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Pakistan’s crop output is reported to have staged a comeback in the now closing FY22. According to Federal Committee on Agriculture, “production of all major kharif crops increased compared to last year’s”, although wheat production during the just ended rabi showed a marginal drop.

But that’s exactly how comebacks work. During PTI’s ‘nearly-four’ years in power, three out of five major crops recorded little to no increase in peak output, recovering to levels achieved when PML-N government was last in power.

That reversion to the mean largely came on the back of favorable weather conditions (in the case of cotton), and an end to drought like conditions faced circa FY19 (in the case of wheat and sugarcane). Output of these three crops (i.e. wheat, cotton, and sugarcane) constitutes three-fourths of the major crops index.

Significantly, performance of two other major crops – maize and rice – remained outstanding during PTI’s time in power. Pakistan’s maize output has doubled since FY15, of which bulk of the growth (64 percent) appeared over the last four years alone. Rice output also noted quantum growth, rising by 25 between FY18 and FY22.

Interestingly, increase in production of cereals such as maize and rice is shifting away the composition of major crops index from cash crops such as cotton and sugarcane to grains. Share of grains (which includes wheat, rice, and maize) is estimated at 75 percent of the index for FY22, up from 61 percent just four years ago.

But has the output rise occurred due to increase in acreage or productivity gains? This is where things become particularly instructive. Except for rice, all four major crops recorded flat-lined or negative change in area under cultivation. While cotton cultivation fell to an all time low, it was not accompanied by a wholesale shift to other substitute crops. Maize noted a 50 percent in productivity, with only a marginal increase in cultivation year-on-year.

During PTI’s years in power, acreage under five major crops remained rangebound at 17 million hectares, declining to 16.3 Mn Ha during the FY19 drought season, before rising back to 17.1 Mn Ha in more recent years.

Remember, on a long-term basis, Pakistan is losing agricultural land, albeit at a snail’s pace.

Unfortunately, very little research has been conducted on the subject to ascertain the rate of conversion of agricultural land to urban/industrial real estate. Similarly, it is unclear whether the trend has only picked up pace in low productivity/barani regions or is also occurring in regions with high soil fertility/land availability.

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