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Towards agricultural mechanisation

Updated January 13, 2014
- File Photo
- File Photo

Agricultural machinery manufacturing has been growing on increased demand in domestic market. But in the absence of industry-specific policy, sustainability of the trend looks uncertain.

From tractors and front-end loaders to wheat and maize thrashers to potato diggers, there is a long list of machines that are produced locally. Refurbishing of old, imported ginning and rice mills is also not uncommon.

“But there’s no exclusive policy package for this industry,” says a Punjab-based agricultural machinery manufacturer. “We want improved supply of electricity, some tax incentives and cooperation from government agencies to help consolidate this sector.”

The use of solar technology is catching up among growers across the country and solar-powered tubewells and electricity-generating panels have been a great relief in recent years for a number of progressive farmers. Faisalabad’s Agriculture University is trying to develop solar-powered machine for drying of crops, distillation of essential oils and roasting of nuts. So, a craving for mechanisation on modern lines is there, but a policy push is needed to capitalise on it.

Unfortunately, though, in our context “mechanisation concept doesn’t go beyond the use of tractors,” laments a former director general of agricultural extension services of Sindh. “Hundreds of farm machines and implements are being produced locally. And over past few years, their production has picked up. Some of them are also being exported. But it’s difficult to track the trend.”

Data shows that production of tractors is done in large-scale manufacturing sector. Production of sugarcane machines, wheat thrashers and chaff cutters is offcially recorded.. However, stats on production and sales of multipurpose thrashers, potato diggers, soil levelers, pit diggers, tiller drills, water sprinklers and several other agricultural machines are barely available.

Farmers, benefited by higher support prices of key crops in recent years, are believed to have invested a good amount of money in mechanisation of their farming activities. But in the absence of stats on a wide range of products, there is no way to ascertain it. On the other hand, production of tractors, sugarcane machines, wheat thrashers and chaff cutters rather shows an inconsistent growth trend.

In all the four categories, production had hit historic highs in FY11 but declined in FY12 only to show a modest rise in FY13, data released by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reveal.

Provincial government schemes to supply cheap tractors to farmers on installments had boosted tractor sales in 2010-11 to an all-time high of 71,200 units. But imposition of 17 per cent general sales tax in 2011-12 (which was cut to five per cent for some time only to be raised again in phases) reduced tractor production by 32 per cent.

From January last year, tractor manufacturers had been paying GST at 10 per cent and the tax-rate effective from January this year is 17 per cent again. However, despite tax-rate changes and even amid energy crisis, Millat Tractors is about to start exporting semi-knocked down units.

The machine, tools and automation exhibition held every year and agriculture, food and livestock fairs have increased awareness about benefits of mechanisation of farming activities. But now they also provide local manufacturers a fair chance of marketing agricultural machinery and implements. Sadly, none of these activities are properly documented.

Organisers of such events boast of big on-spot sales of machinery and implements. But they don’t bifurcate sales of foreign and local exhibitors. Nor do they inform which kinds of machines were sold out, on-spot or through contracts.

Nevertheless, “these exhibitions are becoming increasingly useful for us in marketing our products,” opines a Sindh-based manufacturer of sugarcane machines adding that in addition to making local sales he has exported a few dozen units of these machines to Central Asian states.

Mechanisation in agriculture has become all the more important with fears looming large about sustainable food security. One big aspect of mechanisation is that it helps in boosting per-acre yield and reduces post-harvest losses. “Seed planters of various types and disc plough, together, ensure optimal utility of seeds (thus higher yields of crops) and shelling, husking and processing equipment cut post-harvest losses,” says a progressive wheat and veggies grower in Sindh.

He says that the use of such machines has increased over the years, underscoring the need for data collection on trends of agricultural mechanisation.

Pakistan spends about $100 million annually on import of agricultural machinery and implements. Officials of institutions like Engineering Development Board and Pakistan Agricultural Research Council believe net imports can be reduced with a little effort to boost local production.

“PML (N) government has pledged to modernise agriculture but so far nothing seems to have been done in this regard,” says an official of EDB adding that three things are needed to obtain this objective. “We need to have an umbrella body to coordinate all efforts on this front, a policy framework and manufacturing SMEs must be taken on board.”

The recently-launched PM’s business loans scheme for the youth identifies agricultural processing as an eligible activity for concessional loans, but vendors of agricultural machinery parts have been overlooked even in this scheme. —Mohiuddin Aazim