PESHAWAR, Nov 14: Tobacco growers want Pakistan Tobacco Board to fix tobacco support price for the next harvesting season at a level, at least, Rs50 per kilogramme higher than they last year’s price.

According to their representatives, prices of agriculture inputs have gone high, especially diesel’s value due to depreciation of Pakistani rupee compared to the US dollar, and therefore, the support price of tobacco crop for 2014 should accordingly be fixed at a level higher than the previous year.

“We want the support price to be fixed at least at the level of the current market price of tobacco,” General Secretary of Kissan Board Abdul Samad Saafi told Dawn.

He said the tobacco support price for 2013 had been fixed at Rs141 per kilogramme (the low-quality White Patta) to Rs152 kilogramme (Virginia tobacco).

This year, growers want the Virginia tobacco support price to be fixed at Rs200 per kilogramme.

Khalid Khan, the president of Kissan Board, said cigarette manufacturers bought tobacco crop from growers in July last at Rs141 per kilogramme to Rs152 per kilogramme, but they were currently purchasing the stocks at the prevalent market price, which, he added, ranged from Rs180 per kilogramme to Rs190 kilogramme.Mr Saafi said middle men and commission agents purchased tobacco crop in large quantity directly from farmers and stored it in their warehouses. They marketed their stocks and were now selling it at a higher price.

He said the prevalent market prices had vindicated the growers’ stand. The real value of tobacco crop, he added, was dearer than what the farmers were paid by cigarette manufacturers at the commencement of the purchase season in July this year.Farmers said the tobacco board should take note of the current price of tobacco at which it was being sold by the middlemen in Swabi and Mardan to cigarette manufacturers.

Thousands of tobacco growers’ economic interest depends on the PTB determined support price. Around 36,000 hectares come under tobacco cultivation every year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The province on average produces 100,000 kilogrammes of tobacco (various varieties) annually of which almost 50 per cent come from Swabi district followed by Mardan that produces around 18,000 kilogrammes tobacco annually. Among the tobacco growing districts, Charsadda and Buner also produce considerable quantity of tobacco every year.

Mr Saafi, a tobacco grower from Nowshera district, said farmers wanted PTB to consider the recent dip in Pakistani rupee’s value against the US dollar while determining the tobacco support price for 2014.

The tobacco board, according to growers, determines the support price after calculating the cost of production for which it conducts survey in all tobacco growing districts of the country.

Once PTB, said Mr Khan, arrived at the aggregate cost of production (the money farmers spent last year) it applied the current rate of inflation to calculate support price for the next year.

Mr Saafi said the rise in American dollar’s exchange value caused increase in prices of DAP and diesel as a result of which the overall cost of production would escalate. “DAP prices have already recorded substantial increase during the past two years after the federal government withdrew subsidies in line with its commitments to WTO,” said Mr Saafi.

Mr Khan said tobacco growers would suffer losses if the support price was fixed at less than Rs200 per kilogramme as demanded by growers.

The two farmers, separately talking to Dawn, referred to a study conducted by the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council in 2011. According to them, PARC’s research showed that tobacco growers’ cost of production stood at Rs159.5 per kilogramme in 2011.

“PTB did not acknowledge the findings of the study declaring that it is beyond any other institution’s authority to determine tobacco growers’ cost of production,” said Mr Saafi.

He said PARC’s researcher had interviewed more than 1100 farmers to determine the cost of production.

Kissan Board, according to two of its representatives, would organise protest campaign if PTB did not pay attention to the growers’ demand vis-à-vis fixing the support price at a level higher than the previous harvesting season.

According to the law, PTB announces the support price of tobacco before the crop cultivation season gets underway in December every year.

Tobacco growers holding protests against PTB has become an annual phenomenon for the last several years. Farmers accuse the Board of neglecting their interest to benefit cigarette manufacturers.

“We held protest demonstrations in Islamabad last year, and once again we would be doing the same if our demands are not heard,” said Mr Saafi.

Mr Khan said PTB did not pay heed to the information provided by farmers while determining tobacco’s cost of production.

Giving examples, he said the per hectare production of tobacco came to 2800 per kilogramme on the average in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but PTB, he added, counted around 3800 kilogramme per hectare as the average per hectare yield. “By showing the per hectare yield at a higher side, PTB bosses project the cost of production at a lower side to our disadvantage,” said Mr Khan.

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