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IN its forthcoming fifth and final budget, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s PTI-led coalition government is unlikely to break any new ground by denying substantial funding to agriculture to make the province self-sufficient in food.

Over the past four years, agriculture got only 1.5-2.5pc of the amount earmarked for the province’s annual development programme. The allocation is nominal when compared to agriculture’s contribution of around 24pc of the provincial GDP. Farming engages more than 50pc of the labour force.

In the year 2015-16, an amount of Rs1.829bn was utilised in the sector.

An official of the agriculture department said agriculture was not a priority and the sector suffered from lack of research capacity, use of outdated technology, non-availability of training programmes to develop human capital, and low resource allocation.

The allocation is nominal when compared to agriculture’s contribution of around 24pc of the provincial GDP

With agriculture neglected, the province remains largely dependent on Punjab for meeting food deficits. The list includes wheat, sugar, rice, pulses and vegetables supplies.

KP’s agriculture suffers from very low productivity given the farming landscape of the province. Nearly 80pc of its population lives in rural and peri-urban areas, whereas about 85pc people directly or indirectly earn their livelihood from farming and related activities.

Farmers are locked in production of low value crops; the irrigation network is not expanding and there is a marked decline in land use intensity. The list of bottlenecks holding up agricultural progress is a long one.

An official report of the KP agriculture department sees the small landholding as one of the major hurdles in achieving higher yield growth. Over 90pc of the landholdings are below five acres. In India, China, and South Korea, the average landholding size is even smaller, but access to input-institutions, knowledge, and technology help small farmers raise crop productivity.

Almost 95pc farmers in KP have no access to new technology. As a result, the cost of production is very high compared to other provinces.

Out of the total provincial cultivable land of 2.96m ha, the area under cultivation is 1.87m ha. The remaining 1.088m ha, which is 37pc of the cultivable land, is culturable waste. If the uncultivable area is brought under plough, according to the KP official, the province could produce enough staple foods.

Several projects suggesting marginal investments with the aim of bringing these lands under cultivation have been proposed for the next year’s ADP, but officials were not sure whether the provincial government will consider the proposals. Similarly, the provision of subsidised technology to farmers is needed to enhance per unit yield.

Farm productivity is also seriously hampered by the inefficient irrigation system. And crops on 0.93m ha (55pc) depend on timely rains and are exposed to weather risks. The irrigated area is 0.78m ha, while the rain-fed area is 0.876m ha. KP also lacks modern technologies to better conserve water.

Market access is another challenge. Small holdings scattered all over the province are unable to have direct access to markets. The average distance for a farmer to reach the nearest market is 10 miles.

The growers do not have accurate information about consumer prices while the middleman benefits at the cost of growers and consumers alike.

The post-harvest losses are around 40pc of the total production or at Rs12bn per annum. Some not too difficult measures can reduce these loses by Rs4bn. There is no processing facility for value addition or preserving the fruits and vegetables.

The absence of a proper system for storage of agriculture produce results in sharp seasonal fluctuations in food prices. R&D suffers from poor research planning, and weak linkages between farm and research bodies.

The current staffing of the department of agriculture is not suitable, as it is manned by a limited number of well-qualified technical staff.

In the field, the staff lacks essential technical skills as well as facilities and budgets to work effectively.

The current institutional arrangements favour large and politically influential farmers. Small growers do not have access to inputs and resources to participate in high value-added markets. While large and assured markets exist for the traditional crops like wheat, the small farmers are big losers owing to fluctuating prices.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 29th, 2017