FOLLOWING a sudden termination of a food security initiative, the KP government fears that the 91,759 bags of wheat seed purchased worth several millions rupees, for distribution to farmers at a subsidised rate, would go to waste.
The provincial government purchases seed under the Insaf Food Security Programme (IFSP) for distribution through the local agriculture department among farmers across to make the province self-reliant to a maximum level in wheat production in a period of three years.
The IFSP scheme worth Rs3.79bn was announced in the 2015-16 budget for a period of three years. Under the programme, farmers will be given authenticated seed of wheat free of cost.
So far, the provincial government has spent Rs945m in FY2015-16 and for 2016-17 has allocated an amount of Rs500m in the Annual Development Programme (ADP).
As per the agriculture department statistics, as many as 1,068,000 farmers have benefited from the scheme in the first year of its implementation. Under the scheme, farmers possessing land from one to three acres are given 50kg wheat seed.
An official of the KP agriculture department said that the total wheat requirement in the province was between 4.5-5m metric tonnes. The local production is around 1.1m metric tonnes, while the remaining is met through purchases from Punjab.
According to the official, the target of the scheme was to enhance wheat production to 1.86m metric tonnes by 2018. The enhancement in wheat production will help the provincial government to save Rs5bn annually.
According to the official, the target of the scheme was to enhance wheat production to 1.86m metric tonnes by 2018. The enhancement in production will help the provincial government to save Rs5bn annually
KP is historically a wheat deficit province and purchases the crop from Punjab and Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Supplies Corporation (Passco), and imports from abroad through the federal government to meet its requirements.
The province also caters to the needs of Fata and Afghan refugees. Apart from this, it shares a porous border with Afghanistan — a food deficit country — which has traditionally depended on Pakistan, especially KP, for its food requirement.
Ironically, the termination of the scheme came at a time when the provincial government had already spent Rs28m on the transportation of seeds to districts across the province. “The relevant authorities were about to hand over the seeds to farmers when the scheme was withdrawn”, an official of the provincial agriculture department said.
KP Finance Minister Muzaffar Saeed told Dawn that the termination of IFSP has no link with the availability of funding.
“We have enough fiscal space to continue the scheme”, he said, adding that the scheme would be resumed after taking care of some reservations raised from some quarters.
However, contrary to the minister’s claims, an official in the provincial government said that the Chief Minister Pervez Khattak took the decision of discontinuing the scheme after receiving complaints of misappropriation in the allocation of funds for the purchases of seeds.
The finance minister, however, has said that the scheme will be reviewed after introducing some changes.
In most districts, registered farmers have already deposited Rs500 each with field assistants of the agriculture department against which each will get a 50kg of wheat seed for sowing. In the distribution of the scheme, the kissan councillors were also involved to make the system more transparent.
A farmer from Lower Dir said that suspension of the scheme would result in lower wheat production in the province.
The delay in the supply of the scheme might also delay cultivation and will again decrease production.
The KP agriculture department has already made reservations for 10,444 metric tonnes of seed with the Punjab Seeds Corporation. As many as 91,769 out of the total 209,000 bags printed with IFSP have been supplied to the province.
“Now, wheat seed is lying in godowns”, the official of the agriculture department confirmed. It is stored in the warehouses of Bannu, Karak, Kohat, Peshawar, Charsadda, Swat, Battagram, Tank and Lakki Marwat from where the farmers can receive it.
In the open market, the price of a 50kg wheat seed is Rs2,250. So the only option left with the government is to either distribute the subsidised seed to farmers or sell it in the open market to avoid losses.
The issue of the scheme’s termination was also raised in the provincial government through an adjournment motion. An MPA Shah Hussain said the sudden termination of the IFSP was an injustice meted out to farmers, who paid Rs600/50kg seed sacks.
For the current fiscal year, the KP government had planned to procure wheat worth Rs10bn to meet the province’s requirement while a subsidy of over Rs2bn will also be allowed on the transportation of the staple grain.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, January 2nd, 2017, 2016