Despite its vital role in modernisation of farming and in raising its productivity, the pace of balanced and integrated farm mechanisation is slow.
The reasons are many: lack of policy direction, low bank lending for agricultural development and poor state of local agricultural machinery manufacturing.
Successive governments have focused on launching and re-launching subsidised tractors’ schemes for farm mechanisation while solar-powered tubewells and drip irrigation and sprinkler systems have virtually been on the back burner but for some initiatives in recent years.
No doubt, the tractor schemes have helped mechanisation of farming. About 76pc farmers now cultivate land with tractors, 20pc with tractors and draught animals—and only 4pc use draught animals alone, official stats reveal.
Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, in coordination with the provincial governments, gathers stats also on, tubewells and lift pumps, cultivators, mould board plough, bar/disk harrows, disk plough, furrowers and trolleys and trailers. And when one compares their latest counting (of 2010) with the previous one (of 2004) one actually see a growing trend in their usage.
But generally speaking, farm mechanisation is still at an early stage.
And, this is one of the key factors responsible for keeping agriculture where it is now—rise in per-acre yield is low and slow, pre and post-harvest losses are huge and processing, grading and packaging of agricultural produce is wanting on many counts.
A study conducted by the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, found a few years ago that in large parts of Punjab wheat growers use lesser than recommended number of machines which affects the crop yield. The same can be said about growers of major crops in parts of other provinces as well.
“One important reason for this is that a majority of farmers, particularly with small land holdings, don’t know how to prioritise input spending”, says a former secretary of Sindh agriculture department. “Banks’ low lending for agricultural machinery, and unorganised nature of agricultural manufacturing also hinder promotion of farm mechanisation.”
Successive governments have focused on launching and re-launching subsidised tractors’ schemes for farm mechanisation while solar-powered tubewells and drip irrigation and sprinkler systems have been on the back burner but for some initiatives in recent years
In FY14, banks’ agricultural lending at Rs391.4bn exceeded the target of Rs380bn but, according to a SBP report, “banks were able to meet only 50pc of the overall demand of Rs790bn estimated for the year.” Worse still, less than 5pc of the disbursed credit volumes went in financing for agricultural machinery and implements.
Agriculturists say that farm mechanisation cannot be promoted without developing comprehensive data base—and, of course, a well-integrated policy. Development of a detailed database is crucial to help policymakers understand the current status of farm mechanisation and identify the areas where improvement is required.
Per-acre output of food and non-food crops tend to rise with increase in the area under cultivation because of economy of scale in inputs’ cost that comes along with it. Better seeds and proper care of crops also boost per-acre yields. But farming machines work wonders.
Farmers, for example, point out that mechanised broadcast seed-sowing gives more even distribution of seeds across the field and leads to higher yields. But they lament that manufacturing of this kind of machinery is almost missing and imports prove costly. They say that instead of just providing subsidy on tractors, provincial governments should give subsidy on a wider range of agricultural machinery.
They suggest that in order to ensure economic return of such a subsidy, the distribution of subsidised agricultural machinery can even be linked with some performance criteria.
Growers and agricultural officials say that production of farm machinery is not undertaken after proper research on market requirements. Besides, many locally produced machines are of poor quality, have short work life and, thus, uneconomical.
Market sources say around 100 companies are involved in manufacturing and trading of agricultural machinery and implements, though the number of the companies registered with the SECP is far higher. They say that most of even these 100 companies are focused on imports or trade and just 30 or are engaged in regular manufacturing.
One way of accelerating farm mechanisation is through shared use of machinery on a larger scale and in an organised manner, agriculturists say. Renting and commercial sharing of agricultural machinery is quite common. But this has been the practice of very small local groups of farmers and that, too, in an informal manner.
In the last two fiscal years, Punjab and Sindh have provided 25,000 tractors on subsidised rates to growers which has helped them boost their farm produce to some extent. Growers say, the two governments, should now find ways to institutionalise shared use of not only subsidised tractors but also of other farm machinery and implements on the pattern of rotating use of subsidised solar-powered tube-wells.
Officials point out that subsidised solar-powered tubewells are being installed at farm fields in many districts of Balochistan and Punjab which are widening the scope of farm mechanisation. The Punjab provincial government is making some progress also towards promoting economic use of water. In the last fiscal year, the government installed subsidised drip and sprinkler irrigation system on 2,200 acres of land as part of a foreign-funded project. This year, the target is to install this system on 4,500 acres of land. Growers, however, say the scale of the project is too small and it will take many years to get some real benefit in terms of economic use of water.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, December 8th , 2014