DESPITE having three among the best brains, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has not come up with a separate policy on farming in its manifesto.

Its top leadership includes successful practicing agriculturists and policy gurus Jehangir Khan Tareen, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Assad Umer, a former leading professional in the fertiliser industry.

The PTI owes an explanation.

The entire PTI agriculture segment is now reduced to two pages of its manifesto, which, no doubt, touches the entire spectrum of agriculture and points out its weak and missing links. But it only sets the targets, obviously without explaining how the party would to go about them if voted to power. With no policy to back them up, critics would regard them as a wish list.

However, the PTI is at its revolutionary best when it says it would “allocate 65 per cent of ADP (annual development fund) for agricultural and rural development to improve rural physical and social infrastructure — irrigation, roads, transport, power, telecommunication, credit facilities, access to safe drinking water, education, health-care, sanitation and housing.”

The party plans to commit this kind of financial resources because it is convinced, as claimed in the manifesto: “Investment on agriculture is the quickest and surest way to rapid economic recovery and reducing poverty. Gross agricultural production can be increased two to threefold by an efficient, scientifically planned use of existing resources. It requires relatively simple innovations and would depend mainly on efficient management of the complex agricultural enterprise.”

It also touches the second most important area of water when it says: “There is no effective substitute to building additional large storage dams on the Indus. The process of developing a political consensus on this issue should be started without delay. Simultaneously, efforts should be made to use irrigation water in response to crop needs. The present method of flood irrigation through fixed wara bundi system is highly wasteful and results in only about 20 per cent efficiency of water use for actual crop production. Water use efficiency in some of the middle-eastern countries (Cyprus, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) is close to 75-80 per cent of the theoretical application efficiency. Since we are now a water-scarce country, we must reflect this fact in price fixation of irrigation water and develop improved methods for water application to increase efficiency. Simultaneously, the huge wastage of water through leakage and seepage from canals and watercourses should be reduced, especially in the saline areas.”

The PTI promises to “improve post-harvest processing and marketing.” Both these steps would become easer if the party diverts 65 per cent of ADP to the parent sector. With that kind of money available, if the party can save even 50 per cent of current 40 per cent post-harvest losses (bringing them down to 20 per cent), it can create an additional fiscal space of billions of rupees for the rural areas. Improving the marketing system would only add more billions of rupees, and both these step together would generate as much resources as the PTI promises, lifting the rural areas out of their current financial morass.

But, it is a time taking job. Perhaps, the party planners know how much time and resources these steps can take and that could be the reason for avoiding putting them in a timeframe. However, it would certainly be the first, and much needed, step in the proverbial thousand mile journey.

The party inspires more confidence when it pledges to “improve crop modeling and support price mechanism, strengthen agriculture institutions, introduce urban agriculture and develop agro-climatology.” But, it should have explained what it means by these terms because the subjective terms mean many things to many planners.

The manifesto sounds much clear on irrigation, as compared to agriculture, as the party has given a timetable for all its goals. Like, it promises “50 per cent increase in irrigated area in next 10 years through construction and optimal use of small, medium and large irrigation projects.” It also promises “a 20-year master plan for water storage including construction of dams and utilising floodwaters for irrigation. (And) Provide incentives (to farmers) for the use of alternative sources of irrigation such as drip and sprinkler irrigation systems.” But like all other political parties, it maintains, what many call, a strategic silence on naming storages. It talks about elusive political consensus and reclusive builders of that consensus, without telling its voters around which water projects that effort would revolve. That’s practical, not revolutionary, politics.

The party has also touched land reform issue, which should better sell to urban supporters of the party, which it is hoping to move this election. The PTI would “monitor the ownership and use of distributed state land and ensure credit and agriculture support services to farmers, computerise land records, initiate separate monitoring mechanisms to monitor settlement of land ceiling disputes and to improve the timely settlement of cases and enforcement of verdicts, and expedite distribution of cultivable state land among landless farmers.”

In the end, one hopes that the PTI puts these three brains to practical work when, and if, it is voted to power — and they live up to their potential. On their part, they should have a policy (programmes, policies, strategy, action plan and timeframe) ready by the time they taste power.

Updated Apr 22, 2013 06:19pm

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