organization’s website, is 915, with a total daily milling capacity of 77,275 tonnes.

Almost of all of Pakistan’s wheat imports are currently coming from Russia and Ukraine, duty free, following the June 2020 decision to suspend a 60% levy.

“This decision is likely to remain in place until the government is satisfied that domestic wheat production will be sufficient to meet the country’s demand,” the attaché said. “In the past year, Pakistan has undergone a historic shift from being an exporter of wheat to a major importer of wheat. The main reason for this shift is that Pakistan’s wheat production is not keeping pace with the increase in population.”

The attaché suggested that the country is likely to remain an importer until it deals with the challenges posed by climate change, a lack of investment in wheat research, and the short supply of quality seed.

“The government considers wheat as the key strategic commodity for its food security,” the attaché said, explaining that the wheat marketing system is largely government controlled. “The federal government sets a minimum guaranteed support or procurement price and an issue, or fixed, price for wheat sold to flour mills.”

Wheat is procured from farmers at a support price through provincial food departments and released to flour mills at a price set by the government.

The attaché describes maize production as “the major success story for Pakistan’s farming sector over the past two decades with little to no governmental intervention.” Output increased by four times between 2000 and 2020.

Area has risen, but the main factor behind greater production has been increased yield, with greater demand for maize linked to the growth in the poultry industry, which uses almost 65% of Pakistan’s production, followed by wet milling, which takes around 15%. About 10% is used to make dairy feed. The rest, according to the attaché, is used for human consumption in the form of bread, and seed. There are some 180 poultry feed mills with a production capacity of around 10 million tonnes.

“Poultry, in recent years, has emerged as the most inexpensive and accessible animal protein for consumers, owing much to the abundant availability of maize grain,” the attaché said.

The report predicts a shift toward the dairy and aquaculture sectors over the next three to five years.

“The dairy sector is rapidly developing in Pakistan with several new commercial dairy farms opening every year,” the report said. “In this year alone 6,000 dairy cows from the United States have been imported into Pakistan. The shift from local cow breeds to Holstein cows is generating demand for higher quality feed.” It added that “Pakistan’s nascent aquaculture sector is also projected to grow quickly and is expected to be another driver for increased corn demand in Pakistan.”

The report also explains that Pakistan does not allow the production of genetically modified maize, despite calls from multinational seed companies.

“The government believes that a ban on cultivation is necessary to avoid natural crop contamination that can subsequently hurt Pakistan’s maize exports,” the attaché said.

Rice, oilseeds

On rice, the attaché puts current record production levels down to “an increase in planted area, an optimum monsoon season and increased use of inputs. Another key reason is the wide and continued adaptation of hybrid long grain non-basmati varieties. The shift of farmers away from cultivating cotton to cultivating rice during the Kharif/summer season is also significant and is attributable to the multiple problems (e.g., low quality seed, pest problems, etc.) and lower profitability associated with Pakistan’s cotton crop.”

“Pakistan’s per capita rice consumption of 18 kilograms per annum is among the lowest in the region,” the attaché said. “Unlike many other Asian countries, rice is not yet considered to be a mainstay of the Pakistani diet but with the increase in production, consumption is also increasing, and rice dishes are becoming an integral part of buffets and meals served in ceremonies.”

Consumption of oilseeds has risen rapidly since Pakistan’s tariff regime was changed in 2015-16 to favor the import of soybeans over soymeal, an attaché report dated March 31 explained.

“Rapeseed and sunflower seed are mainly crushed for oil, while soybeans are crushed to obtain vegetable protein for soybean meal that is used in animal feed for the poultry, livestock and aquaculture industries,” the attaché said.