KHYBER Pakhtunkhwa’s tobacco growers are expected to experience difficult times ahead, as the tobacco marketing season this year will coincide with the holy month of Ramazan, which is likely to impact labour availability and cost.

Economic activities slow down during Ramazan, as youngsters and adults observe fasts with religious zeal, affecting their efficiency and productivity.

The provincial agriculture sector is no exception. A large number of farm labourers traditionally stay away from the job market during the holy month. Hot and humid conditions in July, too, keep farm workers off their jobs.

“If daily wage-earners work for Rs100 per day on normal days, not many of them would work for even Rs500 per day during Ramazan,” said Khalid Khan, president of Kissan Board’s Swabi district chapter.

Naimatullah Roghani, general secretary of the Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said, tobacco furnaces would need to be made functional in July to cure tobacco leaves to produce high quality, graded, flue cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco. Thousands of seasonal jobs are created as tobacco furnaces become operational.

Swabi, a leading tobacco growing district, has about 15,000 furnaces, according to Kissan Board’s figures.

“The coming marketing season, too, is likely to be a rerun of the previous July, during which workforce scarcity created problems for growers,” said Ismail Khan, president of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran, KP. He, too, anticipates growers’ costs going higher.

Mr Khan, a tobacco grower, said some small farmers were thinking about not sowing the crop this year to avoid labour problems, after around 20 days of Ramazan fell in July last year.

According to farmers, the anticipated labour shortage has already made some tobacco growers opt for producing low quality ‘White Patta’ (WP), which is less labour intensive compared with FCV.

FCV also requires hard work and patience on the part of growers. And there is another reason for the tilt towards WP. Farmers see a greater opportunity in producing it.

“Many growers are sick of dealing with cigarette companies and the middlemen, and are opting for WP [used in producing chewing tobacco/snuff],” said Mr Khan.

Mr Roaghni, a grower from Saawal Dher village in Mardan district, also conceded that WP cultivation recorded higher growth this year over the past few years.

Tobacco dealers ran out of WP stocks last season, which led to prices going up.

“It requires an investment of Rs30,000 to operate a furnace for producing FCV. Growers would save this money by producing WP,” said Mr Khan.

Tobacco is a major cash crop for KP. According to the agriculture statistics directorate, KP produced over 78,000 tonnes of tobacco in 2011-12, with 32,000 hectares under crop cultivation, mainly in the central parts of the province and Malakand region.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tobacco Board, in consultation with stakeholders, has made a 13pc increase in the officially fixed price of the crop for the coming marketing season. This should help the farmers to go for producing FCV.

The price of FCV in plain areas has been fixed at Rs159 per kg, and at Rs175 per kg in mountainous regions, to help growers overcome the rise in their cost of production because of increases in prices of inputs and banks’ mark-up rates.

Similarly, the price of low quality Burley would be Rs126 per kg, and that of Dark Air Cured tobacco at Rs76 per kg.

However, despite the price increase, tobacco growers in Swabi are looking for alternative crops like wheat, and off-season vegetable production.

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